Just when you think modern technology has become so advanced it couldn’t possibly get any better, the next year rolls around and raises the bar to yet another mind-blowing level.
And 2019 has been no exception, introducing us to several developments that instantly dropped jaws. Here are the most interesting technological developments of 2019 thus far.
Robot Hand Movement
Artificial Intelligence robots are incredible at performing their programmed functions. But place an object from the outside world in front of them, and they get the “does not compute” yips. This has been the biggest detriment in moving AI technology forward for quite some time now.
2019, however, has witnessed a major breakthrough in robot dexterity with Dactyl, an AI project out of San Francisco. Using reinforcement learning, a robot’s software is taught to grasp and move an object in a simulated environment before the robot performs commands with its hand. While the robot couldn’t recognize and grasp the object on its own, it was able to rotate and manipulate the object once it was in hand.
We’ve got a long way to go before robots take over our jobs. But this improvement in robot dexterity is a huge step in the right direction. In the meantime, enjoy your smart homes!
Easy to Swallow Screening Device
When doctors need to examine the inner workings of a patient’s stomach, they have to put the patient under anesthesia and place a cumbersome tube called an endoscope down their throat. Endoscope screening is as uncomfortable as it is expensive.
Massachusetts General Hospital, however, is making strides to develop a pill-shaped microscopic probe attached to a slim, string-like tether that patients can easily swallow. This enables:
- Easier, Repeated Use – Because the microscopic pill probe is controlled by a tether, doctors can stop to examine points of interest, and revisit them if necessary. Additionally, the tether enables the device to be pulled out for sterilization and reuse.
- More Thorough Examinations – The probe is capable of examining the entire surface of isolated cells that make up the human digestive tract, or even go a few millimeters deep at cross sections.
- Cost-Effectiveness – The probe is inexpensive enough to be used at screenings for children in third-world countries, where environmental enteric dysfunction (i.e. the body’s inability to grow and develop properly due to malnutrition) is prevalent.
3D Metal Printing
Did you know that manufacturers nowadays can essentially “print out” metal parts almost as quickly as you’d print a paper document at your office? It’s possible thanks to the recent emergence of 3D metal printing technology.
Here’s how it works:
- Initial Design – First, a manufacturer designs a part for optimization on a computer software program.
- Plastic Print – Once the design is ready, the manufacturer prints out a plastic model, a relatively cheap and easy process.
- From Plastic to Metal – The 3d metal printer uses laser technology to melt metal around every nook and cranny of the plastic part, resulting in an identical metal replica.
Safer, Cheaper Nuclear Power
Scientists are on the verge of doing what once seemed impossible: wrangling in nuclear power.
While typical nuclear reactors emit massive amounts of energy that surpass 1,000 megawatts, smaller reactors currently in development can limit emissions to about 10 megawatts. This not only cuts costs, but also reduces the threats that nuclear reactors present to the environment.
Experts claim that a full grid supply of these smaller nuclear reactors could be in place as early as the next decade.
We all know how tasty a juicy cheeseburger or a perfectly grilled steak can be. But many people aren’t aware of how devastating the raising of animals used for meat production is to the environment. Compared to producing one pound of plant-based protein, producing one pound of meat requires up to:
- 25 times more water
- 17 times more land
- 20 times more fossil fuel
Despite these jarring numbers, most people aren’t willing to embrace veganism just yet. But thanks to lab grown meat and plant-based alternatives, we might not have to.
“Lab-grown meat, you say?” Yes, scientists have found a way to extract muscle tissue from animals and grow it in a bioreactor for food that resembles what’s in grocery stores now. They’re still perfecting the taste, but it’s entirely possible that we’ll see a cow-free burger on the drive-thru menu as soon as next year.
Some of these technologies will take more time than others to refine and perfect before they make a global impact. But keep an eye out for them, and when they do start impacting our everyday lives, you’ll be able to say you saw it coming!