As we look ahead to 2015, the world of technology gives us many reasons to be optimistic. Maybe even downright joyous.
1. In March astronaut Scott Kelly begins his missions to spend a year in space, the longest time ever for a US astronaut.
2. In early 2015 researchers at the University of North Carolina will begin using the Evryscope, a telescope that continually records 9 000 square degrees of sky. This will let astronomers study brief phenomena such as gamma ray bursts that happen in small patches of sky, along with images from the time periods immediately before and after the event.
3. By 1 January California will have finalised laws for operating autonomous cars on public roads.
4. The Web gets faster on our phones in January. Thanks to a new HTML code called <picture>, instead of loading large image files regardless of the device you’re using, browsers (Chrome and Firefox for now, with others following soon) will adapt downloads based on perceived screen size and signal strength. This will reduce the size of Web pages and download time considerably.
5. A TV version of 12 Monkeys, the surprisingly good apocalyptic time-travel movie that earned Brad Pitt his first Oscar nomination, premieres 16 January on the Syfy network.
6. After a beta launch at the end of 2014, Microsoft will roll out the official version of Skype Translator, a real-time audio interpreter that might lead you to purposely call a wrong number in Romania just to watch it work.
7. HBO’s The Wire should finally be available in HD. Not that that does anything to help Wallace.
8. If it gets through the US Congress, the Revitalise American Manufacturing and Innovation Act will establish a network of industrial hubs in that country to spur innovation.
9. Similarly, the Wi-Fi Innovation Act should become law, opening a new spectrum of wireless for public use in the US. (That bandwidth is currently reserved for interaction among smart cars, which seems less than effective.)
10. By opening day on 6 April, US Major League Baseball will have incorporated a series of play-tracking cameras and sensors in all 30 ballparks in the country, opening the game up to a whole new set of analytics by capturing metrics such as bat speed, a player’s reaction time, and distance covered to make a catch. (Finally, baseball will be catching up with cricket. And see No. 11)
11. Not to be outdone, the USA’s National Hockey League also hopes to start its own version of player tracking in time for the 2015-16 season, allowing for analysis of ice time, hits, shot speed and other data.
12. Toyota’s first fuel-cell car, the FCV, makes its debut outside Japan with the promise of a charge that lasts for 500 kilometres. On the rare occasion that you’d need it to, your fully charged FCV can also power the average home for up to a week.
13. The United States Postal Service will release the Steve Jobs commemorative stamp: a quaint honour in a medium Jobs pushed towards obsolescence.
14. The more we adapt to the Internet of Things, the more modems we’re going to need. And we’re going to need them to be very, very small. Throughout the year Intel will be working the XMM 6255 modem into various smart devices. Barely the size of a postage stamp, the 6255 allows even the thinnest and smallest wearables and smart devices to communicate.
15. Starbucks rolls out its new Duracell Powermat mobile-charging pads in stores across North America. The pads, which are a little larger than a coaster, are embedded in tables and counters and will charge any device via inductive charging, as long as it is protected by one of Powermat’s cases.
16. Plastc, an e-ink device that replaces your credit cards and RFID cards (like your work ID), goes on sale midyear. Once you store all of your credit card information on your phone, Plastc receives that data via Bluetooth and automatically changes its face and magnetic strip to become the card you select. At R1 700 it’s too expensive, but the technology is impressive – and worth it if you really hate carrying all those cards in your pocket. Until Near Field Communication payments take over in a few years, this may be the most advanced wallet technology you can have.
17. Now that tests are complete, scientists at two Australian universities plan to find a commercial partner to launch the first printable solar panels. Among other things, the ability to print panels on any plastic surface means that your cellphone case could also double as a solar charger.
18. Samsung promises to incorporate foldable screens into some of its phones, tablets and wearables by the third quarter. This could lead to phones that expand into tablets, or even tablets that fold up and fit in your pocket.
19. Startup Ostendo Technologies will release mini projectors capable of producing 3D holograms. They’re small enough to fit into phones, so your next cellphone might be capable of projecting 3D images above your screen – a good thing for online shopping and a dangerous thing for Snapchat.