There's been some pretty sparkly, game-changing technology in the personal arena in 2016. The Pokémon Go app made virtual reality (VR) a daily jam for 500 million users worldwide. Six thousand contestants entered Beauty.AI, the world's first beauty pageant judged by artificial intelligence (AI). Meanwhile, Amazon, Apple, and Google are all competing to deliver the best and brightest innovations in connected home technologies.
But what's really happened? If you look beyond the gadgets and gizmos, there's been some amazing movement in technology with the potential to legitimately change the world. Join us as we count down some of the most amazing tech in 2016 that you may have missed.
1. Tailor-made plants
Four teams of global researchers have discovered a way to precisely edit plant genetics, which allows modified crops that can resist drought, fungus, and other common issues. CRISPR has been successfully used in research laboratories to produce plants that are fungus-resistant. The technique is reported to be relatively "easy," and has the potential to avoid the lengthy regulation processes associated with traditional GMOs.
2. App your DNA
CEO Jay Flatley of Illumina, the world's largest gene sequencing organization, has plans to dramatically disrupt the way humans interact with personalized health data. Flatley and business partners are investing heavily in Helix, an app store focused entirely on pay-as-you-go access to custom app content. Not only will this dramatically reduce the costs of private genetic sequencing, but it could also revolutionize the way we approach decisions about health care, diet, exercise, reproduction, and more.
3. Robot farmers
Life on the farm is a lot more technical than many city slickers believe. Artificial intelligence is being used in brilliant ways by farmers globally, including "tractor-pulled robotic implements" that can distinguish between crops and weeds, according to Khasha Ghaffarzadeh of the EE Times. Algorithms and AI are also being used for smarter and more precise application of farming chemicals. Ghaffarzadeh says that next up is autonomous farming vehicles that can revolutionize the costs and output of your average farm.
4. The IoT gets REALLY big
The internet of things (IoT) is much bigger than in-home connected devices designed to order pizzas or rolls of paper towels. Georgia Power is just one of many global utility providers investing in smart grid technology. Not only do sensor-driven energy grids save resources and make power delivery more cost-effective, but they're also more reliable. IoT-powered grids can self-heal and perform preventative maintenance.
Bristol, UK, is one of several major metro areas worldwide leading the charge in city-wide IoT adoption. Their current technology has enabled some eye-poppingly cool displays of street lamp light displays, and it's also making humanitarian waves. Connected devices are being used by Bristol's social services bodies to improve public housing conditions for economically vulnerable residents.
5. Solar power for all
Buffalo, New York, is home to SolarCity, one of the most radical organizations operating in the solar energy market. Within the next year, SolarCity's gigafactory will be both producing and installing personal solar technologies, with a goal of making renewable energy technology more affordable than public utilities nationwide.
The rapidly evolving solar energy market globally means that SolarCity's accepting a fair amount of risk, despite backing from federal grants. However, their in-house research has already produced record-breakingly efficient tech. It's safe to say your home could be a lot more "green" in the years to come.
6. Robot doctors
Health tech is exploding. Algorithms are working side-by-side with doctors to produce more accurate diagnoses. While hundreds of thousands of surgeries each year are currently performed by robots, researchers believe that the number will increase significantly in the near future. Within five years, one in five operations will be completed by a robot.
Finland, much like many other nations worldwide, is facing disruption in health care due to an aging population. Think tank EVA believes the solution is more robots in hospitals and long-term care facilities, using existing technologies. EVA's researchers acknowledge the importance of a personalized touch in geriatrics and other personalized health care, but they're working to automate routine tasks to maximize available health staffers.
7. Accessible 3D printing
3D printing adoption is on the rise. Forbes reports that 68 percent of organizations plan to spend more on 3D, with prototyping, proof of concept, and production as the three most common applications in industry. HP scientists recently unveiled a 3D printing solution with the capability to remove common barriers to entry and adoption, thanks to speed, cost, workflow, and other tech benefits.
The HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solution is the first to print parts at the voxel level, a unit of measurement equivalent to a pixel in 2D printing. This translates to "mass customization" potential, as well as ten-time gains in speeds. With a simplified workflow and an open software innovation platform, the latest 3D-printing solution can drastically reduce costs of acquisition and use.
While these game-changing technology innovations aren't the best-known breakthroughs of the past year, they're certainly among the ones with the highest potential for impact. Between custom-designed plants that can resist drought to cheaper and faster 3D printing, these unsung heroes can revolutionize global life, health, and business.