TechKNOW Tomorrow – 4 New Technologies in 2021

Image by Umberto via Unsplash.

Most of us would say that 2020 was an incredibly difficult year thanks in part due to COVID-19. Between the amount of jobs lost, business closures, lack of disposable income for leisure, travel restrictions, social isolation, and the death toll, 2020 has been the most mentally taxing year we’ve experienced in a long time.

With all of that said, 2021 seems to be a year of slow recovery. Vaccine rollouts, for instance, should reduce most of the barriers created by COVID-19 and allow us a little breathing room during the second half of 2021.

This year is also gearing up to be a great one in terms of some new technology that’s about to hit the public market. Besides the tens of thousands of satellites SpaceX intends to launch to provide internet access to rural communities, here are four more innovations that we may see hit retail soon!

1) Key-X

Imagine a smart keyboard that is accessible by anyone with limited motor skills from disorders such as cerebral palsy. The Key-X was created for this purpose. With only eleven large buttons, it allows the user to easily type every possible character that one can type on a regular keyboard. It’s even capable of precise mouse movements on the screen and multiple types of clicking.

Image by Key2Enable via IndieGoGo.

Even better, it’s great for gamers with physical disabilities as it can combine keys to perform multiple functions. Additionally, for those with severe limitations, an accessory called a-blinX allows this keyboard to be used exclusively by blinking. Admittedly, the price of the Key-X is a bit outrageous, though this is reflected by the current lack of supply. This will likely change if the Key-X becomes more widely available.

2) EyeRide

Coming from France is an innovative little tool that makes driving much safer. The EyeRide HUD was initially designed to give hands-free access to digital tools on motorcycles, though it’s expanded to now be inclusive to cars, too!

Image by EyeLights via EyeLights.

With the EyeRide HUD, information like your GPS route, incoming calls, and music selection appear in your peripheral vision rather than on a dashboard that you have to look away for. With vocal commands or a tiny remote, you can activate any of these services without actually taking your eyes off the road.

At the moment, it’s certainly expensive for what it is, but for a device that could potentially save your life, how can you really put a price on that?

3) Water Walker & Spa

This next innovation was created in Japan and is extremely limited in terms of product availability. In short, it has to be ordered from their website from one of their distributors! Based on the name, you can probably guess what this is. Acting as both a treadmill and a relaxing spa, you can perform a workout and then immediately bathe/shower afterwards.

The Water Walker & Spa is designed to provide an experience akin to walking or running while adding less stress to the body. Those with injuries can receive the same benefits without the pain flare-ups. Aerobic exercise has come a long way from outdoor running, and it will be interesting to see if this idea takes off throughout North America over the next couple of years.

While this $90,000 machine is much too expensive for the average consumer, we could potentially see a few of them at local gyms over time.

4) Solar Roadways

The last technology here is arguably the most innovative and useful in a world irreversibly damaged by climate change. Compared to asphalt and concrete, the price of Solar Roadways will likely be much higher in terms of initial investment. However, the payoff will ultimately cut costs in the long run. After four lengthy testing periods over the last decade, Solar Roadways are almost ready to be sold commercially.

Image by Scott Brusaw via YouTube.

Replacing our current roads, this new technology can generate electricity for external use by absorbing rays from the sun. LED lights powered by the sun replace lines and signage that must regularly be updated. Snow and ice melt on their own without the need for clearance. These roads are also “impervious to potholes” and, most importantly, the solar energy stored doesn’t produce greenhouse gases or air/water pollution.

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At techKNOWtutors, we realize that adapting to technology isn’t easy. Although most services have closed, we remain open – digitally – to answer your internet-related questions. If you need help with improving your digital literacy, send us an email at techknowtutors@cscnl.ca or join our Facebook group and send us a message.

Better yet, sign up for one of our online classes that we offer for FREE every week! Until then, stay in the techKNOW.

TechKNOW Tomorrow – Closing the Digital Divide with Satellites

Image by NASA via Unsplash.

During the late 1950s, the U.S. and the Soviet Union each began launching satellites as an attempt to spy on the potential enemy. This thankfully deescalated the rising tensions between both countries. It wasn’t long before Canada launched its first satellite in 1962 – the Alouette I – and became the third country worldwide to do so.

