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10 World-Changing Examples of Turning Dumb Technology into Smart Technology

by Michael McCabe
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

In our fast-paced world, it’s incredible to see how everyday items are getting smarter. Whether it’s a simple household gadget or a piece of industrial equipment, “dumb” technologies are being transformed into smart systems that can interact with their surroundings and users in clever ways. Take Boeing’s recent work with the U.S. Air Force, for example. They’ve upgraded old unguided bombs into precise, smart weapons using the JDAM system. This kind of innovation shows how adding intelligence to existing tech can make it more efficient and responsive.

Exploring smart technology reveals a fascinating world where ordinary objects gain advanced features, extending their capabilities far beyond their original use. Imagine tiny sensors scattered around, gathering data or materials that change shape when touched. These aren’t just upgrades; they’re game-changers that redefine our interaction with technology and the world around us.

In this list, we’ll look at ten cool examples of turning traditional “dumb” technologies into smart solutions. From pocket-sized environmental monitors to robots that move like living creatures, these innovations show the incredible potential of modern technology.

Related: 10 Realistic Robots That Will Freak You Out

10 From Dumb to Smart Bombs

How Smart Bomb Works? JDAM Precision Guided Munition

Boeing has taken a big step in military technology by turning traditional unguided bombs into precision-guided munitions with their Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) system. This upgrade involves adding a GPS-guided tail kit to standard bombs, allowing them to hit targets accurately. Thanks to the JDAM system, these bombs can now land within a few meters of their intended target, making them much more precise and reducing the risk of collateral damage.

Integrating GPS guidance into traditional bombs marks a significant change in modern warfare, focusing more on precision than sheer power. In the past, hitting a target with an unguided bomb depended largely on the pilot’s skill and good weather. However, with the JDAM system, bombs can be accurately directed to their targets, even in bad weather or from greater distances. This makes military operations more strategic and less risky, changing how aerial warfare is conducted.

Boeing’s JDAM technology is a great example of how “dumb” technology can be upgraded to meet today’s needs. This development not only shows the importance of precision in modern military tactics but also highlights how existing technologies can be enhanced with smart systems. By converting traditional bombs into guided munitions, Boeing is setting a new standard for efficiency and accuracy in military hardware.[1]

9 Smart Dust

Julie McCann: Smart dust

Smart dust consists of micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), each no larger than a grain of sand, equipped with sensors, computation, and communication capabilities. These motes can be scattered over vast areas to form a dense network that collects real-time environmental data such as temperature, humidity, and air quality. This technology is particularly beneficial in precision agriculture, providing detailed soil condition data to enable farmers to optimize water usage and improve crop yields.

In industrial settings, smart dust can monitor and maintain equipment by being placed in hard-to-reach areas of machinery. These tiny sensors continuously track operational parameters, detecting early signs of wear and tear to prevent costly breakdowns and downtime. Additionally, their ability to function in hazardous environments makes them valuable for monitoring chemical plants, mines, and other industrial sites where human presence might be risky.

In military and disaster response scenarios, smart dust enhances situational awareness and operational efficiency. It can be quickly deployed to gather crucial data on environmental hazards, facilitating more effective and coordinated responses by emergency services.[2]

8 Programmable Matter

Create Anything You Want With Programmable Matter

Programmable matter consists of tiny components that enable it to transform into different forms or perform new functions. For instance, these materials can change shape based on their environment, achieving tasks that traditional materials cannot.

A significant feature of programmable matter is its responsiveness to external stimuli. These materials can expand, contract, or change their surface texture when exposed to different temperatures, light, or pressure. This adaptability makes them ideal for tasks requiring flexibility. In robotics, programmable materials could allow robots to change shape to navigate tight spaces or perform specific tasks. In medicine, programmable matter could lead to implants that adjust to aid healing or adapt to changes within the body.

A practical technique for achieving this transformation is solid-liquid phase change pumping. Here’s how it works: a heat source like a laser melts part of the material, turning it into a liquid that can flow and reshape. Once the desired shape is formed, the material is cooled and solidifies back into a solid. This process can be repeated to create precise and complex transformations, allowing the material to move through narrow spaces and reform into different shapes.

As researchers continue to refine these methods, programmable matter could revolutionize various industries by offering unprecedented versatility and efficiency.[3]

7 Biohybrid Robots

Why Scientists are Giving Robots Human Muscles

Biohybrid robots blend biological elements with mechanical systems, using living muscle tissue to power and move robotic frameworks. Unlike traditional robots that use electric motors or hydraulic systems, biohybrid robots incorporate muscle cells that contract and expand in response to electrical signals, mimicking natural movements. This allows these robots to perform delicate and complex tasks with flexibility and precision that are hard to achieve with conventional technology. Using living tissue also means these robots could potentially self-repair and grow, offering adaptability and resilience.

Integrating living muscle tissue into robotic systems opens up many possibilities, especially in fields requiring gentle and precise manipulation, like surgery or intricate manufacturing processes. For example, biohybrid robots could lead to advanced prosthetics that replicate natural limb movements more accurately, giving users better control and functionality.

These robots could also be useful in environmental monitoring, as their ability to interact with delicate ecosystems without causing harm is a major advantage. By using living muscle tissue, biohybrid robots are a significant step forward in developing smart, adaptable technologies that bridge the gap between biological and mechanical systems.[4]

6 Microbial Fuel Cells

Microbial Fuel Cell Explained

Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) offer a new way to think about waste and energy by using bacteria to convert organic matter into electricity. These devices use microorganisms to break down waste, generating electrons that can be captured as a renewable energy source. Unlike traditional waste treatment, which can be complex and energy-intensive, MFCs provide a sustainable and efficient alternative. They treat wastewater and produce electricity, making them ideal for both waste management and energy generation.

