You don’t have to be a die-hard geek to start assembling your holiday list of the future today. We will help you. Over the last year, we visited a number of GE labs and talked to the scientists and engineers working there. The result is a short list of goodies that could make it to market soon.
Keep your eyes peeled for a tiny piece of technology called the digital micro switch. It works a thousand times faster than the current generation of switches. When it shows up in mobile devices and fifth-generation (5G) wireless networks, it could boost data transfer rates into the gigabits per second. That should be enough to download an HD movie in seconds flat. The switch was developed at GE Global Research, and GE spun it out into a company called Menlo Microsystems. The technology could start rolling out in the early 2020s.
GE researchers are working on stamp-sized sensors inspired by butterfly wings that can detect the presence of explosives and chemicals and report results over radio waves. The first applications for the technology probably will be in the security space, but scientists are already talking about teaching it to sniff for chemicals produced by bacteria in food. And for your future gift list? Perhaps a fridge that can spot spoiled milk and email you to toss it. Or, for the Brooklyn hipster who sells artisanal pickles, the sensors could monitor fermentation via smartphone.
A team of innovators at GE Global Research and the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab is developing a water-based battery. A version of this “flow battery” has already proved successful for stationary electric-grid-scale energy storage. It could lead to a new type electric vehicles that are cheaper to make and faster to recharge.