TED 2009: Electric Cars, Ninjas and Tiny Robots That Cut You Open

Alex Castle

Image Credit: TED

The afternoon session at TED today wasn’t exactly a smorgasbord for those of us looking for high-tech tidbits, but there were some fascinating talks about emerging technologies that will make a major impact on the way we live our lives. So even though they're a little outside of our normal field, we’ll give you a quick rundown of some of the interesting developments.

One of the most exciting presentations of the afternoon was given by Shai Agassi, the one-time heir-apparent at SAP who gave it all up to found a company called Better Place . Better Place’s mission is to create a fossil-fuel-free transportation infrastructure, and after hearing his talk it’s hard not to believe that they can do it. His plan centers on a widespread grid of charging and battery-swapping stations that will allow electric cars a much greater operating range. Also interesting is his idea that when a person buys an electric car, they shouldn’t have to pay for the expensive battery, but rather “rent” it from his company.  According to Agassi, the combined effect of this system will be electric cars that are cheaper and more efficient than their gas-guzzling brethren.

Also of note was a system unveiled by John La Grou which would see RFID tags built into appliances’ plugs and which would contain information about the maximum safe current draw of these appliances. This will allow a receiver installed in outlets to automatically shut off before a fire can begin, and to not supply power unless an appropriate plug is installed (if a kid shoves a fork in there, for instance). Earth shattering? No. But it could definitely help to make our lives a little bit safer.

Then there was a ninja. The Ask a Ninja ninja, specifically, who starred in a short, prerecorded skit which got a few chuckles from the show’s discerning audience.

After that bit of levity was a talk by Catherine Mohr, a surgical roboticist about (you guessed it!) surgical robots. Again, there was nothing particularly fascinating about the presentation, although she did unveil a new laprosopic robot which packs 3 manipulators and a stereoscopic camera into one tiny tube, making for even less invasive surgeries. The thing looks very sci-fi, and definitely gives off the impression that we’re making some pretty huge strides in medical technology right now.

That was it for new technologies that we saw at TED today, but there’ll be bunch of new talks tomorrow, so stay tuned.

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