Starting tonight at 9pm (ET/PT) and on Mondays hereafter, a new science show hits The Science Channel -- it's called Popular Science's Future Of.... I've seen the first few episodes, and think it's worth watching. The premise is simple: the host -- blogger/comedian Baratunde Thurston -- visits scientists who are working on prototypes of new inventions, then tries them out. In the first episode, Superhuman, Baratunde tries out a series of inventions related to human performance and body enhancement (including several from my favorite Nerdvana, the MIT Media Lab) to see how they really work. Below is a roundup of some of the key stuff covered in the first episode.
Stanford biologists are making a cooling device that you wear on your hand; by sticking your hand into this thing, you can quickly and safely reduce your core temperature -- thus reducing sweating and potentially avoiding overheating during a workout. (Pictured above: Baratunde trying it out.) Why a glove? Well, the hand acts like a radiator for the body, and lots of blood flows through that area -- by cooling the hand, blood throughout the body can be cooled quickly. This invention already works, it's just a bit bulky at the moment. I'm hoping for a Michael Jackson-style sparkly glove that I can rock at the gym.
Limb Regeneration Powder
You've probably heard the story of the guy who grew about a half-inch of his fingertip back (including fingernail) at the ripe of age of 72, using an experimental powder derived from pigs' bladders. (If you haven't heard this, read a quick summary at Wikipedia. Basically, an older man accidentally cut off a segment of his finger, and his brother, a University of Pittsburgh scientist, tried an experimental regenerative powder on him. It worked.) While some scientists disagree about whether any regeneration actually happened here (some say it's just normal healing), this powder certainly seems like interesting stuff -- could it, or a regenerative substance like it, someday lead to regeneration of dying organs (thus doing away with transplants), or missing limbs? Baratunde explains...though he doesn't lose any fingers trying it out.
Wearable "Sixth Sense" Projector/Camera/PDA/Phone/Everything Device
An MIT Media Lab project, the Sixth Sense device is a wearable computer that hangs around your neck (Snow Crash gargoyles, anyone?) and instead of a screen, uses a micro-projector that projects its contents onto the nearest wall, car, whatever. It also includes a camera, so you can use your hands to interact with the picture in mid-air, implementing a sort of "touchscreen" without the touching. While it's still in the research phase (it's bulky, the picture it projects is a little unsteady, and so on), this gizmo is at least academically interesting -- and who knows, perhaps it's what we'll all be using in the not-too-distant future.
And Much, Much More...
The first episode also covers super-muscled mice (and Bully Whippets, those creepy hulk-style dogs), bionic Terminator-style contact lenses, and prosthetic limbs for athletes (that last one is the closest to a practical application, as its primary researcher is a double amputee and uses his own research samples every day). It's compelling stuff, presented in a clear and unaffected manner. Most of the time, I find these "pop science" shows to be way too dumb or hyper to hold my interest -- I want more science, less wackiness. This show finds the right balance, with an intelligent (and fun) host, compelling subject matter, and a healthy dose of actual science content. Having blogged about science and tech for several years, I recognized many of the projects in the upcoming episodes (for example, the Siftables "smart blocks") -- this is the real deal.
So tune in tonight (Monday, August 10) at 9pm (ET/PT) on The Science Channel to catch the first episode. There'll be many more, coming each Monday night, for your science-loving enjoyment. For more information: official website, Twitter feed, Facebook page, and I'm sure you can find the rest from there.