Show a time traveler from 1950 your iPhone and he'll probably crap his pants. That little device would seem to be beyond magic. Show that same guy your bathroom and he'll be right at home. Bathrooms have barely changed.
Same with T-shirts and countless other everyday items that have stopped innovating even though they're far from perfect. In every case, the Next Big Thing in these stale technologies is out there, somewhere. They're all either experimental or still too expensive, but they give us a glimpse of how some of the little things in life could be a hell of a lot better in the near future.
Showers That Know What You Like
Seriously, bathing technology has barely advanced since indoor plumbing was invented. A knob for hot, a knob for cold. Or maybe you have a shower with one lever that, if pushed three degrees too far to the left, immediately goes from "ice cold" to "the devil's piss."
If it can't scald the flesh from your bones, it isn't really a shower.
This makes no sense; they make chairs that can massage your lower back and beds that know the curvature of your spine, but we're still showering with 1920s technology? Why don't our showers save our settings from the last time we bathed and give us the perfect temperature with the touch of a button? Why don't they start pumping in soothing music as soon as we step in?
It comes complete with a digital panel that pulls up your ideal water temperature and preferred MP3 playlist while you're still stumbling around half-asleep. It has three sets of showerheads that then pummel you with water from all sides, and it can even be programmed to slowly cycle through water temperatures to give you a hot and cold liquid massage while you wash the morning's shame off of your nether bits.
There is also a system that (finally) mixes the soap with the water -- you know, the technology we've had in our freaking car washes for decades -- so you're not dropping a hair-encrusted bar of soap on the floor every five minutes.
And couldn't this be handled by some sort of laser array?
Who has it now?
These mostly exist only for rich people at the moment (one benefit of being rich is that you live slightly in the future), because for instance, the Hansgrohe system is $4,500 alone. Well, fine -- PCs used to cost that much, too. So how long until we can get this shit in our trailer? Shouldn't a computerized shower eventually drop in price along with everything else in the computer world?
And while we're in the bathroom ...
Smart Toilets That Wash and Dry Your Ass
Again, when we watch a movie set in the 1930s, we get the sneaking suspicion that they had the exact same toilet as us. Prone to clogging, cold as hell when you sit on it in the winter, germ-covered flushing handle, a seat that still leads to endless sitcom arguments over whether it should be left down for the lady in the house.
It's long past time for a toilet that warms itself, cleans itself, flushes every time and caresses our asshole with a gentle breeze of luxurious warm air.
...which comes with sensors that automatically lift the lid when they detect a person approaching, a seat-warmer, an anus-washing spout with three settings, a built-in air purifying system, a programmable night light, hands-free flushing and a flushing system so powerful, man, you don't even know. It's entirely coated in an antimicrobial agent to kill off the germs and, oh yeah, it has a warm air dryer for your ass.
You cannot get off of this toilet and still be in a bad mood.
The same company has another model that can analyze your urine for signs of diabetes, features a scale to measure your BMI and has a blood pressure monitor to diagnose any health issues. All of that seems superfluous once you have the ass dryer, but whatever.
Who has it now?
As with the showers, these miracle toilets are available to anyone ... but are five grand each. So again, they're really only for the kind of people who'll be filling them with yesterday's Cristal. Still, it's not like the thing is made of gold, and there's no reason a little dryer for your ass should cost more than you paid for your motorcycle. If a working man can't afford such a luxury by, say, 2015, then we're not sure why we're working at all.
Getting puke-drunk would be a lot easier to handle if toilets dispensed sprays of Binaca and clean T-shirts.
Refrigerators That Do Your Shopping
It's the night before Super Bowl Sunday. You get a knock at the door. It's a delivery guy, and in his arms is a box of hot wings, a bucket of cheese sauce and a shitload of tortilla chips. You never called him.
"Here. You're going to need these."
So how did he know? Your refrigerator told him.
*Our records indicate that you are both low on food, and gigantic wusses.*
...has an "electrochromic panel" door (which is fancy tech jargon for "glass door that turns into a display panel") that's basically one big touch screen.
You tell it what food you're putting in, and it keeps track. Then it not only can remind you when you're out of something, but it even recommends freaking recipes based on what it knows you have left in the fridge at any given moment.
RECOMMENDED RECIPE: ENOUGH VALIUM AND SCOTCH TO MAKE THE EMPTINESS STOP HURTING.
At these early stages, it still has an annoying limitation in that you have to laboriously tell it what you bought and what you used, so it would be the next generation that would, say, use bar codes or RFID chips to automatically know what you've stuck on the shelf without you having to put out any extra effort. One company made a prototype with internal cameras that can "see" your inventory.
