7 emerging technologies you haven't heard of yet

Join us on a journey into the future

You may think the iPhone 7 is cutting edge technology - and it is, up to a point - but there are gadgets and tech coming down the pipe that are going to leave Apple's current handsets in the dust. Here's a sneak preview of what you can look forward to in the future.

Of course, despite the title we've used, some of you will have heard of these inventions and concepts - but they've by and large flown under the public's radar up until this point, so you can impress your friends and family with your knowledge of upcoming tech.

Header image: Jaunt VR camera

Smart nanorobots


Basically nano-anything is the future - tiny tech that's almost too small to see and usually even smaller than that. Scientists are at the beginning of figuring out what nanorobots can do for us: construct buildings at any scale, heal diseases inside the body, improve air quality, colonise space, store data, make up sensors of all kinds and much more besides.

Nanorobots are incredibly complex but the idea is simple - very small robots. Robots that will eventually be able to break apart materials into atoms, for example, and then build something new, or swim around the brain looking for health issues, or turn a phone into a tablet with a button push. It's still early days but there's already a lot to look forward to.

Mixed reality

Mixed reality

Sure, you've heard of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), but what about mixed reality? Like AR, it melds the real world with digital overlays, but the computer graphics become indistinguishable from real life - so you can't tell if that army of zombies coming towards you is part of a game or an actual end-of-the-world apocalypse.

Devices like the Microsoft HoloLens and whatever Magic Leap is doing are the first steps towards this mixed reality, which still often gets called augmented reality (and vice versa). If you're not confused already, mixed reality is sometimes referred to as hybrid reality. Whatever name you want to give it, the tech we're seeing now is just the beginning.

Mind uploading


Given the growing power of today's supercomputers it's not inconceivable that one day our consciousness could be stored digitally as a kind of shortcut to living forever. Russian millionaire Dmitry Itskov thinks it can be done within 30 years, and although everyone agrees it's going to be very, very difficult, a lot of experts think it could be possible.

Supporters of this theoretical technology think it could help mankind venture further out into deep space and recover from global disaster, because our consciousnesses could survive almost indefinitely even if our bodies didn't. If you think Google knows a lot of information about you now, just wait until it's uploading your brain in the year 2050.

Robotic exoskeletons


Before the robots rise up against us they're likely to give us a hand, sometimes quite literally. We're now seeing robotic exoskeletons help everyone from army soldiers to those who can't walk normally, giving the human body a bionic boost that can be beneficial in all kinds of ways. The tech will become cheaper, lighter and more effective over time, too.

You'll find many examples of the technology in action if you go looking for them. Look at ReWalk, for instance, which already has powered robotic exoskeletons for sale, or the Ekso Bioskins that can help those with stroke and spinal cord injuries. They're still hefty and expensive now, but think where they'll have progressed to in the next 10-20 years.

Hydroponic farming


Hydroponics is essentially the process of growing crops using water filled with nutrients rather than soil. So what? Well, it opens up a wealth of new options for growing the food we need, whether that's in underground bunkers without sunlight or on the surface of Mars where the soils aren't quite as fertile as those on Earth (just ask Matt Damon).

It means crops and plants can be more carefully grown and monitored as well, and aren't as adversely affected by the vagaries of the changing weather. Growing Underground is one example of a fledgling hydroponic farm in the UK - it sells produce to wholesalers and individuals, and is committed to reducing the transportation costs of traditional farming.

Flying cars (OK, you might have heard of this one)

Flying cars

Forget self-driving cars, because we want ones that can take off on their own. Sure, you may have heard of the idea of flying cars, but did you know they're actually well and truly on the way? The Aeromobil 3.0 is leading the way, with many successful test flights now under its belt, and its makers hope to have it on sale to customers sometime during 2018.

The appeal is obvious: get from London to New York in one vehicle. The Aeromobil 3.0 runs on regular petrol and can reach speeds of up to 124mph in the air, and it's not the only flying car in development - the Terrafugia TF-X is also scheduled for a 2018 launch and the mysterious Zee.Aero (backed by Google's Larry Page) is worth keeping an eye on too.

3D mapping

3D mapping

You've no doubt come across virtual reality before but the technology being used to create these VR worlds is coming on in leaps and bounds: cameras based around advanced optics, depth sensing and even lasers are being used to map many real world spaces in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost compared with just a few years ago.

There's no one single technology to point to here but a host of companies are getting involved: Matterport, for example, has proved a big hit with estate agents wanting indoor maps of homes. Consider the benefits of being able to walk around VR worlds in minute detail, whether indoors or outdoors, and you see the importance of this kind of tech.

David Nield

Dave has over 20 years' experience in the tech journalism industry, covering hardware and software across mobile, computing, smart home, home entertainment, wearables, gaming and the web – you can find his writing online, in print, and even in the occasional scientific paper, across major tech titles like T3, TechRadar, Gizmodo and Wired. Outside of work, he enjoys long walks in the countryside, skiing down mountains, watching football matches (as long as his team is winning) and keeping up with the latest movies.