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Report from the Future: Jetpacks and Home Holodecks

Rafe Needleman
Editorial Director, Yahoo Tech
Yahoo Tech

Every year I go to the Launch Festival in San Francisco to check out the latest in startups: cool products coming eventually from tiny companies you’ve never heard of. This year, not all the companies at Launch were tiny, and they had more actual gadgets than in years past. Here’s a look at some of the most mind-blowing.

Projecting video onto a wall is passé. This gadget shows a display on a wall of fog. The fog can even act as a touchscreen, so you can play games in the mist. Not really something you’d want in your home, but if you own a storefront, it’d be a great way to get customers to stick around a little longer.

Virtuix Omni 
Until we can get holodecks in our living rooms, this will have to do. It couples the best virtual-reality headset coming soon to the market, the Oculus Rift, with a platform you walk on to control in-game movement. It’s immersive and amazing, and the walking platform might sell for just about $500 when it’s available this summer.

Knightscope K5 
Robot policeman. Fortunately more R2-D2 than RoboCop, the K5 is a large, autonomous bot that patrols a space and watches and listens (and smells) for things that aren’t right. It can’t knock down a perp or make an arrest, but if you tip it over, it does have a very loud alarm. It’ll also call for help from its human minders, who are always watching.

Martin Jetpack 
Sadly, I did not get to try this one myself. This is a jetpack! Actually, a ducted-fan personal helicopter, but unlike the old-school jetpacks (yes, they exist), it can fly for long periods (half an hour) and uses modern auto-stabilization technology so it’s easy to fly. And, yes, it has a parachute built in, just in case. It’s not out yet, but when it does ship, it might cost as little as $150,000. Military versions will come first, and they’ll cost a bit more.

Who needs a Fitbit when your shirt is tracking your movements? This company is developing garments where the sensors are literally woven into the fabric. It can measure heartbeat, breathing and activity level. The shirt is washable, but there’s a small Bluetooth transmitter that you have to remove from a pocket first. The CEO wouldn’t give me a price but said it’ll be in line with other “performance wear.”

Lumo Lift 
This is a specialized fitness tracker, in that it’s focused on measuring your posture more than your activity (although it also tracks steps). Wearing it is easy: It’s a lightweight sensor with a magnetic clasp, a little like the Shine. The Lift records how much time you spend slouching vs. standing or sitting straight. You can even have it buzz when you slouch, to remind you to sit up straight. And eat your vegetables.

This is a little electric, folding scooter. As I discovered at Launch, it’s too big and fast to use indoors. But it’s a zippy little vehicle, perhaps good for that long walk from office to commuter train.

Rafe Needleman can be reached at rafeneedleman@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @rafe