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Top 5 of 2014: Tech

Well, 2014 has been a craaaazzzzy year. Full of selfies, smartwatches, tragic passings, sporting triumphs, Miley Cyruses and a ridiculous amount more. So to celebrate the year that has been, we’re counting down a range of Top 5 moments from the past year throughout a bunch of categories. And today, we kick it off with our Top 5 tech moments of 2014.

5. Self-driving cars

Who would have thought in 2014 we would finally be able to leave our cars on auto pilot? Self-driving cars (or driverless cars, for the pedants) are happening!

The first major announcement regarding this future tech was made by Google in May. The company unveiled 100 self-driving cars which contain no steering wheel.

Their two seater electric car is engineered to imitate a real human driving it (without of course, human errors) while the occupants sit back and relax. By using computers to drive instead of humans, Google hopes to save lives on the road by cutting car accidents by nearly 90%.

They are still a while away from being road worthy, but a Minority Report style highway is getting closer by the day.

4. Smartwatches

In 2014 we saw the emergence of smartwatches for the commercial environment. Watches that can do more than just show the time have been around for years – a smartwatch is the next step in that evolution.

Making this technology simple to use for the general public is an area which has been in development since smartphones took over the marketplace. At the start of this year, companies such as Samsung, LG and Motorola had already announced their plans to release this new wave of tech gear. Google also announced Android Gear, the software designed specifically to power their watches, similar to the android operating system on mobile platforms. Apple’s anticipated smartwatch was announced later, and it is set to be released early 2015.

The technology used in smartwatches is not of any significance in and of itself, but how they might change the way we interact with each other is significant. Much like the release of the first iPhone in 2007 and its impact on many different industries, the smartwatch is set to completely change the way businesses operate, and the way we access technology.

3. Sky full of drones!

The idea of drones flying around our skies and completing tasks is not completely new to us. Military forces across the world have been using drones for years to spy on each other. Since the 1990’s farmers have been using drones to spray crops with fertilizers and pesticides on their farms. These are all very specific usages for drones which don’t affect the general public directly.

But drones are about to go mainstream.

Amazon was the first to take drones seriously, announcing plans in late 2013 to use drones to make one day deliveries to select locations. 2014 has seen Researchers at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology announce plans for using drones to deliver medical supplies to remote areas in developing countries. Facebook got involved as well, purchasing Ascenta, a solar powered drone company aiming to increase internet connectivity for people who live in remote areas – a literal sky-net.

A start-up company from Silicon Valley is even making plans to start delivering Tacos to people who live in the Bay Area (USA! USA! USA!).

Maybe in a couple of years we’ll have drones causing traffic in our skies. Hopefully they won’t block the view (or spy on us) too much!

2. Facebook buys Oculus VR

For many gamers the Oculus Rift is no news whatsoever. The virtual reality (VR) machine was developed to advance gaming into a new phase where gamers were able to be fully immersed in the gaming world – a full 360 degree view.

But when Facebook announced its plans to purchase Oculus VR (the company that created Oculus Rift), everyone’s attention was suddenly focused on what could be done with this new technology.

While the focus of the Oculus Rift for now is only on gaming, Facebook appear to have big plans for the technology. In his blog announcement, Mark Zuckerberg said that, “We’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home.”

It will be interesting to see how Facebook use their vast resources to push the machine in other ways, and if they will be able to follow through with their ideas.

Futurama anyone?

1. We landed on a comet!

For the first time in history scientists were able to successfully land a small spacecraft on a comet. Everyone will know it as Rosetta, but on November 12th it was actually the probe’s lander module – named Philae – that touched down on the comet known as 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko – 67P for short. 

This was an astonishing achievement not only for the scientific community, but also for humanity.

According to the European Space Agency (ESA), upon first contact with 67P, Philae bounced off its surface several times before coming to a stop. The scientists in charge of landing the probe say that the first bounce caused it to spring back up to 1km away from the surface at a speed of 38cm per second (it doesn’t sound like a lot, but comets have very weak gravity). Had the speed exceeded 44cm per second, the probe would have achieved escape velocity and would not have been able to complete its mission.

Sadly the probe has landed near a cliff which is casting a shadow over the solar powered batteries of Philae. Without the ability to capture sunlight the module was only able to remain operational until November 15th. However scientists are confident the probe will be able to recharge its batteries once the comet gets closer to the sun.

Rosetta has the capability of answering – or at least helping to answer – several very important questions; like did water on earth come from comets? What exactly are comets made of? How long can they remain in space? And perhaps most importantly of all, did comets bring life to Earth?

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