This has been another year of remarkable advances in tech. Technologies such as 3D printing, Internet of Things and cloud computing are all coming to maturation, changing life for consumers and businesses across the world.
2016 has also seen some new frontiers opening up, with exciting breakthroughs in the world of computers, electricity and biomedicine. Here are six technologies that made the headlines this year.
As technology becomes increasingly mobile, we need increasingly innovative ways of getting power to our devices. Wireless power transmission (WPT) has been discussed since the time of Nikolai Tesla, and it is now possible to wirelessly charge mobile phones and other devices over small distances using magnetic resonance. One group of researchers has shown that WPT over long ranges may be possible, as they managed to successfully recharge a drone in mid-flight using wireless power transmission.
After many false starts, Virtual Reality finally hit the mainstream in 2016. A number of consumer devices were released this year, with Sony and Oculus releasing high-end headsets while Google made VR free to anyone with a smartphone via their Cardboard project. VR is great for gaming and social media but it also has business applications, from teleconferencing to advanced product design techniques. Experts believe that the value of the VR technology market will be $163 billion by 2020.
Smart Personal Assistants
Apple users have long had Siri to help organize their lives, while Microsoft fans have had assistance from Cortana. Now they are joined by two major rivals: Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. All such systems use artificial intelligence and a sophisticated voice interaction system, but the vision behind them appears to be different. Siri and Google Assistant are smartphone-based add-ons to the iOS and Android environments, Cortana is part of the multi-platform Windows 10 environment, while Alexa is available in a standalone device—the Echo—which is part of Amazon’s Internet of Things strategy to create a smart home. Whichever system emerges victorious from this battle, it seems likely that we will all soon have a powerful AI to act as our personal assistant.
Internet of Nanotech Things
Size matters in the world of IoT. The smaller we can make sensors and controllers, the greater the potential applications, especially in fields such as medicine. It is now possible to create sensors that are measured in microns rather than millimeters, yet which still have processors, sensors and connectivity. One startup in Massachusetts is working on a method to combine these sensors with genetically modified proteins to create biocomputers that can monitor our health from within our bodies.
Perovskite Solar Cells
The search for cheap, sustainable energy sources may have had the breakthrough it needs in 2016. Perovskite solar cells have existed for some time and are much easier to manufacture and install than the silicon solar cells in usage today. But the energy output of perovskites has always been disappointing, with a conversion rate of around 5 percent (silicon solar cells have a conversion rate of 25 percent.) Recent developments have drastically improved conversion rates, which are now 20 percent, and are on course to exceed even the best silicon cells.
CRISPR is a gene-editing tool that is as powerful as it is controversial. This year, approval was granted for researchers to begin work on the first human trials of CRISPR for a project that hopes to find a cure for three types of cancer. If successful, it could open the door to a whole new era of biomedical research. However, there are numerous ethical issues raised by the ability to alter human genes, which are sure to be debated for years to come.
All-in-all, it has been an exciting year, but this is only the beginning. As we stand on the brink of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we find ourselves on the brink of a future transformed by technology. What opportunities will emerge and what challenges will we face? As 2017 dawns, we’ll find out…