Archive for June, 2012

Fascinations of the Month

9 | By Michael A. Robinson

Over the last several months, I’ve written about a number of keys trends reshaping the world around us, with an eye toward how to profit from them.

As it turns out, I’ve barely scratched the surface…

You see, almost every day in the Era of Radical Change, we get some exciting new breakthroughs with huge potential. Each week, I learn about dozens of new advances, personally. Sometimes that leaves me frustrated, because I just don’t have the time and space to get them all in print to you. But I hate to see these great ideas and incredible developments go above notice.

That’s why today I’m launching a new feature I think you’ll find intriguing…

Called Fascinations of the Month, this recurring column will arrive at the end of each month and cover several shorter items in less depth. I believe they will expand your knowledge of cutting-edge high tech and give you something fascinating to tell your neighbors about.

And you just never know; you may pick up an investment idea or two along the way.

Before I dig in, I want to ask for your help. Some of you no doubt follow high tech. So I’m hoping you’ll send me any good ideas you spot along the way. If you come across any advances you’d like to share with me and the rest of the Era of Radical Change readers, please feel free to send them along. Email me at customerservice@eraofradicalchange.com.

Here are our first Fascinations of the Month…

The Robots with a More Discerning Touch than the Human Fingertip

0 | By Michael A. Robinson

Most people could easily tell the difference between an apple and an orange, even if you put a blindfold on them.

No, they wouldn’t have to taste or smell either one to be sure. Quite simply, they could pick out each fruit just by feeling it.

Our sense of touch is a key part of the human experience. It’s why we prefer to wear shirts or blouses made of silk instead of those made from burlap.

Not only that, touch is the only one of our five senses that covers our entire bodies. And we have lots of nerve endings all over waiting to give us this tactile feedback. Consider that your fingertips alone contain some 1,000 touch receptors – roughly 100 for each tip of each finger.

If you stop and think about it for a moment, you’ll realize just how complex the sense of touch really is. It combines the feelings of hot and cold, rough and smooth, wet and dry, soft and hard, as well as pain and pleasure.

Now just imagine trying to put such a complex system into a sensor so small it could fit into the tip of a robot’s “finger.” No doubt that would a huge breakthrough.

For one thing, it would make robots far more “human”…

To Feed the Future, U.S. Farming Will Go High Tech

0 | By Michael A. Robinson

Many Americans view farming as one of the last bastions of low tech.

It’s not hard to see why. These days you can use your tablet computer for a video chat session while your car parks itself.

How on earth could crops ever compete with that?

Well, as it turns out, there’s some pretty cool stuff going on out at the farm, too.

Today’s tech-centric farms use remote sensors that “talk” to satellites. They have robots milking the dairy cows. They even rely on unmanned planes that can fly over their fields to help create 3D maps and improve crop output.

Welcome to the future of U.S. farming…

More Proof That Kids are Shaping the Future of Tech

0 | By Michael A. Robinson

Some years ago, as a young reporter in Detroit, I was covering the battered auto industry and landed a fascinating story about how computers would play a big role in the industry’s near future – both in designing and making cars.

As you probably know by now, I have an insatiable curiosity for all things tech.

That’s why, almost as soon as I handed the auto computing story off to my editor, I was back on the road…

I had to know more about computers.

I drove directly to the nearest computer retailer to talk with people there – customers and salespeople alike – about their use of these early-stage personal computers, then used mostly as hobbies.

I was stunned to meet three teenage boys who said they went to the store every day after school to hang out. And no, they weren’t playing games. They were “writing code” – creating new applications for a device that many adults still hadn’t bought into.

A few days later, I filed a story predicting computers would revolutionize the world as we know it. I guess I wasn’t far off…

The year was 1981 – three years before Apple Inc.‘s (NASDAQ:AAPL) Mac debuted and five years before Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT) went public.

To this day, I still watch the trends young people embrace to try to keep abreast of the next technology; I think teens can play a profound role in writing the road map of the future.

That’s why last week I told you about a group of tech-savvy young people with a lot of talent – kids who’ve won recent science and engineering contests sponsored by Intel. (See “These Teen Geniuses are Agents of Radical Change.”)

So, I have to say I was pretty excited to pick up a copy of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal…

These Teen Geniuses are Agents of Radical Change

1 | By Michael A. Robinson

He’s barely old enough to shave… but Jack Andraka is already hard at work helping America win the war on cancer.

Just last month, the Baltimore-area whiz kid took top honors at a key contest hosted by Silicon Valley legend Intel Corp. (NasdaqGS:INTC). He invented a low-cost, cutting-edge cancer screen that could save thousands of lives every year. Andraka now ranks as a rising star and radical change agent who could have a huge impact on high tech and medicine. He also pocketed a cool $100,000 in prize money.

And all at the ripe old age of 15…

He’s one of the reasons why I say it pays to remain upbeat about America’s future. He and these six other youngsters I’m about to name demonstrate how much innate talent we have in this country, and I believe that’s one reason we can’t help but succeed in the long run.

Don’t get me wrong. America faces big challenges – rising debt, chronic job losses, and political gridlock, to name but a few.

Yet we’re also the one country that steadily produces bright young entrepreneurs who change the world around them. Where others see obstacles, these teens see opportunities.

They go on to launch the Googles, Apples, and Microsofts of the world, and they leave a trail of wealth behind them.

