For every stodgy old investor there is out there looking for mega-cap companies with a healthy dividend and virtually no volatility that they can use to grind out marginal gains year after year, there’s that wild-eyed optimist eager to jump onto the next big thing. The sort of investor who’s more than ready to take that big risk in hopes getting on that next rocket of a stock that will be anywhere from 100 to 1,000 times more valuable by the time all’s said and done.
Of course, gains like that typically don’t come from a solid, executable business plan alone. No, they’re usually tied to a wildly innovative idea that changes the nature of the market. Something that results in a ground-shift that means the world that follows it is never the same. Facebook (FB) was such an idea (while earlier social networking pioneers may quibble with that assessment, history is written by the victors). It went from a project in Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room to a valuation approaching $120 billion in just nine years.
Apple’s (AAPL) iPod, iPhone, and iPad were also such ideas. Today, smart phone’s are a technology so common that almost everyone in America is expected to own one. It’s easy to forget that the first iPhone was only introduced a little over six years ago. In less than the time it takes to finish med school, it went from being a twinkle in Steve Job’s eye to so common place virtually everyone in America is expected to own one. If you had bought 1,000 Apple shares the day the iPod was introduced it would have cost you $9,150. If you had sold those 1,000 shares when the stock peaked out in September of last year, you would have made $690,680 on the transaction.
So what’s the next iPhone? What’s the future of social networking? What’s the next idea that’s going to mean 5,000 or even 10,000 percent returns for shareholders of that perfect, innovative company? Short answer: no idea. No one can be sure, really. If there were any sort of consensus, the markets would have already pushed shares into the stratosphere. With any bold new tech idea, there’s clearly plenty of risk and speculation involved. However, that doesn’t mean that one can’t have at least an inkling about what’s going to be a really big idea over the next decade. So, without further ado, here’s three big ideas in tech that could end up being that next big thing.
The advent of 3-D printing has been well documented, with people starting to make anything from prosthetic limbs to firearms with the devices. By using an additive process and layering materials, these devices could be the future of prototyping and design, allowing engineers and creative minds alike to build devices quickly and with precision. The applications are virtually limitless and one need not look far to find plenty of speculation about what the future of 3D-printing holds.
However, while 3D-printing itself may not be so fresh an idea anymore, one application in particular could hold a particularly incredible potential: 3D printing of human tissue. The technology is in its infancy, and current efforts by companies like Organovo (ONVO) are geared entirely towards creating tissue for use in clinical trials. But the long-term hope is that the eventuality of this idea would be the creation of functional human organs, a development that could revolutionize medicine.
There’s no guarantees that functional human tissue or organs is ever really on the horizon, but the mere possibility is enough to make one wonder. Organ transplants, skin grafts, blood transfusions, all of these procedures could permanently be altered in the most fundamental of ways. And the entirety of the medical industry would never be the same.
Efficient Solar Technology
There’s nothing new about solar power. Ultimately, all the energy we use (aside from nuclear power) can be sourced to the sun one way or another, it’s just a matter of how you’re extracting it. And it seems obvious that using sunlight to generate electricity directly rather than burning fossil fuels to extract solar energy absorbed by plants thousands of years ago would be preferable. It SEEMS obvious, but the reality remains that solar power is and has always been less efficient and much more expensive than its fossil fuel counterpart. Now, with concerns over global warming rising faster than the temperature, the potential economic benefit of a solar plant that’s even close to coal or natural gas in its efficiency and effectiveness is massive.
And the potential for new technologies that might change this fundamental paradigm is out there. One idea involves using space-based solar panels orbiting the earth. Since the sun’s energy is transmitted more directly without a pesky atmosphere in the way or a stupid planet blocking its rays for half of the day, receiving solar energy in space is a much more direct route. The conceptual basis involves satellites that use mirrors to direct sunlight to a space-based array of panels. Those panels, in turn, would convert the energy into microwaves and beam them to the earth where a receiving station would catch them and convert them to electricity. Any fans of the computer game Sim City have already heard of the concept (it’s actually been around for almost 30 years), but the technology that would make this possible and economical could be just a decade away. One big obstacle is creating systems light-weight enough to be cost-effective to shoot 22,000 miles into space. However, the day could rapidly be approaching where this becomes a reality.
Another idea that could potentially double the efficiency of solar panels comes from new nanotechnologies. The concept involves using reflective metal surfaces to direct light into a series of filters where the different wavelengths of light would be separated and filtered out independently, a process that allows for energy to be extracted more efficiently. It remains a hypothesis, but once again, the technology is closer than one would expect.
The benefits of efficient solar power are abundantly clear: zero pollution, zero fuel to purchase, and a virtually unlimited source. The results just haven’t been achievable in the past. Should that change, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a rapid shift away from fossil fuels as a means for generating power, one that could fundamentally change the global economy. It all remains speculation based on hypothetical technology, but the potential that would come with success is substantial.
Anyone who's spent hours in grinding traffic knows that it can be absolutely soul sucking. And guess what? It's all your fault. Of course, by you, we mean all humanity. Push comes to shove, having thousands of independent-thinking individuals out there driving cars around is what gums up the works. We are inefficient and don't communicate effectively, in the end. If only there was a way to remove human error from the equation, leave the driving up to perfect computers that can communicate and ensure the most efficient flow of vehicles possible.
If you haven't picked up on what I'm driving at by now, you clearly aren't the sort of person who closely follows every rumor out there about future Google (GOOG) projects. And it's not just Google. Tesla (TSLA) and Nissan (NSANY) , among others, are also working on their own versions of the same idea: a self-driving car.
Imagine leaving your house each morning, getting into your car, and then opening up the newspaper (okay, okay, your iPad) and reading while you're whisked to work as if you had a chauffeur. Driverless cars could allow one to check email, do work, and otherwise be productive all while reducing our commute and unclogging highways by handing our driving over to computers.
Self-driving cars could dramatically reduce accidents, saving a fortune in damages, not to mention hundreds of thousands of lives. What's more, the absence of accidents could allow for lighter-weight cars that don't require steel frames or airbags. This would mean a dramatic decrease in the energy required to take us all on our morning commute, whether that be in the form of gas or a charge in our lithium-ion batteries. And while some might not like the idea of handing over their safety to a computer network, they may not have a choice. Cities eager to eliminate car accidents and reduce congestion could ultimately make cars driven by people a thing of the past at some point down the line.
Ultimately, driverless cars still appear to be at least 10-15 years away, with the potential for them becoming the norm clearly lagging well behind that. However, if these vehicles work as effectively as some seem to think they might, the future of technology, the automotive industry, and our morning commute could never be the same.
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