When I was growing up in Flint the phone in our house was attached to the kitchen wall. Our connection was on a party line shared by four other households located who-knows-where in the city. If you wanted to make an outgoing call you had to wait your turn. If you called home from somewhere else you had to hope the line was clear or you'd get a busy signal. 


You could get a private line, but those were very pricey. The only house I knew of that had a private line was my grandparents. My grandfather was a bail bondsman. When one of his “clients” was allowed to make only one phone call from the hoosegow it was essential that they could reach him. 


Back then, if you'd have told me that one day I would have a personal phone that I could carry around because it was not connected to any wires I would have thought you were at best a dreamer and at worst a lunatic. 


I'm telling you this to illustrate a point. Technology is only technology if it was invented after you were born. Otherwise it's the way things have always been. Today, even that “always been” is changing by the minute. 


Take phone calls, for instance. A company in Los Angeles assures us that “hologram tech may soon replace video calls.” The Portl company produces portals that are eight feet tall, glass-fronted, computerized boxes. “The 3-D light projection of a person is a life-like, more immersive, more sensory alternative to video calls. We can't make our portals fast enough.” 


The portals are in use right now. “They have built-in speakers, so that the hologram's voice can be heard. They also include cameras and microphones so that the user of the hologram can see and hear the people in the projection. Portl's app-controlled software system then connects the person via the internet to wherever the portal or portals are.”


Currently, the portals cost $60,000, but as more are used the price is expected to drop. "In a few years, this is going to become a regular way of communicating between offices. We'll also replace every single digital display kiosk in every mall, in every lobby, in no time.” (


Another thing we do on our phones these days is text. Even that process may change with a hands-free option. Scientists are working on a smart retainer for texting with your tongue. “SilentSpeller is a communication system that allows people to send texts using a high-tech dental retainer to spell out words without actually voicing them. The device works by tracking the movement of the user’s tongue. The device reads tongue movements through the retainer’s one hundred twenty-four sensors. Researchers claim the system identifies letters with ninety-seven percent accuracy.” 


The goal is to send those tongue texts to a phone app. “Potential consumer applications could be hands-free communication in really quiet places, like a library, or really loud places where people would have to strain their voices to be heard.”



Not all technology has to do with communication. One new piece sort of involves the seat of your pants. Mercedes is developing a car with seats made of  mushrooms. But that's not all.


“The EQXX's body includes a web-like subframe designed to have metal only where it's actually needed for structural integrity and crash safety. Empty spaces in the frame are filled in with a material called UBQ, made from landfill waste that can include things like mixed plastics, cardboard, gardening waste and even diapers.”


The goal is to make the car lighter. “The EQXX utilizes sustainable materials in other parts of the car. A leather-like material made from mushrooms is used in the seat cushions. Another leather substitute, made from pulverized cactus fibers, is used elsewhere in the interior. The carpets are made entirely of bamboo fiber.” (


That's interesting, but an innovation from BMW may have more flash. “The luxury automaker is working on the iX Flow featuring E Ink, a concept that would allow owners to change the exterior color of their car by pressing a button. The SUV featuring the iX Flow tech includes a specially developed body wrap stimulated by electrical signals to change the color of the vehicle's exterior.”


But it gets even better! Have you ever “misplaced” your car in a huge parking lot? Never again. “The iX Flow can do more than jazz up the look of your car. The outside of a car could flash different colors if you're trying to find it in a crowded parking lot.” (


Autos are not the only vehicles undergoing a tech upgrade. Even tractors are getting into the act. “John Deere has unveiled its first fully autonomous tractor. The new 8R tractor allows farmers to leave the cab and control the machine remotely.”


It works like this. “The tractor uses machine learning to till the soil and can run twenty-four hours a day, only needing to stop every eight to ten hours for refueling. Farmers track its progress and monitor any issues through an app, but don’t need to be in the cab or even in the field. The new 8R is equipped with six pairs of stereo cameras that give the machine the ability for 360-degree obstacle detection.” 


For farmers who already have a good tractor, there's more good news. “Not every farmer is going to have to buy a new tractor to make this work. This autonomous system will retrofit back on several years worth of John Deere tractors.”  



Finally, there is some new tech fun for snow lovers. It's said that every snowflake is different. Now you can make your very own personalized snowflake. Just go to the Snowflake Generator at:


Using eleven different tools, you can create a snowflake that looks like a piece of art. You can then download (and print) your creation. These are very nifty and worthy of refrigerator door displays. 


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at and