When 'futuristic' tech from old TV shows becomes a reality

Robotic vacuums and tablet computers are just like something out of a 1960s Jetsons cartoon.
Robotic vacuums and tablet computers are just like something out of a 1960s Jetsons cartoon.

Cartoons and fictional TV shows have a history of predicting the technological future.

Think of Dick Tracy (1931 debut) and his two-way wrist radio; Richie Rich (1953) and his video phone; Maxwell Smart (1965) and his shoe phone and the Jetsons (1962) with flat screen TVs; tablet computers; robotic vacuums and, maybe one day soon, flying cars. Batman (1939) may have the ultimate claim though.

His belt may have been the first device that could legitimately lay claim to being tagged as a "smart" something.

If you launch a new product today, it seems almost compulsory to precede it with the word smart.

We have smart phones; smart watches; smart homes ... but Batman had his smart belt with electronic tracking devices; a mini-camera; recording devices; a bat beacon and sonic disruptor and a communicator to allow him to contact other heroes.

The smart-things market is predicted to grow 25 per cent a year for the next five years.

There is no set technology rule to define what makes something smart, but it is generally accepted that it should have some autonomous capability or artificial intelligence and have the ability to communicate externally and probably be a part of the Internet of Things (IoT).

A fridge is just a fridge until you connect it to the internet, and now it is a smart fridge.

The list of smart products seems almost endless. You can currently buy: a smart plant pot that has a self-watering system that also tracks soil nutrients, sunlight and temperature and notifies your smartphone when the plant needs attention.

A smart umbrella that notifies you when you are leaving the house that, according to the forecast, you are going to need your umbrella today. It also lets you know if you accidentally wander off without it (leaving it at a restaurant for example).

Smart toasters allow custom messages to be printed on your toast, including the day's weather forecast. And just in case you aren't standing in front of your toaster when it finishes, you will receive an alert on your smartphone once toasting is done.

More lifestyle:

A smart mirror that gives you your calendar for the day along with status updates from other smart devices in the house. I am sure you can even ask the smart mirror on the stand who is the fairest in the land - but I can't guarantee the legitimacy of the answer.

If you love your eggs for breakfast then you need a smart egg tray. You will receive a notification when the number of eggs is low and also when any of the eggs in the tray are nearing their expiration date.

The bathroom doesn't miss out with smart toothbrushes that feature video feeds and notifications to your phone on your brushing technique.

The smart toilet automatically opens, closes, flushes and combats smells with a built-in catalytic deodoriser.

One of the issues we see with smart devices is the ability for them to communicate. Different companies rely on different standards or communication protocols.

There are alliances being created - sponsored by companies such as Apple, Google and Amazon - to try and address these issues and make a connectivity standard for smart devices that is as ubiquitous as Wi-Fi.

And of course, you knew it had to exist - a smart belt. This one isn't quite as impressive as Batman's, but it does have a 2000mAh power bank to charge your smartphone when it has been too busy connecting to your other smart devices.

Tell me what smart device you would love to see next at ask@techtalk.digital.

  • Mathew Dickerson is a technologist, futurist and founder of several technology start-ups.
This story The everyday 'smart' tech that only seemed real on TV shows first appeared on The Canberra Times.