Taking A Trip To The Tech "Petting Zoo"

Today we looked at the technology candy stores of the Washington region -- display centers inside tech and telecom companies where futuristic gizmos and gadgets are on display.

At McLean's Booz Allen Hamilton, we found a 1,000 sq. ft. "technology petting zoo" with about 50 technologies. Among the technologies:

* Wireless energy: Small electronic devices are powered over a distance by converting radio waves into energy, either recharging a battery on the device or directly powering a low-energy system such as a sensor. Here's an overview of the technology from the vendor's Web site.

* Printable electronics that use flexible, thin, transparent circuits to replace the hard silicon chips found in cellphones, iPods and other electronics. The special circuits would allow companies to make cellphones that are credit-card thin or print chips on milk cartons so they could send an alert when empty. Here are videos of the circuits being "printed."

* A fabric, coated with shear thickening fluid, which is flexible and can be used in clothing. But when hit by something causing heavy impact, like a knife or bullet, it hardens. It is a product developed by the University of Delaware and the U.S. Army Research Lab.

* A "smart shirt" system that puts sensors into everyday fabrics, allowing them to send data about someone's health and environmental conditions to a computer in real time. It was first created by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology under the Pentagon's 21st Century Land Warrior Program and the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency and now is being further developed by a company called Sensatex.

* A carbon graphite foam battery that weighs significantly less than the lead in most vehicle batteries, does not corrode easily and increases energy efficiency because of its porous design. In other words, it can turn your heavy car battery into a light, longer-lasting battery the size of a fist.

* Seen the old mirror-on-a-stick technique for inspecting what's under a car? That's a little low-tech. The Kuchera Omni-Directional Inspection System on display at Booz Allen Hamilton does the same thing but is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell and can be operated remotely. Aside from detecting bombs, the ODIS can be used for thermal imaging, surveillance, chemical sniffing, radiation detection and other dangerous tasks.

We also visit Sprint's Reston center, where we found a rugged, yellow-and-black device allows people at NASCAR races to get up from their seats, carry it around and watch the race from several perspectives -- including a driver's. The Airave, a new product, works like a WiFi router to give users five bars of cellphone signal in a 5,000-square-foot range. It is currently available in Denver and Indianapolis and is being rolled out elsewhere.

At Lockheed Martin's Crystal City facility, we found the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter -- a simulator, at least -- as well as an F-22 Raptor. At XM Radio, we found a "captain's chair" -- but it was not on a fighter jet (or a spaceship!) This is where XM's four satellites, 800 ground repeats and 170 channels are monitored 24 hours a day.

Lobby shops often conjure up dry images of pin stripes and briefing packet. It was a little more hip at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. Here are some snapshots provided by the association of their technology display center. Among other things, the trade association has on display a refrigerator with a television embedded in it, an oven computer that allows you to log on from work and tell it to start the roast, and a few futuristic cable boxes. One allows you move around whatever show you're watching (or have recorded) from room to room in your house. Another lets you come home -- and if you've missed your favorite show by 15 minutes --and haven't recorded it.

For more, see our story and photo gallery.

By Dan Beyers  |  December 24, 2007; 2:09 PM ET
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