Then you have this Wi-Fi capable fridge from Samsung, which already lets you stand there and order from a place like Fresh Direct without even putting down the orange juice jug you're guzzling. So our dream fridge is just a matter of bringing all of the technologies together. So, one day you sign up for a subscription that makes a turkey appear at your door the day before Thanksgiving, and perhaps a bottle of bourbon every Friday night.
*Menstruation Detected: Dispensing Cake.*
Who has it now?
They actually tried to bring Internet-capable fridges onto the market 10 years ago, but they were laughed out of stores because the fridges cost up to $6,000. (Hint: For that price, it'd better offer services that require a dick-shaped hole in the door.)
In fairness, a kitchen like this will get you more tail than six-pack abs and a fistful of roofies.
That's a good example of why we can't have nice things in the refrigerator world. The reason innovation is so slow is because people don't upgrade their fridges very often, so it's hard for manufacturers to make their money back on a radical new product. (How often do you buy a new fridge?) So we're stuck with a boring old box that keeps things cold and maybe crushes ice for our drinks if we forked over the extra cash.
But come on, guys. It's the freaking future. Let's do it.
Paint That Re-Paints Itself
Paint. Now there's something you don't think about until you absolutely have to. For instance, you don't think about the paint on your car until it gets scratched and you have a choice of either leaving it or paying a body shop five months' rent to fix it. Or we suppose you could buy an armload of spray paint and make your car look like you're about to enter it in a demolition derby.
The fumes will get you even higher than the whiplash.
But, again, is this not exactly the way we were painting things, oh, a thousand years ago? Slapping on colored mixtures and having to do it all over again if it gets messed up or we get tired of the color? Is there seriously no place to go with this technology?
But what are we asking for here? Paint that can fix its own scratches? Or change its own color?
Wait, they can make it do that?
For starters, in the future paint will be able to repair itself. No more having to break out your Gundam model paint kit every time you scratch your bumper. Researchers have developed a type of polyurethane coating that, thanks to a chemical reaction, can sort of melt and fill in scratches when exposed to sunlight. So an angry ex-girlfriend drags her keys across your car door at work; by the time you drive home, it's fine again.
And if you don't like the color, punch a button and watch it change. In the lab, they've developed a coating embedded with iron oxide particles that change how they reflect light when hit with a magnetic field (you need a small electrical current running through it to get the effect, so the paint goes back to the default color when you turn off the engine). Think about it -- a different kick-ass airbrush mural on your custom van every day!
But can they animate it?
Who has it now?
The military, which obviously can afford to spend millions of your tax dollars on paint jobs, claims it's not far from putting it in the field. They're thinking bigger than turning their Corvette from black to fire engine red, though -- they want a smart system that will automatically change the camouflage to match the vehicle's surroundings and even send a signal to the repair guys to let them know when it's starting to rust.
"Attention! This Humvee is stuck. Please note that water damage voids the warranty."
As for the rest of us, before bringing it to market they'll have to get around the objections of the all-powerful body shop lobbyists.
Where are the clothes we were promised in Back to the Future Part II? You know, the self-adjusting jacket that could detect when it was wet and then dry itself? The self-tying shoes? The double neckties?
The terrible, bile-inducing hats?
Because we seem to be wearing the same boring cloth they were wearing in the Old Testament. Where did we go wrong? It's time to bring on the clothes that can think and adjust on the fly.
Or, if you want to get serious about your climate control, they've developed an air-conditioned vest that, batteries and everything, doesn't weigh any more than a pair of pants. It uses a bunch of cooling disks located over parts of your body where blood vessels are the most dense (and where cooling is most efficient). No fans, no backpack to keep the battery. The finished product could be made to look like any ol' vest.
In the retain version the cooling disks are invisible behind the outer layer of fabric, obviously.
And in winter, flip a switch and the same system warms you. So now you have a system that's actually less bulky and cumbersome than your parka.
We can't leave the feet out of this. AT&T has developed shoes that monitor your balance and can immediately notify somebody over a wireless connection when you've taken a bad fall. They're for the elderly, obviously, though we see no reason they couldn't be rigged so that at the moment they detect a potential fall, they automatically turn on a nearby camera and prepare to upload the feed to YouTube, automatically dubbing in wacky sound effects.
Who has it now?
One issue with all of these clothing innovations is that we've gotten used to paying very little money for our clothes thanks to, you know, sweatshops. So for instance, the A/C vest up there is being developed for the military and athletes (that is, enthusiasts who'll fork over extra cash for their hobby).
For the rest of us, the prices have to come down to a point that we don't have to sell blood. For instance, did you even know that Adidas came out with a processor-embedded shoe that could adjust its cushioning on the fly, based on your weight and running style? It was pulled from the market in 2006 because the shoes were, by the way, $250. But someone will try again, once the technology gets cheap enough so that the shoes don't come with a laugh-out-loud-at-the-salesman price tag.
So the future's out there. We just need that shit to go on sale.