The potential applications of MFCs are broad, from powering remote sensors and devices to providing energy in off-grid locations. They are especially useful in developing regions with limited clean energy and waste treatment facilities. By turning organic waste into a valuable resource, MFCs support a circular economy, transforming waste products into energy. This technology helps reduce environmental pollution and contributes to sustainable energy production, paving the way for a cleaner future.[5]

5 Smart Paint

Bare Conductive | Electric Paint

Smart paint integrates advanced functionalities directly into surfaces, allowing them to change color, conduct electricity, and respond to environmental changes. Thermochromic paints, for instance, change color with temperature shifts. This characteristic makes them practical for temperature monitoring in industries and as unique design features in buildings.

Conductive and piezoelectric paints enhance the safety of structures by detecting early signs of damage like cracks or stress. These paints provide real-time data on the health of buildings and bridges, helping to prevent major issues and extending their lifespan. Embedding sensors into the paint streamlines maintenance, reducing the need for frequent manual inspections.

In military and security applications, adaptive camouflage paint can change color to match the environment, making vehicles, equipment, and personnel less visible. This technology improves stealth capabilities and can integrate with electronic systems to create responsive surfaces. As smart paint technology continues to advance, its range of applications is likely to grow, providing innovative solutions across various fields.[6]

4 Living Architecture

Buildings That Breathe | Doris Sung’s Living Architecture

Imagine a building that can heal itself, purify the air, and adapt to its environment. This is the promise of living architecture, where synthetic biology—a field combining biology, engineering, and computer science—integrates engineered living systems into construction materials. For example, bacteria embedded in concrete can detect and repair minor cracks. These bacteria produce calcium carbonate, filling the cracks and extending the building’s lifespan without manual maintenance.

Living architecture offers substantial environmental benefits. Mycelium, a fungal network, can be incorporated into building materials to absorb pollutants like heavy metals and improve air quality. Living walls made from these materials can absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, creating healthier indoor environments. These structures can also adapt to changing environmental conditions, making them ideal for urban areas prone to extreme weather. As living architecture continues to develop, it promises to revolutionize urban living, creating cities that are not only more efficient but also more in harmony with nature.[7]

3 Smart Grids

Decoded: What is a ‘Smart Grid’ and how does it work?

Traditional power grids often struggle with balancing supply and demand, leading to inefficiencies and power outages. Smart grids tackle these issues by integrating sensors, communication networks, and data analytics to monitor and manage energy flow in real time. This allows for quick adjustments to changes in supply and demand, reducing energy waste and improving grid stability.

A major advantage of smart grids is their ability to incorporate renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. These grids can handle the variable nature of renewable energy, ensuring a steady power supply even when conditions fluctuate. This integration is crucial for a sustainable energy future, as it enhances the flexibility and resilience of the power system.

Additionally, smart grids support decentralized energy production, allowing local communities to generate and manage their own power. This reduces reliance on large, centralized power plants, enhances energy security, and promotes sustainability. For instance, neighborhoods with solar panels can share excess energy with each other, reducing the overall demand on the grid.

As smart grid technology continues to develop, it promises to transform how we produce, distribute, and consume energy. Smart grids are paving the way for a cleaner, more sustainable future by making energy networks more efficient, reliable, and adaptable.[8]

2 Smart Windows

View Intelligence – How It Works | View Smart Windows

Smart windows utilize electrochromic materials that change transparency in response to an electric charge, allowing buildings to manage sunlight effectively. When it’s hot, these windows can darken to block out excess sunlight, reducing the need for air conditioning. Conversely, they can become more transparent during cooler periods, allowing natural light to enter and reducing the need for artificial lighting. This adaptability helps maintain a comfortable indoor environment and saves energy.

By reducing the reliance on HVAC systems and artificial lighting, smart windows can lower energy consumption and utility bills. For instance, in a typical commercial building, smart windows can cut energy use by a considerable margin. They also offer a modern alternative to traditional blinds or curtains, providing uninterrupted views while maintaining privacy. This technology not only enhances the energy efficiency of buildings but also contributes to a sustainable and environmentally friendly future.

As research and development in smart windows progress, these innovations are expected to play a crucial role in reducing the carbon footprint of urban infrastructure and fostering eco-friendly building designs.[9]

1 Biomimetic Robots

Biobots: Snakebot, Batbot, and More Robots Inspired by Nature | WIRED

Biomimetic robots are designed to tackle challenges that conventional robots struggle with by replicating adaptive and efficient movements found in nature. These robots draw inspiration from various organisms, such as mimicking the bipedal motion of humans or the efficient crawling of insects to navigate complex environments effectively. This natural mimicry allows them to perform tasks that require flexibility, precision, and adaptability, which are difficult to achieve with traditional rigid designs.

For example, biomimetic robots excel in underwater exploration by emulating the streamlined movements of aquatic creatures, enabling them to glide through water with minimal resistance. Similarly, robots inspired by insects can crawl through tight spaces, making them invaluable in search and rescue missions where navigating debris and confined areas is crucial. These design principles allow biomimetic robots to operate in environments challenging for traditional robots, such as rough terrains, underwater regions, and disaster zones.

Another significant advantage of biomimetic robots is their energy efficiency. Nature has optimized the function of organisms through millions of years of evolution, leading to designs that operate with incredible efficiency and adaptability. By incorporating lightweight structures and aerodynamic shapes found in nature, biomimetic robots can perform tasks such as environmental monitoring and urban infrastructure maintenance with less power than traditional robots. This energy efficiency extends their operational lifespan and makes them more sustainable for long-term use in various industries.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen