Nanotechnology, electric vehicles, renewable energy, quantum computing and slicker, smarter consumer electronics – just some of the fields in which the rollercoaster of human technological development continues to gather pace each year ... and 2010 was no exception. As the calendar flips towards December, it's time for a look back at some of the key world first breakthroughs that have caught our attention over the past 12 months.
Here's our favorite firsts in emerging technology for 2010:
1. First truly synthetic organism created
Back in May, scientists completed a 15 year quest to create the first self-replicating, synthetic bacterial cell. The team led by Craig Venter of America’s J. Craig Venter Institute (JVCI) proved the principle that genomes can be designed in the computer, chemically made in the laboratory and transplanted into a recipient cell to produce a new self-replicating cell controlled only by the synthetic genome. The research could lead to engineered bacteria designed for specific purposes such as producing drugs, biofuels or other useful chemicals. Full story
2. The arrival of 3D
3D television entered the marketplace this year and the technology to create your own 3D content wasn't far behind. January saw Panasonic's unveiling of the world's first integrated twin-lens Full HD 3D camcorder, followed by the first 3D consumer camcorder in July. Fujifilm also grabbed attention with the W3 – the world's first compact 3D camera capable of shooting high definition video – and British tabloid The Sun published the first 3D newspaper complete with 3D glasses on June 5.
3. First commercially available Jet PackWe've been waiting a long time for this one. Earlier this year New Zealand based Martin Aircraft announced the first commercially-available jet pack. The 250 lbs "Jetpack" (which uses twin ducted fans) is capable of 30 minutes of flight time, can reach heights of 8,000 feet and is fueled by regular premium gasoline.
You can lay down a deposit on the expected US$86,000 price tag, but don't expect to take delivery until next year. For those of us without that kind of cash lying around, there's also a Jetpack adventure travel experience on offer for around $10K.
4. Throw away your joysticks
2010 has been the year of motion control. While the Wii has been in the wild for some time, this year both Sony and Microsoft upped the ante with widely publicized entries into the space. Sony's PlayStation Move combines controller tracking with body tracking via the PlayStation Eye camera while Microsoft's Kinect does away with the controller altogether by using a CMOS camera, infrared projector and multi-array microphone to track the movements and voices of players ... and the system is already showing potential beyond the gaming world.
5. Space tourism takes offA string of world first announcements during 2010 from Virgin Galactic has marked a shift in the push towards space tourism. Among these we saw the first captive carry flight, the first free flight and the first manned flight of VSS Enterprise, plus the opening of the two mile long runway at Spaceport America.
There's no firm commitment on a launch date, but Virgin Galactic's first paying customers could be heading towards space as early as next year.
6. Re-thinking automobile ownershipIt may not have all the bells and whistles of some of the world firsts listed here, but Daimler's announcement of a “ car2go edition” of the SMART fortwo marks a shift in the way we think about our personal transport. The car2go system allows cars to be spontaneously rented on-the-spot, or booked up to 24 hours in advance via a mobile phone or online.
Car sharing isn't new, but with increasing pressure to stop choking our urban roads the announcement of the first production vehicles dedicated to this approach is a significant one (and BMW's recently announced pilot scheme which will see its vehicles available for rent on an hourly basis over the Internet is also worth noting).
7. Molecular robot created from DNA
Nanotechnology breakthroughs have been a common feature on Gizmag's pages throughout 2010, with everything from electronics, to solar energy and ... molecular scale robotics. In May, U.S. scientists announced the creation of a spider-like nanobot just 4 nanometers wide that can be programmed to start, walk, turn left, turn right, or stop, using single-strand DNA molecules. Descendants of the molecular nanobot, or “spider,” could someday be used to treat diseases such as cancer or diabetes.
8. Solar powered spacecraft sets sailBack in May the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched the IKAROS project – a space yacht that gathers energy for propulsion from sunlight pressure (photons) by means of a square membrane measuring 20 meters (65.6 ft) diagonally.
In addition to "sailing" on solar wind, the spacecraft also uses thin film solar cells on the membrane will be used to generate its own electricity.
9. Shaking up energy
The renewable energy sector is another constant source of technological breakthroughs as efforts to get large scale green power online continue around the globe. These examples come from the other end of the spectrum – cleaner ways to power our tiny consumer electronics devices. Released earlier this year, the nPower PEGis a light-weight, titanium encased portable generator that can recharge a handheld device by harvesting kinetic energy as you move about in your daily life. Brother has also announced a battery based on the same basic principles – its Vibration Energy Cell batteries are designed to replace AA or AAA batteries in some low power devices, enabling them to be powered with a shake.
10. World's first iPad
OK, so it's not the world's first tablet computer, but in many ways, it might as well be. Apple's iPad hit the market in April and there's little doubt it has bulldozed a new track in personal computing. We loved it, it sold 300,000 units on the first day and spurred almost every device manufacturer in the world into the tablet space. We think it's fair to say that the iPad has created its own world first.
Honorable mentions and your suggestionsSo what have we missed? We've chosen this list to represent some of the year's many achievements across our broad list of emerging technology categories, but there are of course many candidates left on the cutting room floor – the first remote controlled heart surgery, the first plastic anchor, the first digital golf glove and the first 3D printed car, the first fully compostable chip pack and the world's first GPS goggles with a head-up display, just for starters.
So what gets your vote as the most significant (or just plain coolest) world first for 2010? We'd love to hear your suggestions in the comments section.