The year 2012 has truly been an amazing science ride for all those who have been reading the headlines. This year has given us a glimpse of what the future has in store for the entire human race by unveiling some of the most unexpected and mind-blowing breakthroughs in every field, starting with biology, nanotechnology, neuroscience, robotics, engineering, and finishing off with physics and astronomy. So, let us have a look at the top 5 science discoveries that I personally think will have a huge impact on our lives once they have gone mainstream.
1. Mind-controlled robotic hand
On the 18th of December every journal in the world had on its front cover the story of a woman who although paralyzed from the neck down, could for the first time feed herself chocolate with the help of a robotic hand. The groundbreaking technology that has allowed her to experience this has been recently developed and the first try-outs have been more than promising.A team of doctors at the University of Pittsburgh have surgically implanted two micro electrode arrays into the left motor cortex and then connected the prosthesis. After weeks of training and pain staking efforts, Jan Scheuermann could move the limb with the power of her mind. This story has given many people suffering from a similar condition hope for a better, more autonomous life in the future.
2. Augmented reality eyeglasses
The concept of augmented reality has been with us for a while now, but 2012 has literally taken it into the science fiction realm. This year Google unveils Project Glass which is a research and development program aimed at creating a HMD or an augmented reality head-mounted wear. The prototype has already been launched in June 2012 and the inner workings of it all are beyond what anyone ever imagined. First of all, the information display is in a smartphone-like format, both hands-free and able to interact with the Internet at all times via language commands. Suffice it to say that with a HDM one would stay connected 24/7 with the rest of the virtual world while exploring the real world. If this smart gadget invades our daily lives – just as I personally believe it will happen at some point – the concept of privacy will take on a totally different meaning.
3. Anthropomorphic factory worker
Replacing human labor with perfectly synchronized error free robotic labor has been an endeavor of the tech communities – either private or not – around the world for many years now. The year 2012 will also be remembered as the year when the company Rethink Robotics has come really close to fulfilling the above mentioned endeavor. It has created a robot named Baxter that is equipped with sensors and software which promote human-like behavior such as learning and adapting to a new environment. For example, if it accidentally drops an object, Baxter will replace it with another one before carrying on with its task. And above all, anyone can train it to do any set of complex movements in less than 30 minutes.
4. Genome sequencing under $1,000
We already know that the Human Genome Project has been declared complete in April 2003 with the release of the first rough draft of the human genome. However, the year 2012 is full of genome related articles such as: the development of synthetic DNA compounds, the successful genome sequencing of the Western gorilla and later on, of the bonobo. All things considered, the biggest headline of them all is the fact that genome sequencing becomes more accessible to ordinary people as costs plummet. Today there are a number of companies offering easy and relatively cheap ways to administer genetic tests which can show if you have a predisposition for developing a number of illnesses like: cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, liver diseases, hemostasis disorders and many, many others.
5. fMRI used to communicate with paralyzed people
Another groundbreaking discovery made in the medical field, namely in neuroscience, has been achieved with the help of the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Specifically, patients suffering from complete paralysis can now spell words only by using their thoughts. The fMRI which is normally used to track brain activity can also indicate what letter from the alphabet a patient has chosen to use when trying to communicate with the outside world. This research –although still in its infancy – is both exciting and promising for the paralyzed patients all over the world who will most surely soon be able to spell words, make sentences and literally speak their mind.