A Collection of Futuristic Tech

Your Second Life avatar in 3-D; digital tags for your dinner; the watch of tomorrow.

What A Doll

Available Now

Think of it as art imitating virtual life, more or less. For $100 to $200 apiece, a startup called Fabjectory will turn your Second Life avatar into a plastic statuette. "People are passionate about Second Life," says Mike Buckbee, who came up with the gambit last year. "And they love the idea of bringing a piece of it into their real lives." Buckbee meets clients online at a "capture space" he has built in Second Life, the phenomenally popular online fantasy "world." He uses an open-source extractor to download their animated avatars, and an artist re-creates textures, colors, and details lost in the transition from two dimensions to three. A rapid-prototyping machine builds the 5- to 7-inch models at the rate of an inch an hour by laying down layers of colored glue and plaster. Buckbee has made just 30 replicas so far; to order your own, visit fabjectory.com.
--Dave Demerjian


Where has your food been?

Next Year … Maybe

Organic, fair-trade, rain-forest-friendly, dolphin-safe--in this kinder, guiltier time, all manner of foods promise they haven't been farmed, processed, or otherwise messed with. But how can you know for sure?

The Fair Tracing project at Britain's University of Bradford is developing a digital tag that would tell the backstory behind your bananas--or your coffee or chocolate. As food makes its way to your plate, growers, refiners, exporters, and retailers could upload information about their role in the supply chain. That text, audio, and video could connect consumers with an otherwise anonymous gastronomic universe.

Apurba Kundu, who leads the Fair Tracing project, and his team have created a crude demo version that relies on bar codes--but the final technology could take the form of a radio-frequency-identification system or, more simply, a unique number printed on the label. They've partnered with Ehrmanns, a UK importer of fair-trade wine; we could see the first tagged bottles by next spring. If it works, shoppers will punch numbers into their cell phone or PDA right in the store, or on their computer back home.
--Tracy Staedter


Ahead Of Its Time

Circa 2010

In a perfect world, your watch wouldn't just tell you the time. It would tell you where you're supposed to be going, when you're due, and how long the journey should take. Such a wondrous timepiece would look a lot like Martin Frey's Just in Time prototype. Frey, a graduate student at the Berlin University of the Arts, created his timepiece as an example of "user-centered design" for a project on digital networking. "The idea," he says, "is to integrate the watch into the user's personal area network and equip it with the capability to connect via Bluetooth with cell phones." From there, add a calendar function, GPS navigation, and Web-based timetables and traffic information. Frey says his concept may be ready for commercialization in two years.
--Lisa LaMotta

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