When software expert Jason Frankovitz got an email with the subject line “Robotics”, he assumed it was a client needing help with a technology project. But this client wasn’t some large computer company or high-powered law firm; it was a group of budding engineers from Sarnia, Ontario.

The Canadian 5th, 6th, and 7th graders, all members of Rosedale’s FIRST LEGO League Royal Thunder Robotics Team, were trying to predict the future of educational technology. They imagined and designed a sophisticated wearable network device that they hoped could actually exist in about 25 years. To see if their idea was truly realistic they emailed Quandary Peak Research, a software consulting and expert witness firm in Los Angeles, looking for feedback about the viability of their design:

We are grade 5 to 7 students from the Rosedale FIRST LEGO League robotics team in Sarnia, Ontario. We were wondering if we could get your opinion on an idea we had for our team project based on this year’s theme of education.
The theme is: “How will education have improved in 20-25 years?”

Our idea is to create a wristband called the Thunder Band 39. This wristband will project a holographic image that will be projected as far as an arm’s length away from the user. The projection will be in the shape of a globe. The wristband is going to be 5 mm thick and 2.5 cm long. The projector will pop out of the wristband when you talk into the voice recognition sensor.

If you were sitting in a classroom and you were in a projection and there is a person in front of you then the person will get blurred into the background and it will not affect the image.

There will be a microphone and a voice recognition sensor that will be built into the wristband. You would talk into the wristband and the voice recognition sensor would send a signal to the mini projector and it will project the image. If you wanted to learn about a store then you would say take me to a store and the wristband would show a projection as if you were in a store. If you only say a store then general information will appear, but if you say store products then you will get more specific details.

All of this can not magically happen so we have a computer chip that controls everything. The chip is going to be very small and will be in the wristband. This chip can connect to all wi-fi and printers around it. When you want something projected then the chip will see all the items on the internet and the computer chip will combine all the websites together and create a projection of that but it will be a scene not a block of words.

If you decide to walk at all there will be a proximity sensor that will sense if there is something in front of you in real life, the proximity sensor will beep 3 times and you will stop. When you stop the background will clear out and you can see if there is anything in front of you. Also if you are virtually walking forward and you still see the outside, so if there is something not moving that will be your warning that something is there even though the proximity sensor didn’t beep.

Here are some questions we were wondering about.

In reality can the chip do what is said above?

Would this idea work in about 20 – 25 years?

Thank you for your time.

From the Royal Thunder Robotics Team.

“Most people who contact us need help with a complicated software patent, or want us to read through mountains of source code,” said Mr. Frankovitz, the Quandary Peak Research consultant who replied to the email. “This wasn’t a typical client, but I was intrigued by the kids’ ideas and impressed with how detailed their email was.”

Mr. Frankovitz performed some background research on the request and compiled some resources to share with the kids. He replied to the Royal Thunder team that same day:

Dear Aditya and the Royal Thunder Robotics Team,

Dr. Edwards shared with me your email and he invited me to reply to your very interesting message. Thank you for sharing your idea with us and asking for our input.

My opinion is that individually, the features you describe in your wristband aren’t very far away from what we can achieve nowadays. Voice recognition is fairly commonplace already (and Apple’s new Apple Watch will support voice commands, so that’s like your wristband: http://www.theverge.com/2014/9/9/6126201/apple-watch-siri-features). Smartphones already have very small WiFi and cellular antennae for communicating with other devices, as well as Bluetooth, so that’s already in existence too for the most part. Proximity sensors aren’t extremely unusual either, as you know from any experience you have with Lego Mindstorm sensors. I think the most speculative part of your idea is the holographic projection feature. If scientists and companies have 25 years to work on making that real, that’s pretty likely I think. Projects like Oculus Rift are already starting to bring virtual reality into the mainstream (http://www.oculus.com/rift/), and there will be other companies and inventors who will eventually make the headset unneeded and then you’ll have real 3D projection like you describe!

I think the largest challenge with making the Thunder Band 39 into a real product, either now or in 25 years from now, is the problem of how to power it. Battery technology has not advanced as quickly as most other kinds of hardware. Networking, bandwidth, data storage, processor speeds, cooling… all these aspects of computer hardware have improved quickly over the past 25 years but boring old batteries have not improved nearly as much. Your invention is designed to do some pretty amazing things, but they are all features that consume energy quickly:

– holographic projection requires computational power to render the image and some kind of projector or lighting device to display it
– voice recognition requires a powered microphone that constantly monitors the environment so it can react to a command
– networking to connect to nearby printers requires a live WiFi transceiver (transmitter/receiver) which requires broadcast power
– proximity sensors must constantly scan the immediate area, consuming energy non-stop

…plus all of the normal functions of a small computer (data processing, input/output regulation, recordkeeping and logging) all require power too.

So my advice would not be to focus too much on the actual chip at the heart of your wristband. Whatever computing platform you choose for your wristband in 25 years will have enough general-purpose ability to perform the desired functions (have a look at Arduino and Raspberry Pi for a couple fun hardware platforms you can build great things with now: http://codeduino.com/tutorials/arduino-vs-raspberry-pi/). My professional opinion is that finding a way to power your wristband will actually be the biggest technical issue to overcome. One of the great things about science and engineering is that there’s always an amazing discovery or invention right around the corner that no one could foresee. So it’s possible that someone could invent a terrific new battery technology tomorrow that makes all my concerns moot! Let’s hope so.

I hope my comments help you bring your idea closer to reality. Keep thinking and dreaming.

Sincerely yours,

-Jason Frankovitz

I remembered how much fun it was to build technology when I was a kid,” said Mr. Frankovitz. “I wanted the Rosedale students to see that their request deserved a professional response. That’s what I would have enjoyed at that age.

Jeff Laucke, the Rosedale teacher who advises the Royal Thunder team, said the students were excited to get a reply from a real engineer.