As investors, we want to spot this talent before others do. That’s how we maintain the inside edge that vaults us ahead of the pack when new investment opportunities come along.

Fact is, kids today may not be any smarter than the Edisons and Fords of their day. But in the Era of Radical Change, they have the tools – sensors, computers, software and more – that scientists of old could only dream about.

Today, I want to introduce you to the seven young geniuses who are pushing the limits of science and high tech.

A Touchscreen Keyboard That Goes Invisible

0 | By Michael A. Robinson

Now here’s a cutting-edge way to solve a daily frustration for hundreds of millions of people around the world…

As you’ve probably noticed, most cell phones today come equipped with the ability to send text messages using touch screens. In fact, it’s getting harder and harder to find a smart phone that actually lets you use “old school” keyboard buttons to tap out your messages.

The industry’s move to touchscreens allowed smart phones and lots of other products to become smaller and lighter. That’s important. By ditching the keys, device makers greatly reduced the number of moving parts that can break, too. That’s a very good thing, because our mobile phones get a pretty heavy workout every single day…

Research firm Gartner Inc. estimates that there are more than 1.6 billion mobile devices in the world today. Texting remains one of the top uses of these devices. In fact, industry experts peg total message volume for all carriers at five billion per day. And it’s one of the top sources of income for wireless carriers. London-based market research firm Ovum estimates carriers worldwide took in about $153 billion during 2011 from text messaging.

But there’s a big problem with all this typing.

Because touch screens lack any way to give you true physical feedback on your typing, they seem ready-made for mix-ups and mistakes. I have a feeling that even the most careful among you have made a typo yourself; but if not, don’t take my word for it. You can go to websites that show all kinds of crazy – and sometimes hilarious – text messages that people send by accident. (You can check out my favorite, which details bad texts from parents, by going here.)

That’s why I’m so excited about this California startup…

Three Reasons the Wall Street Journal is Wrong about Asteroid Mining

0 | By Michael A. Robinson

Asteroid mining hasn’t even gotten off the ground yet.

But it’s already drawing some bad – and very misguided – press.

I wrote to you last month to tell you about a new startup that wants to mine asteroids for resources that could be worth trillions. Indeed, as I said, just one of these rocks the size of an art museum could be worth $100 billion. (See “‘Mining the Sky’ for an Abundant Future.”)

I also told you to keep an eye on Planetary Resources and its breakthrough high-tech system as a possible future investment. Not only does the new firm have the backing of several billionaires, it also has the support of the U.S. government.

And let’s not forget our friends across the pond…

This month, the European Space Agency will begin training a team to land on one of these giant space rocks and return with samples for researchers to study. They want to tap asteroids for metals and minerals, too.

Clearly, some very bright leaders all over the world believe “mining the sky” will be a key part of our future.

That’s why I still believe the question isn’t if we will mine asteroids, but when.

But in a story last Tuesday, none other than The Wall Street Journal tried to cast doubt on the whole concept.

The headline says it all: “Exhausting Earth’s Resources? Not So Fast.”

The central part of the report is that Earth has more resources than we can dig up in decades.

As a long-time Journal reader, I have to say I was surprised the writer was so naive. The article focused on only one aspect of space mining – that Earth is running out of resources like gold, silver, and platinum. As I see it, the Journal was bending over backwards to support the current, terrestrial mining industry.

Because there’s much more to the story than that…

How “Shock Therapy” Could Make Us All Smarter

0 | By Michael A. Robinson

Mention the term “shock treatment,” and just about everyone recoils in horror.

Indeed, the practice of sending electrical currents through the brain has gotten some very bad press over the years.

Now there’s a brand-new twist on shock therapy. It offers a much more nuanced, gentler approach than what most people envision. And new research indicates that it could have a wide range of advantages for millions of patients dealing with the effects of strokes and other damage to the brain. It could also help people manage pain.

Not only that, but – incredibly – shock therapy has now been shown to aid in the learning of new skills. The U.S. military even hopes to use this new technology to train soldiers.

I’ll give you all the details in a moment. But first, a bit of history…

This Tiny Startup Just Outmaneuvered Microsoft (and High Tech Will Never Be the Same)

0 | By Michael A. Robinson

Boy, Microsoft should have paid more attention to all those bright young hackers. A lot more.

It all started in November 2010, when Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT) unveiled its Kinect product to the public.

Kinect is a motion-sensing input device that responds to full body movements – no remote required – as well as gestures and vocal commands. It made a great add-on to the firm’s popular Xbox 360 game unit. Indeed, it turned the gaming world upside down two years ago, immediately expanding the appeal of gaming to dancers, athletes, and even the elderly. (Kinect is a verifiable nursing home hit.)

Yet it soon became clear that it was to become much, much more than that.

The motion-sensing technology behind Kinect is breakthrough high tech. I predict it will have hundreds of applications that could be worth billions to investors.

Just imagine…

Musicians could put on live concerts with a virtual “band” backing them up. Kids could learn to mimic the exact movements of their favorite sports stars. Online shoppers could use a personal avatar that lets them virtually “try on” clothes before buying them. Stroke victims could receive physical therapy through their home PCs or their smart TVs.

With the gesture controls, surgeons could even access patient files, send alerts to other doctors, even pull down facts from the Web if needed – all without leaving the confines of a sterile environment.

As I see it, motion sensors will change the future of gaming, architecture, design, medicine, and much more…

No wonder hackers jumped on board in droves.