An old Greek myth claims that Prometheus, a Greek Titan with an affinity for the human race, stole fire from the ancient gods on top of Mount Olympus and gave it to mankind, enabling early men and women to accomplish feats previously impossible for them. The use of fire provided humans with a prehistoric means of harnessing large quantities of energy, methods that still stick with us today. Cars, cooking, and manufacturing all still owe much to spurred combustion, making fire one of the first and longest-lasting forms of technology in existence.
For all its humble roots in nature, we tend not to think of most modern technology as “natural”. Here are five ways that technology is bringing us closer to nature, and one way it might drive us away from it forever.
1. Drinking Poop Water with Portable Water Purification Devices
- It took the mastery of fire to truly tame water, and for a long time in human history, boiling water was the only way to sterilize it and make it potable. For a liquid as imperative to survival as H2O, and considering that a majority of the human body consists of water, it’s surprising that technology has taken so long to create a portable purifier. Utilizing a charcoal and iodine filter with an advanced membrane, products like the LifeStraw have been created as the the aquatic equivalent of flint and steel: a piece of technology that provides instant access to water.
Portable water filters now allow the avid outdoorsman/woman to go further and longer than they ever have before, freeing them from the weight of water as cargo or the unnecessary expense of energy boiling water. Imagine possessing a straw that would allow you to drink out of virtually any water source, wherever you go (including “poop water”). Brooks and streams all become nature’s cross-country water fountains with technology such as this, and murky wells can effectively support and sustain life in simple, rural villages. That’s powerful.
Other, more advanced pieces of equipment utilize UV rays to eradicate harmful microbes and bacteria from drinking water (though it’s worth noting that they are nowhere near as heavy duty at sanitization as the LifeStraw yet). Much like most traditional purification devices will need a change of filter, a UV purifier will eventually run out of battery — as will most any other piece of tech you take into the wilderness.
2. Charging Anywhere with Portable Power Sources and a Global Power Grid
“If it weren’t for electricity, we’d all be watching television by candlelight.” – George Gobal
The problem that most futurists face when they think about technology and the great outdoors is the same question most iPhone users face after a day’s worth of heavy use: the damn devices lose their charge so quickly! Silly jabs aside, the eternal struggle for more battery life may be witnessing its final days. For those that want to pay homage to Prometheus, the VOTO charger is basically a power strip with a tail that converts carbon and hydrogen into energy once engulfed in flame, and the BioLite CampStove is a miniature twig-consuming furnace that internalizes the process (though it’s not very powerful). For those that fancy themselves more of an Icarus than a Prometheus, portable solar power chargers are cheap and effective — but what if you never had to charge any of your devices again?
Wireless power for mobile phones is set to revolutionize the industry. By the end of 2016, it’s predicted that most major Android phone manufacturers will follow Samsung’s lead and include wireless charging as a standard in all new phones. While current wireless charging utilizes a mat that you rest your device on, companies such as Ossia are already building prototype “charging hubs” that will power your devices from up to 30 feet away.
If distanced wireless charging ends up working well, there’s no reason that an advanced network of charging hubs couldn’t manufactured and juiced up to create a global wireless power grid. Your cellphone would never need a charge again. But what good is a cell phone in a wilderness with no internet access or service?
3. Project Loon Keeps Us Crazy Connected
- Connectivity is the future. Urban centers sprawl across the globe, connected by highways and power lines like steel and concrete nerve cells. Clearly, those connections are growing at a rapid pace, even if they aren’t visible. Think about the fact that you are able to pick up a hunk of metal and plastic and use it to talk with somebody on the the other side of the earth in real time. Of course, there are still places in the world where internet can’t be accessed, or where internet isn’t affordable to for the natives — but Google aims to change that.
Project Loon is an R&D project that uses high-altitude balloons to deliver internet access to otherwise unreachable areas. The potential applications here are endless, and as the reliance of standard technological devices on the internet grows, so too will the internet. Eventually, wilderness rescue might use it to hone in on missing persons’ cellphone signals, meaning that missed steps and bad falls in the woods won’t be as fatal.
Innovations with results such as those will leave us hard-pressed to fathom a time when we weren’t connected to the internet — though not everybody thinks this is such a good thing.
4. Cameras, Drones, and Wearables
While the most traditional outdoorsmen and -women may decry the use of modern technology in the back country, more people have been drawn to the wilderness because of tech recently — cameras, to be exact. A recent study has shown that a trend in hunting, fishing, and back country activities like skiing and snowboarding has been declining, while photography, especially in groups, has risen. A new form of photography, however, has been attracting an increasing number of practitioners. As materials and models become more inexpensive, drone art, like the kind seen in this YouTube video, is growing in popularity.
Still, why fly a drone when your drone could fly itself? That’s the question Team Nixie asked when they entered Intel’s “Make It Wearable” contest. Think of the Nixie like a GoPro mixed with a drone, mixed with a wristwatch. Currently, it’s designed to detach, fly out, take a picture, and then return to the wearer. Watch the video below:
Wearable tech and automation will continue to grow and mesh — some say to the point that we’ll all be integrating tech into ourselves. Not to worry. That won’t become a trend for a long time.
5. Augmented Reality Will Change Your World
On the horizon, however, is augmented reality (AR). This new technology aims to overlay images and pictures on top of the real world, sort of like a real life heads-up-display. If you’ve ever seen Iron Man, where Tony Stark plays with and seems to pick up and play with holograms — that’s augmented reality. While we’re still a ways away from manipulating and tossing around holograms like footballs, the HUD-style systems are just around the corner. In fact, DARPA, the military’s R&D department, are currently funding research into contact lenses that provide augmented reality solutions. Think Google Glass, but without the wearable device.
Whether it’s through contact lenses or glasses, augmented reality has the potential to positively alter many different activities. Hiking, rock climbing, and paintball/airsoft all have begun experimenting with augmented overlays, usually through phones, or the in-visor HUD and GPS of advanced paintball masks. Some think that AR may even help get more kids outdoors and learning about nature with programs such as this one at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal (RMA) National Wildlife Refuge. But what if instead of getting more people outdoors, technology causes people to alienate themselves from nature?
6. Virtual Reality… and the Death of the Outdoors?
Perhaps the most mind blowing technology set to hit shelves this year is Virtual Reality (VR). Development kits and headsets have already been sent out to the public, and even Volvo has developed an app that is supposed to work with an Android phone and Google Cardboard to provide an immersive VR experience. The entire VR market, which doesn’t actually technically exist yet, is predicted to be worth over $30 billion by 2020. That’s a lot of cash.
The question still remains, however: will technology and VR keep us placated and happy to the point where we never enter the outdoors again? Maybe even never leave our living rooms again? Linden Labs, the firm responsible for the virtual worlds in Second Life might like to think so. Project Sansar is Linden Labs’ attempt to create an immersive secondary reality accessible through VR headsets by the end of 2016. If their original property is any indicator, Project Sansar may become the new addiction of the future with certain users seemingly putting more care into their second life than their first. Much like fire, Prometheus’s gift to mankind, technology will burn us if we don’t control it properly.
On the other hand, until they can simulate the smell of the earth rising up or the feel of droplets on your face during a warm rain, plenty will still operate in a real life over a virtual one. Nevertheless, technology is, and always has been, a slippery slope.
What are your experiences with technology and the outdoors?
Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com