5G, Transparent Solar Panels, and the Future of IoT

The future can’t come soon enough

Photo by Quang Tri NGUYEN on Unsplash

The tech industry has been trying for years to get consumers to adopt smart glasses and augmented reality headsets. Google was one of the first big players to make it to market with their Google Glass. In the years following, many more products were released by everyone from tech giants to DIY enthusiasts:

…and as of 7 days ago,

There are a few reasons why, despite nearly a decade of marketing and hype, these technologies haven’t taken off. Many consumers have brought up concerns over privacy, the prohibitively high prices, and just generally not living up to the hype. Given the ubiquity of smart home assistants and smart phones, I’d wager that the last two reasons hold more influence on the market than the first.

This brings up an important point — why are smart phones so much more interwoven in our society than smart glasses? Sure they’ve been around for a lot longer, have a larger backing, and have a much larger feature set, but there’s one more aspect to a smart phone that isn’t even considered a feature: Cellular Data. A smart phone can connect to the internet in just about any corner of the US. With 5G finally being expanded nationwide we are enabling our infrastructure to handle billions of more devices at speeds once only achievable via wire. Having a 5G infrastructure will allow the internet of things to take foothold in the same way that cell phones have.

Even with a nationwide 5G infrastructure, there is still the issue of having to keep all those “things” powered. As a society we’re slowly moving away from charging with wires to wireless charging. Even so this method only works for close range and still requires the device to be physically on the charger in order to charge it. To fix this we could use persistent charging with transparent solar panels. Their maximum efficiency is rated at ~10% as of now, but being able to charge a smart device just by shining sunlight on it would be a game changer. At first it would be used in conjunction with wireless or wired charging, but eventually once efficiency gets better (either on the part of the charging method or energy usage), we may move to full solar charging.

What This All Adds Up To

Eventually the two separate products of smart glasses and augmented reality headset will converge into a single unit. They will have a heads up display in a sleek but stylish configuration that stays mostly charged throughout the day and can connect to the internet just like a cell phone can. Once brain to computer interface technology catches up and is sufficiently advanced it’s very likely that we will do away with smart phones altogether and just use our brain and the lenses on our augmented glasses to browse the web.

The transparent solar panels + 5G combo could be used in a myriad of other IoT devices such as

Having an entire society surrounded by IoT devices comes with obvious privacy concerns, but I’m going to focus on the benefits here. There are a lot of good things to be gained from living in a smart city whose infrastructure can function as a single hive mind. For starters…

Efficiency Everywhere

From traffic flow to energy distribution, from available bandwidth to air conditioners, a smart city would be vastly more efficient than its non-smart city counterpart. The potential savings here are easily in the billions and will allow commerce and society to grow more easily.

Health and Safety

We already see the seeds of it with smart watches, but health monitoring will become more prevalent in the future. Instead of normal people just tracking things like heart rate on a daily basis, they will also track things like cholesterol, iron levels, respiratory rate, insulin levels, and more. Having access to this level of information will allow people to be more informed about their health so as to avoid the expensive hospital bills that can go along with leading an unhealthy lifestyle. In the event that an emergency service is needed, response times will be also faster.

Smart city streets will be safer, at least from the perspective of automobile accidents. Right now smart vehicles function under the assumption that everything they need to know about the world must be perceived through the perspective of the vehicle. While this is true right now, it doesn’t always have to be the case. Once smart vehicles reach a high enough saturation, they will be able to report their location to each other. If a vehicle knows where every other vehicle in its immediate vicinity is, it can make informed decisions based off of the feedback it receives in order to drive safer. This would also have the benefit of massively improving traffic flow. As a bonus side effect this would help to decrease our carbon footprint.

Customer Usage Patterns

There’s an argument to be made here about advertisers tracking our habits being creepy. I’m not denying it, but I won’t say it wouldn’t be useful from time to time. Business owners having access to better customer usage patterns allows them to connect more people with a solution to their problem. I want my problems fixed. The easier it is for me to find someone or something to fix my problems, the better.

The future is coming; In some cases it’s already here. The world is changing fast and new ideas are being discovered at breakneck speeds. It’s going to be a wild ride in these next few decades, but I look forward to every minute of it.

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