With the onset of every new year, the tech industry comes with a list of breakthrough technologies that are going to hit the ball out of the park that year. Since, we at IndianWeb2.com have already covered the top 5 Notable Upcoming Changes in Tech World in 2017, we decided to evaluate last year’s MIT Technology Review highlighted 10 breakthrough technologies for the year 2016, and where they stand now.
1) Conversational Interfaces
In the starting of last year, the world came to know that certain improvements in machine learning had made software much more capable and accurate at transcribing human speech than it ever was, thus opening the doors for computers to be used in more situations and places in our lives. Since then, the year witnessed a number of large technology companies coming forward with their innovations to encourage people to make use of their own voices to interact with computers. We saw a competition brimming in the space of voice-operated assistants, such as Apple’s Siri and Google’s newly launched Google Assistant. In fact, tech giants Amazon and Google both believe that voice interfaces can have a major role to play in the houses. This could be seen when Google launched Google Home in competition with Amazon’s already established and much appreciated Echo. Amazon is now trying to up the ante by figuring out how speech interfaces can be improved if they could recognize signs of emotion human voice.
2) DNA App Store
Meet Helix, a San Francisco–based company whose goal is to make the process of information extraction hidden in one’s genome as easy and cost effective as it is installing a mobile application on our phones. The company invested a whole year in getting this idea from paper to reality. The process included building a huge, centralized DNA sequencing facility in the city of San Diego. Helix’s app store finally saw the daylight in November last year. The app store offers National Geographic’s ancestry research service, called Geno 2.0, as well as an app that gives parents-to-be advises about the genes they might be passing on to their children and another app that makes use of one’s DNA to give them recommendations about the wines that would best suit their palate. In order to participate, a user will be required to order any of the tests and give their spit sample. After that is done, the person’s DNA will remain on file so that any new apps that they buy can access it without any delay.
Slack, a service conceptualised and built for the era of mobile phone and short text message, offers instant messaging and chat rooms for use at the workplace. Its features such as seamless syncing across desktop and mobile devices and easy file uploading have proved to be major attractions among office workers sick and tired with the e-mail. Such has been the success of Slack that tech giants like Microsoft is soon going to launch a service called Teams, similar to Slack, suggesting that instant messaging at work has a huge scope for growth.
4) Power from Air
Since the human race nowadays figuratively lives in a ocean of Wi-Fi signals; wouldn’t it be interesting if we could design gadgets that could innovatively use them to communicate and power themselves? Some University of Washington researchers decided to develop this very approach, which them named passive Wi-Fi, and launched a startup called Jeeva Wireless.
The startup is currently considering adding connectivity to disposable medical products, and is in talks with some pharmaceutical company foe the same. The researchers have been successful in demonstrating a Wi-Fi-powered contact lens that can easily link to a smartphone over Wi-Fi, and a prototype skin patch that makes use of the very same approach for collecting and communicating data about a human being’s breathing patterns and temperature.
5) Immune Engineering
The year 2016 witnessed major progress being made in high-tech cancer cures enabled by using gene editing to tune the human immune system. The first great step was when scientists in America got an approval to start making use of CRISPR, a gene-editing technique, to customize T cells and turn them into cancer killing cells. The study had Internet billionaire Sean Parker’s backing, who had announced that he would give away a whopping $250 million towards “hacking” the immune system. In November, a China-based company made an announcement that it had successfully been able to dose a patient with the first T cells edited with CRISPR.
6) Precise Gene Editing in Plants
CRISPR, the gene editing technique isn’t just limited to cancer treatment. It can also be put to make the process of genetically modifying crops easier than ever. The year 2016 saw the United States regulators reaffirming that many of CRISPR crops won’t be regulated, meaning they could come to the market much faster than any of the previous genetically modifying crops could. A front-runner in this is DuPont created “waxy” corn plant that can be used in canned food goods and as an emulsifier for salad dressings. The plant can be commercialized within a period of just five years. Then there are also scientists who created non-browning mushrooms. In December, New York’s Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory‘s researchers were successful in demonstrating that gene editing could even make the commercial tomato varieties ripen on the vine two weeks faster than the usual time taken to achieve the same.
7) SolarCity’s Gigafactory
Elon Musk’s solar company in New York has built a 27-acre SolarCity that can start the production of solar cells this year. If this happens, the cost involved in installing those big solar panels on houses can come down sharply, as Musk’s SolarCity is not only capable of manufacturing and selling them, but also in installing them. Unfortunately, still the SolarCity has been losing money consistently. Although, a recent deal which will involves SolarCity merging with Musk’s Tesla Motors does offer a ray of hope, but it is no secret that the car company has issues of its own to deal with.
8) Tesla Autopilot
Tesla’s software update to upgrade sixty thousand cars on the road with the ability to steer themselves on certain roads made it earn a spot on the breakthrough technologies list of last year. Tesla’s automated driving technology has now driven Tesla car owners more than 200 million miles. Late last year, the car company made an announcement about the addition of a new hardware to its vehicles that allow full self-driving capability, but when will the capability be launched is slightly unclear right now, although Musk is clear that it would earlier than its rivals. The data connections in all Tesla vehicles might prove to be advantageous for the company as it could help it in testing the software against real-world data. Currently, the project’s progress is a little slow because of the two federal investigations that the company is facing because of the first fatal crash involving Tesla Autopilot, in which a Tesla drove into a tractor-trailer turning across the road.
9) Reusable Rockets
In the year 2015, two robots did something that no robot had done before- they were successful in landing back on their launch pads on folding legs. These two innovative robots came from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Reusable rockets have the potential of making space access much cheaper than it is currently. Since the first landings achievement, Musk’s SpaceX has been successful in making five more landings, four of them were on an uncrewed barge in the Atlantic ocean.
This year, SpaceX aims to start reusing the rockets that have been previously launched and landed. Bezos’ Blue Origin has already reflown one of its lighter, smaller reusable rockets. The booster that first flew and landed in the year 2015 has now successfully blasted off and safely touched down 5 times.
10) Robots That Teach Each Other
Brown professor Stefanie Tellex is trying to make robots klutz free by making teams of robots experiment with the real world, pool in their experiences in attempting to pick up simple objects such as toothbrushes and hair brushes so that their software can build up their knowledge faster. Tech biggies are now adopting professor Tellex’s ideology and approach. Fanuc, which is one of the largest manufacturers of industrial robots in the world, recently announced that it will be designing future products so that parallel learning technique can be used in factories. Google researchers recently disclosed information about how a collection of robotic arms called as the “arm farm” has successfully learned to operate door handles.