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Tech Concepts You Need to Know for 2012

Tech Concepts You Need to Know for 2012

1. Pascalization


Louis Pasteur's name is synonymous with food preservation, but it's another long-dead French scientist, mathematician, and philosopher whose research is changing the way we think about food: Blaise Pascal. Pascalization, commonly known as high-pressure processing (HPP), is a method by which food is subjected to extreme water pressure—sometimes up to 80,000 pounds a square inch—inside long, cylindrical metal chambers. This destroys living cells, including harmful bacteria such as E. coli and listeria, while leaving the texture and flavor of many foods surprisingly intact.


Sauces, fruit juices, guacamole, lunch meats, and fish hold up well to pascalization, and treated versions of these foods can be found in stores today. But falling equipment costs, demand for longer shelf lives, and a rash of bad PR for HPP's competition, food irradiation, will bring pascalization into the mainstream, says V. M. Balasubramaniam, a professor of food safety engineering at Ohio State University. "The food industry is conservative in terms of new tech," he says, "but in recent years the industry has grown into a multibillion-dollar business." Some extreme applications for pascalization include edible raw shellfish, and precooked eggs and omelets that can be stored at room temperature—for years.


Tech Concepts You Need to Know for 2012


2. Plastic Muscles


Functional electroactive polymers (EAPs), known colloquially as plastic muscles, have been in development for decades, but their applications have been limited. (In 2005, the International Society for Optical Engineering held its first EAP versus human arm-wrestling match. Don't worry—the human won.) Recent research, however, has unlocked new potential for EAPs beyond sensors, actuators, and fanciful experiments. By placing large, flat spokes of EAP material between a floating hub and a fixed outer wheel, researchers at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute's Biomimetics Lab in New Zealand have been able to create a rotary motor, which could directly compete with the ubiquitous magnet-based electric motors in many low-power applications. The technology has drawn interest from NASA for its potentially high energy efficiency.


Tech Concepts You Need to Know for 2012


3. Subconscious Mode


Anyone who has woken up to a dead phone can attest that mobile devices suck energy whether you're using them or not. That's because, even when a device is inactive—say, in your pocket with the screen off—it remains alert for wireless data transmissions, in a state known as idle listening. University of Michigan researchers have developed a technology called Energy-Minimizing Idle Listening, or subconscious mode, which dramatically lowers the rate at which a device's Wi-Fi card retrieves data packets. By selectively listening only for small headers, or tags, the device is able to anticipate incoming data and open up its full wireless connection capabilities accordingly. In testing, subconscious mode reduced energy consumption by 44 percent in current mobile devices.


4. Mobile Instant Messaging


BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) paved the way for Internet-based mobile instant messaging. Apple, Google, and Microsoft now have MIM services of their own, sentencing overpriced texting plans to a well-deserved death.


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