Improving Our World: Engineering For Tomorrow
by Amanda Chen, Atlanta, GA
First Place (grades 7-9)
"Wake up, dearest," a voice said cheerfully, followed by the soft buzzing sound Lyra woke up to everyday.
"What time is it?" demanded Lyra’s muffled voice from the pillow she was facedown in.
"7:30 of Tuesday, January 17, 2020," the pillow said. When Lyra still didn’t stir, the pillow vibrated again to force Lyra to wake up.
" Whatever happened to normal alarm clocks," grumbled Lyra as she steps across the preheated floor of her room. "Mother always says how lucky I am with an alarm clock that is guaranteed to wake me up. Back in her time, there were alarm clocks that weren’t pillows, didn’t vibrate, and had a snooze button. I wish my pillow had a snooze button."
The fresh scent of hot cocoa drew Lyra to the kitchen quite quickly. Lyra carefully followed her nose to the right cup. Experience had taught her that her parents still clung to the old days when people used coffee to stay awake. Nowadays, most people use hot cocoa, which doesn’t stunt the growth and has up to three times as much antioxidant as green tea.
"Technology really has improved since my days," sighs Lyra’s mother. "When I was in school, I had to learn a foreign language. Now all you have to do is to take a Lingo with you."
"Speaking of it, where is my Lingo?"
"You left it on the counter next to your Cell." True enough, there was the Lingo on the countertop, a sleek silver rectangular device the size of Lyra’s thumb with a clip on the back. On the front there was a hold button and an input microphone. The Lingo was an automatic translator that translated every language into grammatically correct sentences of the preferred language of the Lingo owner that were then transmitted into the wireless bluetooth headset so that a spoken translation would be heard. Lyra clipped the Lingo on herself and put on the headset, which was small enough to be hidden from view.
Next to the Lingo was the Cell, a multifunctional small black cube that fitted snugly into Lyra’s hand. The cube looked like a paperweight with a projector and lens on one side, a laser beam on the adjacent side, and various ports on the side opposite the laser. The top of the cube had various buttons that controlled the projector, volume and lighting. There was even a small lid that revealed a color touch sensitive LCD screen with a pen. The side opposite the projector had a foldout board the side of an old keyboard that locked into a smooth surface. The bottom of the cube contained the rechargeable battery pack that was covered by a small screen. Although there were still old-fashioned computers in the world, the Cell had replaced most of them. The Cell was a compact computer, planner, and cell phone.
Engineers had developed the Cell very recently by combining computer microchips and cell phone chips together. To conserve space there is no internal memory inside the Cell itself. Instead, USB flash memory drives could be plugged into one of three USB ports on the side of the Cell. The small LCD screen was actually the cell phone and digital camera part of the Cell. The type of cell phone on the Cell was that of an old PDA cell phone with touch screen technology. The same bluetooth headset that was connected to the Lingo could receive calls on the cell phone. In addition, when switched on, the LCD display would show whatever the camera lens next to the projector saw. Buttons on the side of the Cell would control the camera’s functions. Instead of a bulky monitor, engineers had come up with the idea of a projector that could project the contents of the Cell onto a blank, smooth surface. As for the keyboard, the Virtual Keyboard (VKB) had been invented many years ago as a separate device. Later, the VKB was installed into the Cell and the same battery that powers the Cell could be recharged like the cell phones of 2005.
Lyra picks up the one-pound Cell and puts it inside the Cell case, the inside of which was padded with foam. A pocket on the side of the case held many USB drives, most in the four-gigabyte range, while another pocket held a holographic crystal. Most holographic crystals were used by libraries or companies to hold books or records. Lyra’s crystal held all of her textbooks for the school year. Real books were so rare they only existed in airtight chambers in national libraries. Instead, engineers had perfected holographic memory in 2010. Flash drives were preferred for household use since the data on the flash memory could be changed, but companies and libraries soon transferred all books and records to holographic memory because holographic memory used the volume of the crystal to store data.
"The bus is here, Lyra," calls Lyra’s father. "Are you riding it or are you driving to school?" He claps his hand, turning off the LED lights in the kitchen.
"I think my car needs recharging," Lyra replies. "It was cloudy yesterday, remember?"
Lyra's car was a hybrid. Like all the cars that followed federal regulations, her car was powered partly by electricity and partly by solar cells on the roof. Gasoline was a last resort. There were still cars out there that ran on only gasoline, but the government had penalties against such cars. Thanks to the discovery that the band gap of the semiconductor indium nitride is not 2 electron volts (2 eV), but instead 0.7 eV by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with Cornell University and Ritsumeikan University, solar cells with 30 percent efficiency were made in 2002. Soon after solar cells with 50 percent efficiency were made in the year 2010 with aluminum instead of silicon.
As Lyra boards the fuel cell powered bus, she realizes again how lucky she is to be living in a time when technology makes life so perfect.
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