Fast forward sixty years. The success of these space flights brought in a new age of satellite launches that continues today. The satellites we launch today, of course, are capable of a lot more than just intercepting communications. They could potentially diminish the digital divide forever.

Satellite Constellations

SpaceX has recently commenced a new project called Starlink, which involves launching satellites into space “that can beam a broadband connection to internet terminals“, which then provide internet to any devices in the area.

Image by SpaceX via Flickr.

Feedback from the program, especially on the consistent speeds available, has been overwhelmingly positive so far. The focus of Starlink is on rural communities that either have slow internet speeds or no available packages at all. In a world where education and work are widely done remotely, the current lack of available internet is unacceptable.

That said, only 120 satellites have been launched at the moment. In order to achieve global coverage, satellite constellations (systems of numerous satellites) will be required. SpaceX has received permission to launch 12,000 satellites into orbit; they’ve already sought permission for another 30,000.

With more engineering, testing, bureaucracy, and orbital trajectories required, it may be some time before those in rural communities obtain the same powerful and affordable internet urban centres have access to.

Risks and Concerns

If we look back to the first satellite launches, they were used as an attempt to spy on the Soviet Union and the U.S. during a tense period in history called the Cold War. While the satellites Elon Musk plans to launch likely won’t be equipped with technology capable of intercepting cell phone calls, they may secretly monitor the data of anyone using them for internet.

Imagine if every internet search you make, website you visit, document you create, and picture you take were transmitted and sold to government agencies – even files you don’t upload online. Today, we already face major data privacy concerns with tech giants like Google and Facebook. This issue could be amplified even further to include everything we do online, whether we’re aware that we’re connected or not.

Image by SpaceX via Unsplash.

Normally, we trust that internet service providers will keep all of this information private. If the idea of satellite coverage is to potentially reach any area of the world, there would likely be a lot more pressure on SpaceX from foreign government agencies to sell the data they collect from us.

Related to the issue of privacy is the fact that SpaceX plans to launch satellites globally. At the moment, it’s safe to say that Musk will hold a monopoly over internet satellite technology for at least a few years. He’s attempting to launch these satellites worldwide, yet his interests are mostly exclusive to the places he has citizenship in: Canada, the U.S., and South Africa. What about the rest of the world? Can we trust a billionaire with their data?

One other concern with these satellites is congestion due to too many simultaneous users. With tens of thousands of satellites, covering billions of people worldwide is just not possible. SpaceX also hasn’t clarified whether networks will suffer from heavy speed slowdowns during peak hours of access (e.g., weekday evenings).

Ultimately, there are some legitimate questions and concerns about foreign policies, data privacy, and a lack of resources in rural communities relating to satellite internet. What we do know is that diminishing the digital divide is finally possible thanks to advances in satellite technology.

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At techKNOWtutors, we realize that adapting to technology isn’t easy. Although most services have closed, we remain open – digitally – to answer your internet-related questions. If you need help with improving your digital literacy, send us an email at techknowtutors@cscnl.ca or join our Facebook group and send us a message.

Better yet, sign up for one of our online classes that we offer for FREE every week! Until then, stay in the techKNOW.

TechKNOW Tomorrow – Digital Possessions: What Happens to Our Virtual Selves When We Pass Away?

Image by Marvin Meyer via Unsplash.

The only certainty we have in life is death. It’s a topic we try to avoid at all costs because it’s usually the thing that we fear the most. That said, it’s important that we plan for it, which includes creating a will that details what happens to our physical AND digital possessions after we pass away.

With each passing year, we become even more reliant on technology to help us with our day-to-day lives. As a result, physical media seems to be on its way out. We take pictures with smartphones and store them digitally instead of having images printed and organized into albums. We download video games rather than buy game cartridges or discs. Streaming services like Netflix have all the movies and TV shows we could ever want to watch, replacing DVDs and Blu-ray discs for the most part.

‘What’s the big deal?’, you might be thinking. Well, this means that most of us will be leaving virtual possessions behind to our loved ones. Your photos stored in the Cloud (virtual storage) aren’t as easy to inherit as a series of photo albums. To complicate matters, it’s not as simple as writing down your passwords; these are often required to change periodically.

Furthermore, it’s impossible to tell which virtual services will still be available in the future. PlayStation Plus, Facebook, Amazon Prime, Spotify… Who knows how long any online service will continue to exist for? In the blink of an eye, you can literally lose years of priceless memories if you don’t regularly back up data to an external hard drive or the Cloud.

Spirits in the Cloud

Image by Neda Astani on Unsplash.

The Cloud is used for practically everything we do online, from the files we upload to the social media websites we use for posting. For example, the only reason we can see tweets from people around the world – as well as live updates, edits, and frequent comments – is because they are stored on a massive server somewhere, just like our pictures are when they’re uploaded to Google Drive.

When you buy physical media such as “a hardbound book or music on a physical CD … The work itself is still protected by copyright, but the actual book or CD is yours. … The harsh reality, though, is that when you download a book from Amazon on your Kindle, or buy a new album from iTunes, you don’t really own anything“.

When you buy digital goods, all you truly receive is a license to access or use that content. You don’t own the songs you’ve bought on iTunes; you’ve agreed with Apple to have access to the songs as long as you’re still alive. That license can’t legally be transferred to others.

In short, you can’t transfer your digital collections. Much of what helps shape who you are – your “spirit” – will be lost in the Cloud, eventually deleted or scavenged by the companies you bought licenses from. No one knows for sure how long your files will safely be stored on the Cloud. Your accounts will likely be deleted after a small period of time following your passing.

If this sounds terrifying, don’t worry. There are some potential solutions that can ensure that your family and friends have things with which to remember you by.

How We Can Inherit Digital Assets

Think about any post you’ve ever made online. It could have been a blog post, an e-mail, or a poem you shared, or maybe even pictures or videos of a convention you visited. With physical media, you would have just written your documents on paper (like a book) or stored your photos in a lovely album, making them easy to give to loved ones once the time finally came. But how do you inherit a digital image or a blog post?

While licenses for cloud products and services expire when we do, the same isn’t true for content that actually belongs to us. The files and online posts we create are considered digital assets, and can be treated identically to physical ones once we pass away. “This means they can be bequeathed (providing we have actual ownership – not just a licence to use them) or, if they contain information which we wish to be kept forever private, deleted“.

And while it may be difficult to imagine inheriting a lengthy Facebook memory post, there are some workarounds. For instance, you could copy and paste your post into a text editor and save the file. You could take a screenshot of the post on your screen. From here, you can safely transfer the file to an external hard drive or a thumb drive, burn it to a disc, send it via-email/text, or even print it off if you feel the need to.

The point is, the post belongs to you and it’s your job to safeguard it. Family heirlooms are kept in a safe spot and photo albums need to be kept in good condition. Otherwise, your family wouldn’t have anything to inherit. The same goes for anything you store on a cloud server. The significant words or images we capture on social media, the documents, images, and videos we store virtually… All of these need to be saved, transferred, and/or printed.

Similarly, it’s important to include your digital assets in your will and to name a digital executor for them so that they can “close certain online accounts (such as social media accounts, subscription services, or any accounts that are paid for like Amazon Prime or Spotify); archive personal files, photos, videos, and other content you’ve created; and delete files from your computer and hard drives“. Regularly send updated username and password lists to the executor to prevent account lockouts. Give that person permission to delete your social media or paid subscription accounts.

Another important thing to note is that most cloud services don’t have a policy in place on the data we upload, meaning it’s still unclear what will happen to our files once we pass away. As we become increasingly reliant on cloud technologies, however, we may soon start to see shifts in policies regarding digital rights management after death.

Ultimately, if everything that defines us is stored virtually, then that means we need to progressively find ways to inherit digital possessions. The only way we can be sure that parts of our digital selves will be remembered is to safeguard our digital assets and transfer them to a physical format of some sort. Whether that’s in the form of an external hard drive, a series of discs, or printed documents is entirely up to us. You can – and should – even do this with smartphones and tablets (though it’s trickier to backup that stuff to an external hard drive)!

In short, the more prep work we place into our digital assets, the more memories we can preserve for future generations.

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At techKNOWtutors, we realize that adapting to technology isn’t easy. Although most services have closed, we remain open – digitally – to answer your internet-related questions. If you need help with improving your digital literacy, send us an email at techknowtutors@cscnl.ca or join our Facebook group and send us a message.

Better yet, sign up for one of our online classes that we offer for FREE every week! Until then, stay in the techKNOW.