Martian technologies for a possible future

Anna Persson in "Red Desert".
One of the funniest things in science fiction set in a near future is to compare the technology, especially that which concerns the everyday life, with everything around us in real life and see how the creator of the story has imagined it. Similarly, in writing this kind of fiction you find yourself having to create a plausible world, which it is technologically more advanced than our own, but that takes a cue from it, because the latter is the only reference that we have as well as for it to be credible in the eyes of the reader, triggering the mechanism of suspension of disbelief.


While writing "Red Desert" I had to imagine the world in about fifty years, a long time in some ways, but very short for others. And so I found myself describing a reality very similar to today's, dotted here and there with details that revealed the future that it represented.

Among these details is the folio, the great-grandson of the tablet. It is a computer in all respects, thin as a sheet, which when fully open has a touch screen lit up side, just like a tablet. In this condition the folio seems hard, but if you do finger pressure on specific points it folds in two, and then four, and so on, transforming the interactive part into the size desired by the user, from that of a tablet, to that of a mini-tablet, or of a smartphone.
But a folio is more than that. It can be reduced to a strip, which folded in on itself becomes a bracelet. You can use it in this way to keep an eye on the time, like a watch, but also on the concentration of oxygen in a given environment. Yes, because some more sophisticated folios have small sensors. Those used by my characters provide information on the concentration of the air they breathe, its temperature, pressure, and many other things. And, as each sheet, a folio can be curled or crumpled. Also, being very light, it can float in the air, just like paper, but it is much more resistant than the latter.
Each of the astronauts in my series that lives on Mars has their own folio, with which they connect to the network of the central unit of Station Alpha, the hab that hosts them. By means of the folio they can also send and receive messages from Earth, including videos, or interface to the on-board computer of a rover or the helmet unit of their suit for extravehicular activities. In short it is an indispensable tool.
Obviously these computer units are artificial intelligences, more or less evolved according to the purpose, and communicate with the user by voice.

Even on Earth the folio is quite popular and is often used to communicate (but is still a geek thing), but has not supplanted the phone, or better the smartphone, which has become even more smart, indeed a hyperphone. You can do pretty much everything with it, even schedule the path of the autopilot in your car (if you have one with this device). As you get in front of your house, you get out of your car and it goes parking into the garage by itself. But you can also program it via your phone, so that it may go to a particular location, perhaps to pick someone. The car will travel alone, respecting the rules of the road and will park where requested. It is clear that such a car is still a luxury.
Again, through your mobile phone information for your own identification can be transferred in an instant for any purpose, including access to your home, to your car and its ignition, but also those relating to the admission to an event, the boarding pass to get on a plane, the data of your virtual credit card to make any purchase. In practice out of home (as well as inside) the only thing you need is your mobile phone, which of course is still used to communicate by voice, video or in writing. There are always phone numbers, but now everything goes through the global network and next to them is added a unique username, but it can be used for direct communication only by those persons authorised by the user. Like direct messages on Twitter. The others must necessarily know your number to call you and they cannot hide their identity. In fact, even if their number is not entered in your phonebook, the caller identification system connects to the provider database, providing the identity of the owner of line. Then you have to see if that is true, but that's another story.

Another widespread system to interface to the network and computer systems is the augmented reality. In fifty years it will be invisibly integrated into (quite expensive) fashionable sunglasses, windshield of vehicles and aircraft, windows, helmets for motorcycles and for astronauts, in short wherever there is a transparent area through which we look. The interaction with the objects represented, including written words, icons, and so on, is via movements of your hands. You almost have the impression of touching the objects to move them, zoom in, out, etc ..., like you do with the current touch screens, but with the illusion of acting on something in the real three-dimensional space in front of you.

The use of hands to manipulate virtual objects is also possible with normal screens, like in games where your hand becomes the controller, but it allows you to do many more things and with greater precision. This technology is very useful when you work on projects, using the screen-wall of your office and at the same time by moving around the room, or while comfortably sitting at your desk.

At home, however, to open the doors of the terrace, you just have to touch a sensor. This is expected to move away from the jamb and, just pushing it with your finger, the motor will open it for you, without you to do any effort. To close you just have to pull it a little bit, it will do the rest.

Air shuttles have been invented to travel through long distances. They are prototypes of NASA designed for use on Mars, but in fact, they are destined to become a popular means of transport that will supplant helicopters and private jets. With a size that is halfway between a big attack helicopter and a small private jet, but much more compact in shape, the air shuttles take off and land vertically, while horizontally they can reach a peak speed of Mach 6. With an air shuttle you can go from Los Angeles to Houston in just 20 minutes! They, too, needless to say, have an onboard computer, which assists the pilot during ascent and descent, and cruising speed phase.  But for more complex and dangerous manoeuvres you need a trained person, such as, for example, to make a parabolic flight, which simulates zero gravity, or to dodge some other aircraft that is trying to knock you down!

This is just a brief glimpse of what might be in store for us in one of millions of possible realities in a few years. Do you want to find out what else awaits you in the near future? Just read a science fiction novel. And, if you do not like what is shown there, well, you can always read another one.


Do you want to read the first book of “Red Desert” at only $0.99? Get it now!

The original Italian version of this article has been published on ParoleVacanti.