China overtakes the US to become the largest energy consumer in the world
China’s development as an industrialised country means that this soaring energy demand will continue for some time to come. Its economic growth has led to a massive increase in the numbers of cars, trucks and other vehicles being produced, as well as new buildings (which includes almost one new power plant every week).
Localised renewable energy sources are becoming widely available for consumers
A growing number of the largest hardware stores are now offering solar panels and wind turbines for homes, at competitive and affordable prices.
Organic LEDs becoming mainstream
Organic, light-emitting diodes are being utilised in a wide variety of electronic devices now. They use considerably less power than traditional LEDs and LCDs whilst allowing brighter, sharper, ultra-thin displays and eliminating the need for back lights. Sunlight that would normally “wash out” a display has no effect – the screens appear the same even in broad daylight or when tilted at an angle.
USB 3.0 available for consumer devices
25 gigabytes of data transfer can now be achieved in little more than 70 seconds. This compares with 13.9 minutes for USB 2.0 and 9.3 hours for USB 1.0.
Breakthrough in treatment of macular degeneration
Macular degeneration – the leading cause of blindness in people aged 65 and older – can now be treated with a miniature “telescope” implanted in the eye. Consisting of two lenses within a small glass tube, this works like a telephoto zoom lens. It combines with the cornea to project a magnified image of whatever the wearer is looking at over a large part of the retina. Only the central portion of the sufferer’s vision is damaged by the disease, so magnifying the image on the eye allows the retinal cells outside the macula to detect light, refocus it, and redirect the information to the brain.
World’s first 100% compostable chip bags
American firm Sun Chips have introduced the first 100% compostable chip bag of its kind, designed to fully decompose in about 14 weeks when placed in a hot, active compost heap. The packaging is made with a substance called polylactic acid (PLA), a corn-based biopolymer which forms the bags’ outer layer.
Increased automation in retail environments
Checkout operators of many supermarkets and retail chains are increasingly being replaced with automated systems, in order to save costs and improve efficiency. The customer simply scans the items themselves, and is prompted via on-screen instructions and audio to insert their method of payment.
The vast majority of shops continue to use human staff, of course – but this decade marks the beginning of a trend that will lead to significant changes in retail environments. In the coming years, “virtual employees” will be given an increasing presence in stores, leading to the eventual use of AI.
Augmented Reality (AR) becoming commercially available
A growing number of portable, wireless devices are now displaying 3-D virtual elements on a real-world camera view. GPS units in combination with inertial references can map the exact location of the person, then relay graphics from the Internet (or a web-based application such as Google Earth) and superimpose them on-screen.
This concept has been used in military training for a while now (for example, to display imaginary aircraft and vehicles), but is now spreading to mainstream uses such as education, travel and outdoor pursuits, gaming and entertainment. Other applications include architecture and interior design (for example, to superimpose virtual objects and furniture in a room; or to view buildings and skylines before development has taken place).
In the next decade or so, this technology will be available in sunglasses – and eventually, directly in peoples’ vision – in a manner similar to the android Terminator in the film of the same name.
Space Shuttle fleet is retired
This year sees the last of the Space Shuttle missions to the International Space Station, and the subsequent retirement of the fleet. Two private companies – SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation – will take over the remaining work, using cheaper disposable rockets. These will provide cargo delivery flights to the ISS up to 2016.