While computerized appliances have been available for kitchens, living rooms, and cars for years, they’ve lacked an important feature: the ability to communicate across proprietary platforms.

A new protocol in development plans to remove that shortcoming, so a slew of new tech inventions can bring smarter electronic devices not only to homes, but hospitals and the front lines of war zones.

In hospitals, doctors have been able to synthesize simple living tissue to use when treating burns or during organ transplants. Until today, however, complex organs were too great a challenge. New 3D printing technology may enable scientists to grow living organs with computers.

Soldiers fighting overseas have relied on bulky night-vision goggles to be able to see at in the dark, but the Pentagon has recently learned of high-tech night-vision contact lenses that could replace goggles within a few years.

A universal language for home appliances

Cars, toasters, thermostats, and toothbrushes that communicate with people over the Internet can potentially make life more convenient for many of us. Many brands already produce these devices and sync them together with a computer language that extends only to products of the same brand.

For example, the Nest thermostat tracks users’ energy usage and automatically adjusts the temperature, but it doesn’t communicate with other smart devices. As demand grows for a universal protocol for smart appliances, research and development firms are working on a solution.

Qualcomm, SmartThings, Lowe’s, and Revolv have all attempted to unite appliances with a single language. Past attempts have mostly relied on a central physical hub to join devices, but a new open-source language called AllJoyn could sync devices without a hub.

In order for AllJoyn to succeed, appliance makers would have to be willing to work with each other. IEEE Standards Association President Karen Bartleston thinks consumers will eventually convince manufacturers to make their devices more open to communication.

Devices in critical situations offer new advantages

Advances in medical 3D printers may empower doctors to regenerate complex organs for patients who desperately need a transplant. Current technology allows doctors to replicate thin layers of one type of cell, but 3D organ printers would be able to produce complex living tissue with many different types of cells and structures.

For example, current technology doesn’t allow doctors to grow new skin for patients because it includes many types of interdependent cells and veins. Herriott-Watt University researchers developed a 3-D printer that can grow embryonic cells.

Cornell University engineers and doctors have replicated a human ear using 3D printing technology. NASA paid $100,000 for innovations in 3D printing of biomaterials in 2013. Previous biomaterial printing has been restricted to bones, teeth, and other simple structures.

War zone app

University of Michigan researchers have developed infrared-sensing material that’s as thin as an atom. The microscopic film can be applied to contact lenses and used to replace night-vision goggles in war zones.

Officials at the Pentagon have shown interest in the technology and may partner with the researchers to continue development.


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