Looking back over the year that was 2015.
Such is the breakneck pace of technological evolution that it’s easy to fall behind the times. As 2015 draws to a close, a look back over the year reveals a particularly eventful twelve months for the fields of science and technology, from car companies producing hoverboards to a genuinely effective invisibility cloak.
For most people, 2015 has heralded a number of subtle (yet significant) advances. Firstly, the long-anticipated NFC revolution has arrived on our high streets, with contactless bank cards and Apple Pay replacing the time-honoured chip-and-PIN payment method in many retail outlets. Take-up of Apple Pay has been slow, and security concerns will probably limit the value of items that can be bought with contactless technology, but this represents another small step towards the speedier and simpler payment processes we’ve been expecting for some time.
The Internet of Things is another concept that has been much discussed, and one which is finally having an impact on modern daily life. The number of internet-enabled devices is rising exponentially, with the Hive domestic heating system and the FitBit smartwatch now considered as mainstream products. Internet-enabled TVs are in millions of homes and today’s electric cars can be heated and even started using a smartphone app; born from the necessity of minimising battery usage on the move, this technology should eventually arrive in petrol and diesel vehicles as well.
This was also the year when 3D printing broke through into the mainstream, though it will be a while before these devices can truly fulfil their potential by printing out spy drones or replacement human organs. With a 3D printer already generating replacement tools on the International Space Station, the potential for this technology is hard to quantify at the moment. For now, people are simply amazed at the ability of a domestic printer to create complex moving objects, even if their four-figure price tags have hitherto prevented mainstream adoption.
So much for the everyday, but what about the extraordinary? This has been a year of remarkable technological advances both inside and outside the world’s laboratories, with sensor-equipped artificial skin being manufactured in research centres and driverless cars navigating their way along Swedish roads. Graphene has become the must-use material of the moment, underpinning everything from paper to solar cells. Having been one of the world’s most expensive materials just a few years ago, production advances have lowered the cost to the point where graphene is now used for testing blood glucose levels and creating microscopic transistors.
The world of science fiction drew a little closer this year, with Lexus debuting a hoverboard and researchers unveiling an invisibility cloak that guides light waves smoothly around the cloak’s surface. The ever-increasing potential of lasers saw them being injected into human cells back in the summer, while scientists are also trying to harness lasers as a propulsion method for compact spacecraft. On the subject of flight, 2015 witnessed solar planes taking to the skies and rumours of hypersonic jets being developed by the US military. For solo travellers, a 46mph jetpack developed in New Zealand is expected to reach the market next year.
As well as high-speed jetpacks, 2016 should herald advances and improvements in almost all the aforementioned areas. It will hopefully be the year that personal VR headsets and 4K televisions finally overcome their niche status, and there is strong anticipation surrounding quantum computer processors and the hybrid cloud. We already know that cloud computing will become the mainstream, and huge efforts will be invested into understanding the vast reams of information being generated by the Internet of Things. Indeed, we can expect 2016 to be a very data-heavy year.
What do you see in the techie future? Let us know @UK2.