Improvides have brought you insights into many of the biggest innovations of 2013, and it really has been a stellar year for new innovations. Some are already beginning to have huge impacts on their various industries, while some are breakthroughs which we see growing rapidly to change things in the next few years.
Here we list out Improvides’ list of the Top 10 Innovations of 2013. Let us know what you think of the list and what you would add in the comments below.
Most of you will never have heard of airline jet engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, but 2013 was the year their new engine design really took off through its successful test flights. The main difference is that this engine has a gearbox incorporated into it, which results in more power and fuel efficiency, but the main innovation is that it is significantly quieter during takeoff and landing. This is what brings it onto our list, because these lower noise levels could enable more traffic at airports close to city centres and populated areas, where noise pollution reduces their potential usage. This in turn could even increase traffic at some currently underutilised airports.
9. Medicine: Touch sensitive bionic arm
Researchers at the Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University have developed a new kind of interface that can convey a sense of touch from 20 spots on a prosthetic hand. It does this by directly stimulating nerve bundles—known as peripheral nerves—in the arms of patients; two people have so far been fitted with the interface. What’s more, the implants continue to work after 18 months, a noteworthy milestone given that electrical interfaces to nerve tissue can gradually degrade in performance.
Reason why it made the list: these breakthroughs in connecting electronic devices through the nervous system can eventually enable everything from artificial limbs to sensory organs like eyes and ears. It’ll probably be a while before we can plug into the Matrix though.
8. Media: Independent music charting
When Macklemore & Ryan Lewis reached the #1 spot in the Billboard 100 chart with Thrift Shop, it was the first time in nearly 20 years that this had happened without the support of a record label. Yes, it was partially because it’s a song which struck a chord with the public due to its catchy tune and humorous subject matter, and partially because Macklemore is a “Cold-Ass Honkey” (his words). But more importantly it also signals a shift in how people are consuming music. Consumers are now choosing what they listen to more than before, where record label finances could influence what would be on the airways, music channels, magazines and shops. However, when consumers choose what to watch on youtube and spotify and then share this directly with friends on social networks, independent artists can develop a strong following only through making sure their message is original and well crafted.
7. Travel: Commercial Space flight
Watch the skies on December 25, 2013. There will be a man famous for his red outfits and white hair flying at hundreds of kilometers an hour right above you. No, it’s not Santa, it will be Sir Richard Branson aboard the first public space flight of his Virgin Galactic service. This will be the start of public access to space tourism, although at a price of approximately $250,000 per ticket, it’s still out of reach for most people. This will likely always be a niche market plaything for the elite, however it makes the list because it once again breaks one of the fundamental barrier to what is possible for the everyday person.
6. Logistics: Amazon Sunday delivery
Amazon has continued to push the boundaries of what customer can expect, as far as selection, pricing and convenience. They have continued to get closer to their customers by building huge warehouses nearer metropolitan areas. However, the last mile of delivery between Amazon and customer has relied on other logistics providers. And they have always refused to deliver on Sunday, because that’s how it has always been. Until Amazon made a deal with the US Post Office for deliveries on Sunday in certain cities, with other cities planned for the coming months. What isn’t widely known is that the USPS actually offers this service to any shipper, but Amazon is the first to bring it out on a large scale. It makes our list because it’s another great example of adjusting a business model with a willing partner to give customers the experience they want.
5. Mobile: 4G LTE in the UK
Being based in the UK, we have had to wait impatiently for 4G LTE services to roll out through the major carriers, which due to government sales of spectrum access didn’t happen until September 2013, years after similar access was available in other developed countries and even a number of developing countries. However, what this means is that now UK citizens have mobile broadband access which is faster than the average home broadband speeds, which in most cases are still well below 10MBps. This, combined with statistics which show we are buying fewer laptops and more tablets, means that there could be a trend emerging towards eventually ditching our home broadband provider if it becomes cheaper to use the internet service from your mobile phone provider for all your tasks. This is unlikely to happen in the next year or two, but with growing demand for unlimited data LTE plans, there may be a growing population whose home broadband becomes as extinct as their home phone line.
