Expect rapid, pervasive innovation in 21st century

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Innovative technologies emerging over the next decade promise to affect virtually all aspects of everyday society, from transportation to health care, communication to recreation.

Engineers and scientists envision super-efficient cars, "smart" offices equipped with myriad wireless sensors, a new class of miniature devices that dramatically speed up medical and biological testing, and electronic gear that runs for days on a single charge. Agricultural researchers hope to spawn a novel industry using sugars from paper and other wastes to make a variety of products. More compact and versatile robots will enter the work force. And artificial intelligence may help to improve the commercial power grid, reducing the frequency of brownouts.

While it's impossible to predict exactly what will happen, some future trends are obvious, says Warren Stevenson, associate dean of engineering at Purdue University.

"Certainly, automobiles are going to be different," he says.

Fuel-stingy cars will likely get about 80 miles to the gallon and use a "hybrid" drive system: an electric motor powered by batteries or fuel cells, supplemented with a gasoline or diesel engine only when needed for acceleration and high performance. However, the success of hybrids will depend largely on the perfection of a control system that switches automatically from one drive to the other.

"If you have two propulsive sources, you need to optimize when to use each one and to make it all happen smoothly," Stevenson says.

The automotive leap also will depend on the refinement of fuel cells, which generate electricity through electrochemical reactions between hydrogen and oxygen. Developed for use in spacecraft, fuel cells emit only water vapor and would ideally use pure hydrogen as a fuel. Because of technological challenges and potential hazards posed by pure hydrogen, early fuel-cell cars probably will draw their hydrogen from gasoline or some other hydr

Contact: Emil Venere
Purdue University

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