Healthy nutrition

Innovation has shaped food production for many centuries. The plough, artificial fertiliser, seed improvement and intensive animal husbandry are all innovations that have increased the volume of production and have greatly improved yields. Technological innovations have altered the links in the food production chain. At the same time, changes in consumption patterns have introduced health problems like obesity. We are learning more and more about the effects of nutritional patterns on our health. For example, emotion and cultural factors play a major role in nutrition; will these factors inhibit the adoption of technological innovations in food production or will they delay changes in consumption patterns?

Tomorrow’s innovations will likely bring about major changes in food production. Data collection with drones and mini-satellites will support crop monitoring and control. Precision farming using robotics can increase productivity through customisable irrigation, fertilisation and use of pesticides. Combining precision farming and vertical farming in urban areas with a bio-based industry may play a pivotal role in the circular economy.

We will be able to track a whole range of biomarkers using nanobiosensors (the ‘lab on a chip’) or, even simpler, using compact sensors that use light to measure through the skin. Within seconds, these sensors can provide feedback on our lifestyle and nutritional needs. Mobile information facilities and Big Data combined with smart bands, packaging and cups will deliver personalised information to us on demand. We will be able to adapt our diet to our individual needs by using specific nutritional supplements, which may be the products of synthetic biology.

The combination of technologies like synthetic biology and 3D printing may enhance the variety of different food products with vegetarian proteins. This could hugely impact on the production of animal proteins. Could 3D printing be used to turn composite products into something that appeals to consumers, thus creating possibilities for meat substitutes that will win the hearts and minds of people? What’s more, the introduction of 3D printing in households may allow consumers to adapt healthy diet requirements to their individual needs and personal taste.

Efficient mobility

The first ‘autonomous vehicle’ was demonstrated back in 1958. That car was equipped with magnetic coils and moved along a wire buried under the road. Today’s automobiles have about seventy on-board minicomputers – more than the number NASA used to send a man to the moon. Google’s first prototype self-driving automobile has only a start and stop button – no pedals. Will we eventually stop calling them driverless cars – just as we stopped calling the automobile a ‘horseless carriage’?

Technological innovations like sensors, Big Data and various communication and energy technologies are the key enablers of autonomous vehicles and efficient use of infrastructure. Digital travel agents will know your schedule, your behavioural profile and your preferences, and will use real-time information to suggest routes. And if you don’t mind which route, you can leave it all to the agent. Sensors in different vehicles will communicate information normally invisible to the driver or vehicle in the form of augmented reality. How will our mobility patterns and car usage be influenced by information technology for data collection, nanotechnology for highly sensitive sensors, and cognitive science for recognizing our thoughts? Are we heading towards a city with empty, self-driving cars looking for somewhere to park? Or will automobiles become more like taxis, while public transport will become more individualised?

Virtual reality will provide real-life awareness of environments in which we are not physically present, making use of all our senses: hearing, sight, touch, smell, and taste. Will that generate more social contacts in addition to face-to-face encounters, or will it replace those encounters or our desire to travel? Or will supersonic commercial jets and vacuum tube trains capable of speeds of up to 8,000 km/h reinforce our desire to experience the real deal?

Smart buildings

The ‘house of the future’ has yet to become the new standard. Refrigerators do not yet keep track of supplies, and mirrors do not yet show us a list of appointments or tasks for the day. But appearances can be deceptive. Smart devices and home automation have crept into our living space unnoticed. Just think of all the information that is in your smartphone, tablet, smart TV, kitchen appliance, automobile, energy meter, game console, or digital watch.

4D printing could allow more flexible construction of homes and offices, including walls that automatically adjust their thickness and porosity to the prevailing weather conditions. There will come a time when houses will not only turn up the heating or air conditioning at the right moment, but will also make sure that our groceries get purchased, the laundry is folded, and a healthy delicious dinner is ready at the right time. Will new technologies help us to change our daily routines and, if so, how will this affect the development of our infrastructure and cities?

Besides making it easier to tailor spaces to fit our personal tastes and fancies, new materials and robotics will allow the same room to be used for different purposes, thus reducing the number of rooms we need to meet our personal requirements. There will also be more sharing of our buildings and houses with other people. What implications does this have for the speed and quality of urbanisation and mobility? Are their downsides to the growing importance of technology? Will we feel at ease in a house fitted with sensors that encroach on our privacy, and by consequence affect our social behaviour, our home environment, and our autonomy? Or will we embrace it and love the comfort it will offer us?

Freely available professional design software and open source design will make it easier for end users to take part in the design and construction process. In many cases, the construction of energy-neutral buildings will be in the end-users’ interest, as they are the ones who will have to foot the bill when they move in. Innovations in energy efficiency, self-generation and storage could quickly become more commonplace as end users start to become more closely involved in construction.