4. Personal Tech: 3D printers
If there was one piece of electronics that got people excited in 2013, it was 3D printers. Primarily because simple models came onto the market costing less than £2,000, and a growing community of modders uploading items which can be downloaded for free and printed at home. The press got a bit overexcited, with some claiming that soon you’ll be able to print practically anything at home, really cheap.
Just hold your horses though. Yes, 3D printers have come down a lot in price, but they still have a while to go before they’re simple enough for your grandmother to use. Having recently interviewed Jon Fidler, a 3D printing consultant, its obvious that the affordable machines aren’t quite ready for mainstream yet:
They aren’t reliable yet, with the plastic extrusion technology still producing unexpected problems frequently
The final prints need to be refined, sanded or trimmed before being usable
Most importantly, you need to be able to produce or edit the 3D design to something useful for you. Most people don’t have the software, let alone the skills, to do this.
Home 3D printing will have its time, perhaps before the end of the decade, but 2013 was the year that the public began to imagine how it might work for them.
3. Finance: Bitcoin
Bitcoin made the news in 2013 for several reasons. It began being used as a possible form of payment from some mainstream businesses, like OKCupid and Baidu, but was still primarily being used for payment on some shady websites. This came into the headlines when the Silk Road, an illegal online drug-buying website, was shut down in Oct, which led to Bitcoins losing 20% of their value. And then somehow thanks to speculators getting a whiff, from the start of November value increased by 400% in a month to over $1000 per unit. Prices in early December are fluctuating wildly. And all of this from a currency which isn’t yet officially recognised by most financial institutions, governments. The reason that it’s made our list is that it is an excellent example of technology leapfrogging. Bitcoins are produced at a rate of 25BCs every 10 minutes, and apart from buying them, they can be “earned” or “mined” by through being able to process algorithms faster than competitors. This led to an arms race with groups first using CPUs, then GPUs, and now Application-specific integrated circuits dedicated to Bitcoin mining. Each technological jump almost instantly makes the competition obsolete.
2. Automotive: BMW i3
The BMW i3, launched Nov 2013, is not the first commercial electric car. It’s not cheap, and you can only drive for about 100 miles normally so its still not very practical. In many ways, its a very inferior car to its petrol and diesel-based competitors. However, it does have one major innovation, in that its body is almost entirely made of Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic, which dramatically reduces weight and so gives it a greater range than other electric cars. Carbon Fiber being used in cars is nothing new, they have been around in supercars for decades. But the reason the i3 makes this year’s list is that in order to produce the volume required, BMW has built an entirely new Carbon Fiber Production Facility in Moses Lake, Washington, USA. Carbon Fiber production uses a phenomenal amount of electricity, and so Moses Lake was chosen due to its large hydroelectric plant which made electricity there only about a seventh of the cost of production in Germany. This is a long-term investment by BMW, putting it ahead of competitors and well placed to extend the Carbon Fiber technology and resources into its other production cars.
1. Lab grown hamburger
2013 was the year that companies seemed to begin investing in Science Fiction again. Google announced that it’s labs were working on a car that could drive itself. Amazon is prototyping drones which can deliver packages in 30 minutes from order. Google Glass even made us think of a world where we literally are always connected. But out of all of the far-off, sci-fi based future tech on offer this year, it was a hamburger grown from stem cells which we consider the #1 innovation. It’s one of those stories that stops you, first because you think its so ridiculous, and then because you think that its so crazy that it just might work. The first burger, cooked in London in Aug 2013, was described as tasting “alright”. Which is a shame, considering it cost EUR250,000 to produce. Like a number of things on this list, it may not ever be an option for the average person, but it pushes the boundaries of what people can consider possible if enough resources, scientists and experimentation and put behind it.