2015 has been a dull year for technology on first glance. Uninspiring smartphones, pointless smartwatches, and a slew of utilities with needless 'smart' capabilities, courtesy of the Internet of Things. But look further than the onslaught of consumer technology PR, and you start to see some real stories that made a huge impact. Here are just 10 of those moments.
1. 3D Printing the Human Body Took a Big Leap This Year
From affordable, functional prosthetics to delicate human organs being replicated with microscopic detail, 3D printing has afforded an exciting new way for us to stitch ourselves back together, inside and out, in a way that’s accessible to nearly everyone. 3D printed prosthetics are already becoming a popular choice for amputees. And organ printing came in leaps and bounds this year. Soon, there may be no need to wait on a donor’s list as every human organ imaginable can simply be printed to order.
2. The Robot Menace Threatens to Destroy – Er, Improve Our Quality of Life
AI has been a huge topic of research for decades, but 2015 saw several concepts begin to properly materialize for the first time. From self-driving cars beginning to behave them themselves on the road (unlike most human-operated vehicles) to thinking, learning software being weaved into almost everything we do (think Google, Skype, Facebook) in order to improve computer interactivity. AI is now getting to the point where the world’s brightest minds are having to seriously consider its impact in our lives going forward. A glorious new utopia, or a Terminator-esque apocalypse, may await us.
3. German Green Hydrogen Plant Allows for Limitless Renewable Energy… That We’re Sort of Ignoring So Far
Energiepark Mainz has developed a facility which can break excess electricity and break it down into hydrogen through electrolysis, with no apparent storage limit. This solves a major problem renewable energy has faces so far – that it cannot be stored effectivity and so most of excess goes to waste. A green hydrogen facility on this scale “closes the circle” so to speak, on the key to fully renewable energy free of fossil fuels. The only problem now is the rest of world wants little to do with this power. But once we finally stop dragging our feet when it comes to clean energy, Mainz has got us covered.
4. USB Type-C, A Long-Awaited Improvement to an Antiquated System
Think about USB ports. Have they changed at all at any time in our memory? Not really. You might think it’s because they’re perfect as they are, but any amount of time spent with a USB will dispel that theory. The new type-C is fully reversible, meaning you can use it to connect to both hosts and devices, and that you can plug it in either way up! Finally, an end to the inevitable five-minute struggle literally every time you try to plug something in. Beyond that, the type-C supports higher currents, meaning faster charging among other things. While adapters will be needed for most of our tech for now, expect new tech rolling forward to support the type-C.
5. 2015 Was the Year We Got A Feel For Virtual Reality
For years now, VR as we know it has been little than a gimmicky camera view – a screen strapped to your face, but still just a screen. Efforts to change this have involved some really bulky tech, but 2015 saw two promising efforts to change this; Impacto and Nimble VR. Impacto is an armband which uses vibrations to simulate, well, impacts in virtual space, whereas Nimble VR is a camera which scans your own body down to its smallest details to render in virtual space. Both are different yet effective ways to increase virtual immersion, and both have fully working prototypes. We also got a full announcement of Oculus Rift, which we will have to be patient for until Spring 2016.
6. Orwellian Government Surveillance Became a Legal Reality
In Britain, we got the Investigatory Powers Bill: a £174 million snooper bill that will see Internet Service Providers (ISPs) storing an entire year of users' browser data. There have been plenty of backlashes, including from huge companies like Apple. But make no mistake about it, this level of intrusion is going to happen, whether we like it or not. You make a planet nervous through acts of terrorism, and it will be forced to act, at times irrationally like this.
7. Europe's First Space Port will be Built in the UK
While we may have a lot to be annoyed at our government about, and be taken aback by swine related news. But one thing we can be happy about is that the UK will be getting a space port. The list of locations is limited down to Glasgow, Stornoway in Scotland and Llanbedr in Wales. With commercial space travel set to be a £400 billion a year industry in 2030, this is a smart move. Plus you can't help but get excited with NASA-esque space launches happening in our nation.
8. Six Million Britons are Still not using The Internet
A more frustrating story for Britain, as I'd like to see this as a connected country. However, according to a survey by the Office for National Statistics, 11% of the adult population (5.9 million people) have never used the internet. Unsurprisingly, over half of these are over 75 years old, but the statistic is still quite alarming.
9. Drones Attack Celebrities on their way to the Big Time
Once Muse wrote an album about them, and one went rogue by attacking Enrique Iglesias, drones have rapidly become commonplace. They have been one of the highest requested presents this Christmas, and one of the most dangerous toys on the planet for near-collisions with planes and the massive invasion on personal privacy. Going through strong regulation and even requiring FAA licensing in America, the need to educate people has been strongly received.
10. Hoverboards Aren't a Thing, but we came close in 2015
A lot of companies have been trying to achieve what Zemeckis predicted with Back to the Future 2. Unfortunately all of them, including Hendo, Lexus and Arca, didn't get there...technically. We have rode boards that do hover, but they either can't deviate from a track, or need to be on a metallic surface, or require 36 fans and can't be controlled. So the team sit and wait for something to actually come along. And no, swegways do NOT count.
Happy New Year.