What Tech Gadgets Will 2011 Put In Your Pocket?

If you're resolved to stay on top of tech trends, we've got just the man for you. Guest host Jennifer Ludden speaks with Mark Jannot, editor-in-chief of Popular Science magazine, about the technologies that will be influencing our lives in 2011.

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JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

If you're resolved to stay on top of tech trends, we've got just the man for you. Mark Jannot is editor-in-chief of Popular Science magazine. Last week, he looked back on the innovations of 2010. Today, we're looking ahead.

Mark Jannot, welcome again.

MR. MARK JANNOT (Popular Science): It's great to be here, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: So 2010 seemed to be a great year for touch-screen technology. I'm thinking of the iPhone and other mobile devices. But I take it you see a shift coming.

Mr. JANNOT: Yes. We're going to be shifting away from touch screens, in favor of touch-free screens. Basically in the last couple of years, we've seen a trend towards touching our screens in order to do whatever we want on them. But now, in the wake of the success of the Wii, the Kinect and the Sony Move, we're going to be controlling all of our screens, and all of our media going forward, using gestures.

You'll be standing in front of your television and you'll be, you know, waving your hands. It's basically like playing charades with your electronics, I think. So it's another form of entertainment, I guess.

LUDDEN: Oh, no. So - but that means my kids can't play in front of the TV, then. That would throw things off.

Mr. JANNOT: I think there will be very carefully defined gestures. But yes, I'm looking forward to the crazy chaos that's caused by unintended gestures -causing, you know, volume raising, channel shifting, that kind of thing.

LUDDEN: Now, 2010 also saw a growing new market for 3D televisions. What's happening there?

Mr. JANNOT: Yes. That was a big trend. I don't know if you share my feeling about this but I, myself, have always been fairly dubious about the staying power of 3D as long as we need to put on those glasses, which are both costly and kind of ungainly.

So the great trend that we're seeing emerge is glasses-free 3D - naked-eye 3D, and it's already sort of about to emerge on the Nintendo 3DS handheld game. And that's the way it's going to emerge in this year, on small screens and smartphones, and things like that. But within the next couple of years, we should see actual TV screens - where you can watch your shows and your sports in glorious 3D, without having to look like a geek.

LUDDEN: Turning to automobiles now, you say cars are going to get smarter in the name of safety.

Mr. JANNOT: Yes. We are going to, I guess willingly, cede some control over our cars, so that we can keep ourselves and others safe.

The - sort of first example of this in the new year is from Volvo, with their pedestrian-detection system, which will actually notice if there is a pedestrian in the roadway up to 160 feet away. And if it senses that you aren't noticing - basically by, you know, seeing that you haven't slowed down - it will sound an alarm. And if you still don't do anything, it will actually start braking without your efforts.

LUDDEN: Wow.

Mr. JANNOT: And if you're going at 22 miles per hour or slower, it will brake completely before it reaches the obstruction in the road. And if you're going a little faster, it will at least get it down to a reasonably low speed.

And there's another - a new safety feature coming out from Ford, called curve control. This is a system that senses when you're entering a curve - you know, like a highway off-ramp - too quickly, and it automatically reduces your speeds by up to 10 miles an hour in one second, in order to keep you safe and keep you from rolling over, potentially. Fifty thousand accidents a year are caused by people entering curves too quickly.

LUDDEN: Finally, I got to say, I am skeptical about this next item. You say 2011 will be the year of the flying car?

(soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JANNOT: Or drivable airplane - it's maybe a small semantic distinction. But this is something that we at Popular Science have been touting for practically our entire 130 years.

LUDDEN: I can see it on the cover, yes.

Mr. JANNOT: Yes. Yes. Many, many times. And I'm not going to let you down this time. This year will be the actual, no kidding, introduction of the Terrafugia Transition - which is a plane that can land on the tarmac, and then you fold up the wings, and you drive it on regular roads to your home.

So you're not just, you know, you're backing out of your garage and taking off on the street in front of your house. You do have to drive it to an airport. But it is a great transition, as it's called, towards our ultimate dream of the flying car.

LUDDEN: All right. So I guess we now know that old cartoon, the Jetsons, was set in 2011.

Mr. JANNOT: There you go. The future is upon us.

LUDDEN: Mark Jannot, editor-in-chief of Popular Science magazine. He joined us from NPR's New York bureau. Thank you so much.

Mr. JANNOT: Thanks, Jennifer.

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