Wham. Bam. Alakazaam!

It all happened at a place called "NextFest.2004" sponsored by Wired magazine and GE. I'm not a fan of expositions. I don't like people crowding around me. But this glimpse of the future, some of it already here, was extraordinary. If it comes to a city near you, don't miss it.

It starts with a blast - of air, that is. A spectacular entrance exhibit lets you walk through a computer image roughly 8 feet square. Called Fogscreen, it projects images onto a thin vapor of chemical-free water. As you walk through it you feel nothing but air. When switched off it dissolves almost instantly with no residue. Most people walked through it several times to convince themselves it was real. See more at http://www.fogscreen.com/

It gets even better from there.Take a look at GE's Smart Roadster, currently available in Europe only. It is dent-resistant, scratch-proof, fuel-efficient, light-weight and shiny without being painted.

Then marvel at Moller's Skycar, 50% car, 50% personal airplane, and 100% seductive. It's an electrically-powered flying automobile which can ride on most highways and all city streets. It can fly as high as 25,000 feet at over 300 mph. (Here's your intrepid digital reporter in front of one.)For more information on this remarkable car, its founder, and a comparison with the current internal combustion automobiles including Porsche and Masserati, check out http://www.moller.com You might want to spend some time on this site: it has a lot of personality.

And here I am at the controls of the Airscooter, a recreational helicopter for individual use. The personal VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) vehicle is eleven feet tall, uses handlebar controls, and does not require a pilot's license to operate. Pictures, incidentally, are courtesy of H.P.'s R707 digital camera at 5.1 megapixels and printed out instantly on an H.P. Photosmart 245 printer, the latter costing about $250. and small enough to fit into a purse.

NASA brings us a rock that is 3.9 billion years old, recovered from the moon by Apollo 16. Looking through a pair of 3D glasses, you see the rock as it would appear as part of a 3D moonscape.

For the immediate future, NASA has collaborated with scientists from Carnegie Mellon University and Intel to produce a Personal Exploration Rover (PER), a miniature 6-wheeled vehicle that stands 1.2 feet high and weighs ten pounds. The PERs are powered by Intel processors, run on a Linux OS and are programmed in Java. For more info, go to http://www.ic.arc.nasa.gov

Asimo, Honda's pride and joy, stands 4 feet tall and weighs 115 pounds. It can walk backward and forward, climb and descend stairs, switch lights on and off, and open and close doors.

In the field of health, Athemos, developed at the University of Houston, can read a patient's blood flow, pulse, and breathing from several feet away using an infra-red camera. The camera extracts the information from the natural thermal radiation given off by the body.

To top things off, you might want to try on the Reality Helmet, in which sounds are presented to you as images and visual objects are turned into a soundscape.

Or perhaps Breakout for Two, which lets athletes at far reaches of the globe play sports with each other via a virtual brick wall.

On the drawing board is a thin, folding monitor that fits into your pocket www.optics.arizona.edu/oled

Being tested is an unmanned aerial vehicle called Seascan, weighing only 33 pounds and measuring less than 10 feet across. In a couple of months researchers will try to fly it 5000 miles using just a few gallons of fuel. In fact, a 1998 test flight took it from Newfoundland to Scotland on just 1 1/2 gallons of fuel. See more at http://www.ixl-satinfo.com/english/productseascan.shtml

If these sound astonishing, keep in mind that I have barely scratched the surface. I have seen the future, it is here, and it is awesome.

If any of you want additional information there are some photos available at http://www.nextfest.net or you can email me at giraffe@giraffe.com. Happy futuring!

c.Corinne Whitaker 2004