A year of big steps foward for the tech world in 2021

Manta5's hydrofoil bike made waves in 2021. Picture: futuremovement.co.
Manta5's hydrofoil bike made waves in 2021. Picture: futuremovement.co.

At the beginning of 2021 I had a firm belief that this would be the year of the electric vehicle (EV). With new models and better range and more charging infrastructure along with some better pricing, finally, I thought, we would see EVs in the mainstream.

Define mainstream! Worldwide sales will hit almost seven million for 2021 which will be 98 per cent growth over 2020. Maybe not mainstream and definitely not mainstream in Australia, but momentum is gathering.

Through the year I discussed the possible reuse of service stations and how they may change with the changing needs of motorists. I also featured roads that will charge EVs wirelessly while you drive on them and dedicated parking spots with wireless charging.

Without the need for a noisy and hot internal combustion engine and a petrol tank, it is also giving car designers more flexibility with how they design a modern car.

With sales of new EVs to market like the Ford F-150 Lightning; the Ford Mustang Mach-E; the Hummer EV going through the roof and the continuing success of Tesla, there are also transitional models that are helping people make that leap such as the Nissan e-Power.

Transport is certainly a major aspect in the lives of most people and technology innovation is still occurring in this area.

The flying car hasn't quite arrived yet (it has been five years away for over one hundred years now) but Personal Electric Aerial Vehicles (PEAVs) are currently available.

While on planes we now have a fleet of 55 King Air planes that are able to fly autonomously, but only used for surveillance or transport at this stage. I am not sure when the flying public will be happy with no pilot on their next commercial flight.

Boom Supersonic is also working on bringing back supersonic flights to commercial flyers.

Even bicycles are in on the innovation act with e-bikes going chainless and a hydrofoil bike on the waterways.

Social media companies have been in the news for a variety of reasons this year. Social media organisations have a greater influence over the world than any single government.

YouTube has 2.3 billion users who watch over one billion hours of video every day. 2.79 billion people use Facebook with 73 per cent using it daily. With all this power comes responsibility but we have noticed a lack of that in the past.

With misuse of information and data breaches, governments around the world are looking much closer at social media companies.

Our government won the battle with payments to news organisations but the next battleground will be ID checks and accountability and transparency. Some of this has already played out in 2021 but there is more to come.

There are obvious links with technology and health. You only need to walk in to a hospital or health clinic and you will see MRI devices; CT Scan technology; monitors of all sorts and, to quote Monty Python, "machines that go bing".

Health technology is increasingly moving in to the home though. Fifty-six per cent of Australians aged 65 and over use personal technology at least monthly to manage their health. We have watches that measure heart rate; blood oxygen levels and can produce an ECG. Devices in the home will check blood pressure and even perform blood tests, and we have smart everything.

Smart toothbrushes; smart watches and even smart toilets. Toilets that can analyse what comes out to tell you what you should put in. And what we eat is impacted by technology.

With CRISPR-edited tomatoes on sale in Japan and the first lab grown meat now in production in Israel, it was a year to look to technology to produce enough food for the world.

Australians consume 110 kilograms of meat per year per person which is two and a half times the global average, but the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations estimates that the demand for meat is going to increase by more than two-thirds in the next forty years.

Lab meat will be an important part of the production as current production methods are simply not sustainable.

Based on developments we have seen this year, the amount of power we require for heating and cooling will go down and the way we produce and distribute power will improve.

With only ten years since Fukushima, scientists have developed a container sized nuclear battery. Power your neighbourhood for ten years before replacing the container.

Solar production and wind production are dramatically increasing around the world, but with potential intermittent power production, a better way to distribute that power is needed.

The world's longest subsea power cable was switched on this year. Hydropower in Norway is now powering homes in Great Britain via a pair of 15 centimetre diameter 724km long cables.

In the future, wind turbines in the UK will return the favour to Norway.

We are even seeing concrete in skyscrapers that will allow the structure of the building to act as a battery.

On the flip side, tungsten doped vanadium dioxide is being used to turn windows into devices that can keep a house cool in summer and warm in winter.

Along those same lines, microscopic mirrors in glass are being used to achieve the same outcome and silica aerogel may be the new wonder material in providing better insulation in homes and offices.

If we can reduce the energy required for heating and cooling and produce power via renewable methods, our reliance on fossil fuels may reduce at a faster rate.

Unfortunately scams featured in several articles throughout the year.

I hate to say it but scammers are ingenious and innovative and experts at social engineering and ... I wish they would use their talents for good rather than nefarious purposes. We saw way too many scams throughout the year to list them all, but the worst of them was Flubot.

In 1598, English playwright Ben Jonson wrote in Every Man in His Humour the line "Helter skelter, hang sorrow, care'll kill a Cat, up-tails all, and a Louse for the Hangman".

Our modern version of this is that curiosity killed the cat. And that is exactly what Flubot relied on.

People just could not help themselves and wanted to click on that link and download that app to listen to a voicemail message they probably knew was not going to exist.

There we have it. A summary of the technology year that was.

Tell me your technology highlight from 2021 at ask@techtalk.digital.

  • Mathew Dickerson is a technologist, futurist and host of the Tech Talk podcast.
This story The year that was: here's what got the tech world talking in 2021 first appeared on The Canberra Times.