2015 was a year which saw huge advances in bio and space technologies. Many firsts were accomplished that were predicted at the beginning of the year.
Here are Noosphere’s top 10 technological breakthroughs of 2015.
Internet of DNA
With the dramatic drop in the cost to sequence a genome, labs around the world have been adding genomic data to their separate databases. In 2015 Geneticists began rolling out infrastructure to share this data via the Internet to make medical discoveries. One such system, called Matchmaker Exchange, helped doctors in Calgary, Canada, and Baltimore, Maryland, discovered that two boys in completely different countries shared the same genetic sequence that was causing an unknown disease.
Being able to engineer the structure of materials such as metals and ceramic at the nanoscale can make them incredibly flexible, strong, and light all at the same time. Nano-engineering has the potential to change the way to do everything. 2015 was the year in which many of these new super materials were developed. 2016 will be about figuring out how to make it practical to manufacture goods in larger quantities.
Automobile accidents still top the charts as one of the nations biggest killers. While safety systems in vehicles have made the people inside vehicles much safer in the event of an accident, it would be better if vehicles could avoid the accidents completely. Many new vehicles will automatically share details of their speed, direction, and other information over wireless links. Connected vehicles and self-driving tech made huge strides in 2015 including, Mercedes-Benz confirmation that it will begin selling its version of the technology next year and include the tech in all 2017 E-class models. General Motors also reported that they will include car-to-car communication in the 2017 Cadillac CTS sedan. On the legislative side, U.S. transportation secretary Anthony Foxx announced in May that they were working on rules that would require car-to-car communication technology on all new vehicles.
Access to the Internet is still not a reality for over half of the world’s population. Alphabet (Google’s parent company) signed an agreement with Indonesia to begin integrating its giant helium balloons into the nations cellular networks, expanding the reach of their network for a fraction of the cost.
Early detection is the number one factor in cancer treatment. “Foreign” cells and cancer cells in the body shed DNA into the blood stream, which can be read with today’s sequencing technology. In 2015, the use of liquid biopsies expanded to the point that many expectant mothers who had blood tests done to check their fetus’ chromosomes, also discovered undiagnosed cancers, too.
Many countries or arid regions are running out of fresh water. The process of extracting salt from sea water had two huge advancements in 2015 with the opening of a desalination plant in Carlsbad, California and Israel. The plant in Israel had been operating for a few years already, but ramped up production to full capacity in 2015 to provide water at much lower prices than any existing megascale desalination plant.
Lab grow Organoids
Lab testing using living tissue can be extremely difficult, especially when dealing with complex organs such as hearts, lungs or kidneys. Lab-grown brain tissue cultured from skin cells, and 3D printed organs have allowed researchers to unlock mysteries their study of Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and epilepsy. One study in 2015 was able use genetic engineering to grow brain organoids from cells of autistic people to gain further insight into the condition.
Rise of the drones
Drones, or unmanned aircraft, have become mainstream in culture and movies. On the big screen they are used by terrorists, or to spy into secret places. But Amazon wants to use them for aerial delivery. This year the Federal Aviation Administration, finally released rules governing the use of drones over US airspace. But that doesn’t mean that all the kinks have been worked out. Simply owning drones can be a legal liability. One thing we know for sure is that 2016 is going to see more changes to rules, as the aerial vehicle fad continues to explode overhead.
Internet of Things
Just a few years ago, the Internet was filled with computers. 2015 saw the influx of millions of “things” from online toy dolls and Wi-Fi-connected plant feeders, to Internet connect door locks for your house and cars that can e controlled through the web. The IoT is still treated mostly as a harmless curiosity or party trick. But when millions of kids’ and the parents’s data was stolen in a massive hack on Hong Kong toymaker Vtech, a world-wide shift to securing the little things stepped up.
Space Race 2.0
While not may people actually live in space yet, the existing market is huge. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, two of this generations most prominent entrepreneurs, restarted the race to privatize access to space. These two chief executives took time away from their regular jobs in online retail and payment services to launch their reusable, self-landing rockets. Amazon’s Blue Origin was the first to test their rocket, with Musk’s SpaceX just a few weeks behind. They are both hoping to land lucrative NASA contracts that would be a milestone in the private space sector.