2012 was a whirlwind year. We reelected Obama, Apple finally made the iPod Touch XL, and aliens didn’t kill us all (note to editor: this was written before December. If aliens invade, fix accordingly). But also we were shown a number of awesome new technologies and scientific breakthroughs. Among them were:
10. Gloves that Translate Sign Language
Some Ukranian students decided there was a huge gap between the hearing impaired and people they needed to talk to. Sure there’s sign language, but does the layman know how to speak it? So they went out to work and designed these gloves that are paired with a smartphone, and can tell what gestures the user is making. The app then helpfully vocalizes these gestures into words and sentences, that people can hear and understand. Since they debuted their project at the Microsoft Imagine Cup, they’ve been awarded $25,000, and have been offered deals to help develop it into a mainstream product.
9. The Tesla Model S
All throughout the debates, Mitt Romney chastised Obama for investing in Tesla, an electric car company. But Tesla isn’t just an electric car company; they’re making pure electric cars for under $50,000, that have all the power and luxuries of sports cars. You read that right: the Tesla Model S is pure electric, can go the equivalent of 90 miles per gallon, and goes from 0-60 in 3.9 seconds. For you non-car types, we’ll assure you that that is awesome. In addition, it’s got leather seats, and touchscreen controls for everything from GPS to climate control. It’s no surprise that it was the first fully electric car to become Motor Trend’s Car of the Year.
8. OLED TV Screens
Remember when Plasma was a big deal? And then LCD came along and everyone forgot about it? That’s what’ll happen to LCD soon with the release of Samsung’s highly anticipated OLED screens. OLED, or Organic Light Emitting Diode, is a huge step forward in powerful, organic television screens. It also gets you much prettier colors on the screen, since it doesn’t use a back light. This means the screens can get thinner, and you can get high definition screens in everything from laptops to phones and GPS displays. Unfortunately, due to shipment headaches, you won’t be seeing these hitting the market until 2013.
Apple’s actually been way ahead of the curve on this one. When they debuted their Mac Air, the market responded with netbooks… which isn’t exactly the same but whatever. Now, however, every major computer company has their own “ultrabook” out. These are laptops dripping in RAM and HD storage, with high functioning processors that are amazingly light. You know, like a Macbook Air. The only downside is that they’re as expensive as their fruit counterparts, with the cheapest at roughly $1,000. Which is baffling, since they’re targeted to broke-ass college students.
6. Quantum Computing
For those of you with even an ounce of knowledge as to how computers work, you probably know that computers talk and operate in binary. That is, two fields: 0 and 1. But engineers have been wondering: what if they could get past this boundary. What if, instead of just two plains on which to write code, they had four?
Sadly, it’s not as easy as just coding in 0, 1, 2, and 3, by the way. Think of the English language; you could say something and, depending on who heard it, could be understood in multiple ways. If a guy said, “hey want to hang out?” to a girl, it could be implied as intention for a relationship, or at least one hot night; say it to another guy, and it would just be an invitation to do something together. Say it to an ex-girlfriend, it could mean something else entirely, etc.
So engineers wanted to add this nifty feature to computer talk, since that would mean computers faster than anything you could imagine, as well as more intelligent than Siri could ever be. But until now, it’s been a theory, something engineers could only dream of. That is, until a team made one earlier this year. The computer does all that scientists dreamed of and more; the only catch is that it was built with diamonds. It turns out that the imperfections in diamonds are somehow perfect for quantum computing to work.
5. Quantum Teleportation
Don’t get all excited just yet; the title is a little misleading. We won’t be able to teleport from place to place just yet, but we can totally make information do it. How long does it take you to download a video off the Internet? Imagine if you could get the whole thing instantaneously, the second you want it. That’s what a team of researchers from Waterloo were able to do. They were able to send quantum information (in this case the states of light and photon, which only sounds science-y because it totally is,) over a distance of 143 kilometers. That’s roughly the space between the ground and orbiting satellites, meaning we could be communicating instantly with our space probes. It also gets us one step closer to a consumer-friendly #6 (no, diamond computers won’t be hitting shelves soon).
4. Gene Therapy is Now a Thing
How many of you saw Gattaca? No one? Really? Fine, we’ll explain it to you. In the futuristic universe of Gattaca, men and women didn’t conceive children the normal way; they gave their cells to a lab, which first analyzes the DNA of the potential baby for any bodily defects. Then, by changing the DNA, they can customize how the child looks, what its best abilities are, and make sure that it never has any issues. That may seem crazily in the future but, this year, the UK authorized a company called Glybera to start doing “gene therapy” for commercial use. The medicine sends a virus into your body, containing the correct genetic code. Once the virus infects muscle cells, the correct code overwrites the bad DNA. So far, the medicine is available only in the EU, and only treats a rare condition that prevents the body from using natural fats.
3. Google Glass
In 2012, Google made it clear that it intended to expand its products into the realm of science fiction. They did this by releasing one of the most shared concept videos in history. In essence, the glasses were mini-computers, that lived on the top corner of a set of frames. These glasses were so advanced they could communicate with you, set appointments, check the Web, check your email, and almost anything you wanted it to. They were the future, and it sure as hell made us all very excited. And while they are still in development, Google says we could see them hitting the market in a mere two years. Whether a 2014 release date is feasible or not is another issue; the whole point of this is that the future is very close.
2. Curiosity Lands on Mars
Most scientific progress is just another centimeter closer to the end goal. Therefore, most laymen don’t care if a study is released that shows that cancer can be battled with a certain trick. If it’s not an outright cure, why should they cheer? But when NASA announced they were launching their rover, Curiosity, they made it very clear exactly how difficult it would be for the mission to be successful. They emphasized how much work had gone into the drone, and how resourceful it would be on Mars. Media outlets helped too, explaining the stages it had to go through for a landing, as well as how easy it would be for the robot to blow up. As a result, everyone was excited to watch this underdog story of a real-life Wall-E, an innocent robot up against a ferocious and elephantine planet. There were live feeds, and live tweets. So when Curiosity landed, Earth cheered.
1. The “God Particle”
We used to think that the smallest element in this world was the atom. Then we found out you could break even that down into smaller things, called quarks. And then we realized those could be broken down too, into gluons. But something still seemed off. These particles behaved in a way that seemed to suggest that there was something even smaller hanging around. And thus the theory of the Higgs-Boson came about. Some came to call this the “God Particle”. And then this year it was discovered. Religious people cheered, because they misunderstood the importance of this discovery to mean God’s existence had been proven. Others immediately went to correct them, and what was an amazing discovery was forgotten for a moment.
But just for a moment, as the science community knew what this meant. And it was a shining moment for CERN, who had just messed up greatly a few months before, for mistakenly saying that they had sent a particle faster than light. It was just an awesome moment all around.
Mohammed Shariff is a certified expert in everything. You should totally follow him on Twitter before he goes mainstream.