Innovation - Imagining The Future

Here's How Today's Fantasies Will Be Tomorrow's Business Realities

Your hand as a keyboard? A shirt that can feed a lawn? Thinking your tweets? Here's how today's fantasies will be tomorrow's business realities.

Not a big fan of airport gate agents? Then listen up. This summer, JFK, LaGuardia and Newark Airports are rolling out new and always-friendly reps – of the holographic variety. "They can help with info about ground transportation, getting to gates and local attractions," says Steve Coleman, a Port Authority spokesperson. Beyond airports, experts think talking holograms could soon be common at trade shows.

Organic cotton is so yesterday. Sportswear company Puma is launching a line of compostable shoes and shirts. "You can literally plant your shirt in your backyard and it will provide nutrients to the soil," says Erica Orange, a consultant at futurist firm Weiner Edrich Brown.

Tech firm MC10 has developed bendable electronic sensors that can be embedded into apparel. When placed in shirts, for example, the chips can monitor a person’s vital signs or even determine when an athlete is dehydrated. "The technology works, it's available today and we are actively developing several products in partnership with various leaders like Reebok," says Ben Schlatka, co-founder of MC10.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags – the next generation of bar codes – are already being imprinted on consumer products to track buying habits and shopper preferences. Ad specialties are next. "When the user is in range of RFID readers, the tracking results can be fed back to the corporate sponsor," says Jeff Lederer, president of Counselor Top 40 supplier Prime Line (asi/79530). "This will help track the effectiveness of the campaign."

Apple's Siri may be cool, but she'll soon be obsolete. Consultants believe Siri's 3-D descendants will someday replace administrative office personnel and researchers. "They’ll be able to tell you which items are doing best in which sized companies," says futurist Jack Shaw. "They will predict demand." These personal assistants will also make great travel planners, mapping out the most cost-effective routes.

Tired of small mobile touchscreens? So is Carnegie Mellon researcher Chris Harrison. In a shared project with Microsoft, Harrison has created a way to project a usable, incredibly accurate touchpad onto almost any surface. "We’ve moved beyond the skin to walls, books and tables," Harrison says. "We're taking all the power of a smartphone and bringing it out into the world."

Experts believe social interaction in the future will be like Skype on steroids. "You'll be able to walk into a room with a big flat screen TV, make a gesture or use voice activation and you'll be taken to maybe Nordstrom," says Glen Hiemstra, founder of "You'll be able to interact with a personal shopper in real time, with immediate broadcast images."

Think office wellness is big now? Just wait. The workstation of the future – nicknamed the Active Desk – will allow employees to exercise throughout the day. "There are definite health benefits," says Ernesto Ramirez, a researcher at the University of California at San Diego. "The Active Desk will let people walk at very low speeds and still get everything done."

Google is doing a lot more than just tweaking its search engine. The company recently demoed futuristic glasses that experts think will eventually serve as mini-computers. Through a small, projected screen above one eye, salespeople could have access to real-time pricing, product videos and even personal information about prospects. "You'll be able to pull up names of their children, for example," says futurist David Zach.

Can you imagine dialing a telephone number, sending a text or responding to a tweet by simply thinking? This is the future of computer-brain interfacing, a technology that's already helping disabled people communicate better. "Currently, we can classify an operator's intent purely using brain signals with around 90% accuracy among two to eight selections," says Deniz Erdogmus, a researcher at Northeastern University.