5 Small Businesses of the Future
“The punchline is that we are now seeing the birth of the Googles and Apples of the space business,” says Peter H. Diamandis, a pioneer in the commercial space industry. “There are a number of companies working on space hotels.” At the forefront is Bigelow Aerospace, which launched two prototypes of space hotels and currently plans a commercial space complex by 2014. Called Sundancer, the hotel is expected to have space for up to six people on a short-term basis. A Russian company called Orbital Technologies is also racing to have the first commercial space station. A vision of the station is in the photo above.
The hologram of today is a clever version of an old illusion called Pepper’s Ghost. In the mid-19th century, the trick was done with thick glass between the audience and image that could make a figure appear to be floating in the air. Current illusionists use highly reflective polymer, invisible to the audience, to create life-size images. “People walk into the room and say, ‘now that’s a hologram,'” says Ian O’Connell, director of Musion Systems in London. A top application for the technology is using holograms for real-time telepresence for meetings. The capacity already exists for numerous people in different cities to appear on stage on another continent, in real time. Of course, hologram theaters could replace 3D, as well. In Las Vegas this summer, Musion provided the technology for the first U.S. nightclub with holographic entertainment. That way they can go from comedy to mariachi with the push of a button.
Single-story, high-tech greenhouses save significant amounts of water and increase productivity. So why not stack them up and makes cities self-sufficient? The idea for vertical farms came from an infectious disease ecologist, Dickson Despommier, who turned his knowledge of parasites into a way of looking at cities. “Instead of the city behaving like a parasite, it should be a symbiant,” Despommier says. “The future city has to take a big lesson from nature and start behaving like an ecosystem.” By that, he means zero-waste cities: Even the idea of waste is anathema to a working ecosystem. So Despommier envisions skyscrapers of the future producing the majority of food consumed by citizens, with brown water and food compost used for farming. “City life,” says Despommier, “demands city food.”
DNA Design Firm
In May, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration put the whammy on a genetics company, San Diego’s Pathway Genomics, which was trying to put DNA testing kits on shelves at Walgreens. The company pulled the kits. But testing DNA for patterns that correlate with diseases won’t disappear so easily. BioNanomatrix, a Philadelphia company that provides technology solutions for reading DNA, is working on a grant to get DNA sequencing under $100 by 2015. The long-term possibilities of cheap DNA testing, says Edward Erickson, BioNanomatrix’s president and CEO, involve a better understanding of aging and endless possibilities for new ways to cure and treat disease. “The great dream is that you take a person’s DNA when they are a baby and you profile it in a very thorough way,” Erickson said. “You say look, this baby is healthy in most ways, but this baby’s DNA shows us the baby is at extreme risk.” In one example, if the risk were for heart disease, therapies could start at a young age rather than waiting decades before early symptoms show up. “We are already capable of looking at the total amount of DNA that one sees in the human genome.”
Stem Cell Pharmacy
Stem cells are already used to model diseases and test new drugs, but as the technology advances, stems cells may actually push drugs aside. Even now, stem cells are showing promise for degenerative diseases and regrowing cells after surgeries. Pharmacies full of drugs, however, could well be replaced with pharmacies of cells that are more natural and work better. “Using stem cells will shift medical practice away from the pharmaceutical or chemical approach,” says Robert Margolin, associate director of the Genetics Police Institute. “This is the first time we’re actually using living cells to help treat or mitigate disease.”