Technology future: Looking ahead to the next century

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TECHNOLOGY FUTURE 5G (the fifth generation of mobile data networks) is gaining traction and could be in limited public operation as soon as 2021. 5G is crucial in the sphere of car-to-car communication. I’m not talking about phone calls here, either – I’m talking cars talking to each other. By communicating with each other in a set area, it will be possible to alert each other when, say, a car is too close or behaving in an unexpected way. All the safety features available today will be faster and more responsive, and the vehicular hive mind will keep things running smoothly.

5G enabled cars will also benefit further from another technology called C-V2X (a somewhat tenuous set of initials standing for “Cellular Vehicle to Everything”, I have no idea what the hyphen is doing there). C-V2X will allow cars to communicate without first having to send a signal to a cellular data tower, meaning communications are truly car-to-car. This goes some way to allaying the fears of “what happens when I’m out of range of a tower?”

Energy storage: Really not a sexy subject but an important one. In these days of #ClimateCrisis and the very real need to clean up our act and stop burning so much fossil fuel, the problem persists that we can’t very effectively store any of the energy we can get from wind, solar or wave power. Your country’s electricity grid isn’t stored energy either, rather a very delicate balancing act between all the production methods to keep the supply at expected levels. If a cheap and safe way of storing energy could be found, it would realistically change the way we use electricity forever. Primarily, it would mean that any power you generate for yourself via solar cells or other means could be stored by you, at your home or business for use whenever you need it. It could also provide a boost for less-developed countries where the infrastructure is possibly not that stable.

One particularly good idea that’s frankly way out of my comfort zone scientifically, is hydrogen fuel cell storage. Strap in, and I’ll try to explain so even I can understand. The electricity generated by your wind turbine (for example) is used to split water into its two component elements, hydrogen and oxygen. The process is known as electrolysis – not to be confused with the hair removal procedure of the same name. Having separated the component parts, the hydrogen is stored and used to power a fuel cell that reverses the process, combining hydrogen and oxygen to create the only by-product of the process – water. The advantages to this are many; zero pollution, free electricity (and also heat, as part of the process) and power autonomy to name but three.

Flying cars: Possibly. No, really. A startup with the awkward name of Alaka’i (derived from the Hawaiian word denoting the importance of leadership for all you word nerds out there) has produced a flying car prototype called the Skai. Well, I say ‘car’, it looks more like a giant drone but it does have a range of 640 km and is powered by – wait for it – hydrogen fuel cells. Throw in some 5G to coordinate the traffic and it’s all starting to look pretty convergent, isn’t it?