Technology by definition is supposed to push our expectations, abilities, and ideas forward faster than the average person can imagine.
But when it comes to the consumer electronics industry, many times by the moment we actually pick up the latest innovation off a retail shelf--sometimes after standing in line for hours just to be one of the first--it's no longer the fastest, smallest, or coolest product in production.
That's not the case for everything. There are plenty of electronics, made by manufacturers large and small, that are still on the extreme leading edge in one way or another: thinnest, fastest, smallest, most efficient, and so on. And in many cases, "most expensive" also applies.
So herewith are some of the most extreme examples of tech out there, which, with few exceptions, are available for consumers.
Extremely thin: The new Sony XEL-1 is the thinnest television on the market. At just 3 millimeters thick, it practically disappears when looked at in profile. The extreme thinness is enabled by the use of OLED technology, that is, organic light-emitting diodes. They're popping up in lots of places, but they're still a new technology, which of course means they jack up the price of a product. Case in point, at 11 inches diagonal, the largest size Sony offers for now, the XEL-1 costs $2,500.
Though not as thin as the XEL-1, it's a feat to make an LCD TV that's only 1.5 inches thick, which is what Hitachi has done. The Director's Series and UltraVision Series of TVs range in size from 32 inches to 47 inches, and in price from $2,000 to $4,700.
Extremely small: When it comes to gadgets, smaller is better. But some companies are taking that to the extreme and applying it to some of the most mundane electronics we own. Microvision has what it claims is the smallest projector, called, appropriately, the Pico Projector. It's designed to be embedded into a small device, like a cell phone or portable music player, which could share movies or video clips stored on the device by projecting them onto a wall. The Suniview PMP Projector, currently available in Taiwan, incorporates the Pico Projector, but is aimed at the enterprise set.
Polaroid is thinking small too. The company no longer makes its famous Polaroid film, but it hasn't gotten out of the photo business. It's moved into making digital cameras, and most recently, into photo printers that fit in your pocket. The PoGo, as it's called, weighs 8 ounces and prints wallet-size photos from phones, cameras, and other portable devices with Bluetooth.
Sony also sees smaller as superior when it comes to audio. Earlier this month the company debuted its 5.1-channel home theater system, the HT-IS100, which uses these strawberry-size speakers. In this case, the philosophy seems to be: better to be heard than seen.
Extreme transportation: These forms of transportation are extreme in the sense that they're closest to being their own X Games event, the twice-yearly extreme sports showcase.
The Libelula Rocket Helicopter, developed by researchers at Tecnologia Aeroespacial Mexicana, isn't exactly for sale--yet. However, the company has made a Rocket Belt, a customized personal jet pack, that is for sale (for $250,000). The Libelula is a kind of personal helicopter. It uses tiny rocket motors at the tips of the rotor blades to propel its wearer wherever he or she may need to go.
Extremely sensible: This is nearly the opposite of the previous item. These researchers are pushing the envelope when it comes to safety, and have come up with some ideas that are extremely, well, necessary.
Volvos are known to be built like tanks, but researchers at the Swedish car company are looking into making cars that are immune to crashes. Though they call it an "uncrashable" car, that's actually a bit misleading. The project, called PReVENT, uses software, not hardware, to keep its passengers in one piece in the event of a possible collision. Using existing technology, when the car's computer system senses a crash is imminent, it can take over and execute evasive maneuvers. Though it's not available in Volvos just yet, it probably can't come soon enough.
Speaking of crashes, this next technology combines necessity with extreme forms of transportation. Though not many of us will ever find ourselves cruising the skies in a military jet, those few will appreciate the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's interpretation of Volvo's "uncrashable" technology.
DARPA, the U.S. Department of Defense agency responsible for new military technology, is using the Damage Tolerance and Autonomous Landing Solution from Athena to land a jet safely should damage occur while in mid-flight. It's a full autopilot plus backup system that uses GPS and a jet's internal inertial navigation system to land safely even if, say, one wing has been blown off.
Extremely silly: The Handsfree Cockpit Umbrella ranks as one of the oddest-looking personal gadgets of the last few months. The hands-free umbrella idea is certainly useful, but the execution results in its wearer appearing incredibly silly. Making it worse, you have to pay $60 to look this bad.