2020 was a hard year for most people, what with COVID-19, unemployment, social distancing, lockdowns…you get the idea. However, despite the hardships, the tech industry has not stopped plowing ahead. Scientific American and the World Economic Forum have selected ten of the top tech innovations of 2020. The criteria for making the list was that the technology has the potential to spark economic or societal progress and make a major impact in the next three to five years.
The Top Ten Tech Innovations of 2020
Microneedles – Tiny needles that are typically 50 to 2,000 microns in length—about the depth of a sheet of paper—are poised to usher in a new era of painless blood tests and injections.
Sunlight that can convert carbon dioxide into chemicals – The manufacturing of a variety of a useful chemicals that are important for our lives can lead to excess carbon dioxide emissions and eventually climate change, but a new approach uses sunlight to turn waste CO2 into these chemicals. The result is reduced carbon emissions.
Virtual patients – Virtual doctor visits have become the norm during COVID-19, but the concept of virtual patients is still something quite revolutionary. Tests on vaccines and other drugs generally still must be done on human beings. However, a new concept called a virtual patient consists of digital computer models of organs that allow the testing of drugs and treatments to be performed on them, sparing humans from exposing themselves to risk.
Spatial computing – Sensors that monitor exactly where you are and can modify your environment in real time. For example, if you are about to suffer a fall, the sensors can enable certain types of chairs, sofas, or other pieces of furniture to sense the movement and move forward to catch you. This technology can be especially useful for the elderly and disabled.
Digital medicine for diagnoses – Digital health diagnoses are already being conducted in some form, mainly from apps on smartphones and smartwatches. These apps can monitor mood, heart rate, blood sugar levels, and more. The future will see much more of this type of digital assistance in the field of healthcare, including digital cognitive behavioral therapy, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s detection, and ingestible sensor-bearing pills that can be swallowed and detect what is going on in your body.
Despite the hardships, the tech industry has not stopped plowing ahead.
Electric aviation – Electric airplanes are something to look forward to in the next decade as battery technologies continue to advance. The first step is short-haul flights of about 500 miles with up to 10 passengers. Once the technology is further developed, the range and capacity could be expanded. Electric aircraft have the potential to significantly reduce global carbon emissions.
Low-carbon cement – Cement accounts for about 8% of the world’s emissions. One approach to producing more sustainable cement involves substituting different materials. Simple, and it can reduce cement’s carbon footprint by about 30%.
Quantum sensors for autonomous cars – Quantum sensors provide precise information, such as the ability to set a watch to the 1000th of a second. It is now possible for the technology to be used to help autonomous vehicles “see” around corners.
Green hydrogen – Green hydrogen doesn’t refer to the color of the chemical but to the way it is produced. Green hydrogen refers to making hydrogen in the most environmentally responsible way possible, something that companies are now being mandated to do.
Whole-genome synthesis – Genome synthesis refers to the way an entire genome can be created in a lab. For example, upon the outbreak of COVID-19, Chinese scientists uploaded the genome sequence of the virus. Scientists in Switzerland copied the sequence and were able to create the virus in a lab. By doing this, they didn’t need to wait for a live sample to start to look for possible treatments.