Another year has come and gone, and it’s time to look back on 2012 at the most intriguing gadgets and doohickeys of the year. In particular, here are five technologies that stand out, looking back–largely because the rest of their stories remain unwritten.
1. Wireless charging
This may be the year we recall as having finally sent wireless charging on its way (see “The Long and Winding Road to Wireless Charging”). As an IHS analyst recently put it to a CNET reporter, “we are getting closer to the mainstream.” Around five million devices using wireless charging were sold in 2012, but we might see numbers closer to 100 million in the coming two to three years (see “Wireless Charging–Has Its Time Finally Arrived?”). Madison Square Garden and Virgin Atlantic are among those who have started to build out some wireless charging infrastructure for sports fans and frequent flyers.
2. 3-D Printing
3-D printing is a technology that some say is overhyped at best, an outright fad at worst (see “Why 3-D Printing Will Go the Way of Virtual Reality”). But in 2012, 3-D printing stood up for itself, growing in a few unexpected ways. One of the more interesting stories this year was about a development in New York, where the company Shapeways presented a 25,000-square-foot facility that it intends to stock with 50 industrial-scale printers capable of cranking out five million products a year. Cutely, they did their ribbon cutting with 3-D printed scissors. It will be interesting to see if 3-D printing plays an even more important role in prototyping and product design in the year to come (see “A Ribbon Cutting for 3-D Printing (Using 3-D Printed Scissors)”).
3. The stylus
Tablets have made their case, and are a part of our daily computing life. One area in which they’re lacking, though, is the stylus department. In particular, if the iPad and its ilk are to gain full acceptance as a productivity device for the creative class, technology companies will need to develop a killer stylus (see “Will Designers Take to the iPad 3?”). No one’s done so yet, at least not at scale for the consumer market (many professional designers do already love the stylus associated with Wacom tablets, but that tech tends to be quite expensive). One interesting, if perhaps misguided, attempt to improve upon the stylus this year is a vision from Samsung Electronics, which imagines a stylus that would double as a microphone, potentially coupling vocal input with manual (see “A Stylus You Can Talk To”). Comparison-shopping styluses yourself? Macworld had a good roundup.
4. Leap 3D
Covering Leap 3D, the emerging better-than-Kinect motion-sensing technology, was a story that really got my pulse rate up this year (see “Leap 3D Out-Kinects Kinect”). The technology is said to be 200 times as accurate as Kinect, and subtle enough to detect the very motion of your fingers. Sadly, the technology doesn’t come out till 2013, so this story will really heat up next year. Leap Motion, Inc., does say it’s already taking preorders for the device, at a price of $69.99. The commenters on my post from back in May had a suite of cool ideas for applications for the tech.
5. The Nook
Keeping an eye on the Nook is something of a pet project of mine, less for the technology itself (mid-range tablet) and more for what it represents. In a decade that has been generally turbulent for publishing, the last year has been especially so. With the shuttering of Borders, all eyes are now on Barnes & Noble as the last standing mega-bookstore, and book lovers are now put in the funny position of defending a Goliath they once saw as threatening to the neighborhood bookstore. As Amazon and its Kindle surge, B&N is making a last stand of sorts for the relevancy of a physical space for selling books–and ironically, the fate of B&N and its brick-and-mortar thesis relies on a technology, the Nook. Microsoft’s significant investment in the project in May was heartening to a lot of people worried about the outsize influence Amazon could potentially wield on publishing were B&N to go under (see “Microsoft Carves Out a Nook”).
But what will next year hold?
The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images
Google Brain has revealed its own image-making AI, called Imagen. But don't expect to see anything that isn't wholesome.
Inside Charm Industrial’s big bet on corn stalks for carbon removal
The startup used plant matter and bio-oil to sequester thousands of tons of carbon. The question now is how reliable, scalable, and economical this approach will prove.
The hype around DeepMind’s new AI model misses what’s actually cool about it
Some worry that the chatter about these tools is doing the whole field a disservice.
How Charm Industrial hopes to use crops to cut steel emissions
The startup believes its bio-oil, once converted into syngas, could help clean up the dirtiest industrial sector.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.