2021 was an exciting year for several reasons, one of which is the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. One year on, many individuals and companies have adjusted, and those who were not broken by last year’s challenges have become stronger, thanks primarily to technological innovations. So, as compared to the following year of 2021, 2022 is seemingly more advanced and fast.
The astonishingly rapid development and rollout of coronavirus vaccines have been a reminder of the power of science and technology to change the world. Although vaccines based on new mRNA technology seemed to have been created almost instantly, they actually drew upon decades of research going back to the 1970s. As the saying goes in the technology industry, it takes years to create an overnight success. So what else might be about to burst into prominence? Here are 9 advanced technologies worth adoring in 2022:
It sounds childishly simple. If the world is getting too hot, why not offer it some shade? The dust and ash released into the upper atmosphere by volcanoes are known to have a cooling effect. Mount Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991 cooled the Earth by as much as 0.5°C for four years..
Solar geoengineering, also known as solar radiation management, would do the same thing deliberately. This is hugely controversial. Would it work? How would rainfall and weather patterns be affected? And wouldn’t that undermine efforts to curb greenhouse-gas emissions?
Efforts to test the idea face fierce opposition from politicians and activists. In 2022, however, a group at Harvard University hopes to conduct a much-delayed experiment called scopex. It involves launching a balloon into the stratosphere with the aim of releasing 2 kg of material (probably calcium carbonate) and then measuring how it dissipates, reacts, and scatters solar energy. Proponents argue that it is important to understand the technique in case it is needed to buy the world more time to cut emissions. The Harvard group has established an independent advisory panel to consider the moral and political ramifications. Whether the test goes ahead or not, expect controversy.
Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes global warming. So why not suck it out using machines? Several startups are pursuing direct air capture (DAC), a technology that does just that. In 2022, Carbon Engineering, a Canadian firm, will start building the world’s biggest DAC facility in Texas, capable of capturing 1 million tonnes of CO2 per year. ClimeWorks, a Swiss firm, opened a DAC plant in Iceland in 2021, which buries captured CO2 in the mineral form at a rate of 4,000 tonnes a year. Global Thermostat, an American firm, has two pilot plants. DAC could be vital in the fight against climate change. The race is on to get costs down and scale the technology up.
A new type of agriculture is growing. Vertical farms grow plants on trays stacked in a closed, controlled environment. Efficient led lighting has made the process cheaper, though energy costs remain a burden. Vertical farms can be located close to customers, reducing transport costs and emissions.
Water use is minimized and bugs are kept out, so no pesticides are needed. In Britain, the Jones Food Company will open the world’s largest vertical farm, covering 13,750 square meters, in 2022. AeroFarms, an American firm, will open its largest vertical farm, in Danville, Virginia. Other firms will be expanding, too. Nordic Harvest will enlarge its facility just outside Copenhagen and construct a new one in Stockholm. Plenty, based in California, will open a new indoor farm near Los Angeles. Vertical farms mostly grow high-value leafy greens and herbs, but some are venturing into tomatoes, peppers, and berries. The challenge now is to make the economics stack up, too.
For years, researchers have been developing techniques to create artificial organs using 3d printing of biological materials. The ultimate goal is to take a few cells from a patient and create fully functional organs for transplantation, thus doing away with long waiting lists, testing for matches, and the risk of rejection. That goal is still some way off for fleshy organs. But bones are less tricky.
Two startups, Particle 3d and Adam, hope to have 3D-printed bones available for human implantation in 2022. Both firms use calcium-based minerals to print their bones, which are made to measure based on patients’ CT scans.
Particle 3ds trials in pigs and mice found that bone marrow and blood vessels grew into its implants within eight weeks. Adam says its 3d-printed implants stimulate natural bone growth and gradually biodegrade, eventually being replaced by the patient’s bone tissue. If all goes well, researchers say 3d-printed blood vessels and heart valves are next.
Long seen as something of a fantasy, flying taxis, or electric vertical take-off and landing (EVTOL) aircraft, as the fledgling industry calls them, are getting serious. Several firms around the world will step up test flights in 2022 with the aim of getting their aircraft certified for commercial use in the following year or two.
Joby Aviation, based in California, plans to build more than a dozen of its five-seater vehicles, which have a 150-mile range. Volocopter of Germany aims to provide an air-taxi service at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Other contenders include eHang, Lilium, and Vertical Aerospace. Keep an eye on the skies.
It is taking longer than expected to get off the ground. But new rules, which came into effect in 2021, will help drone deliveries gain altitude in 2022. Manna, an Irish startup that has been delivering books, meals, and medicine in County Galway, plans to expand its service in Ireland and into Britain. Wing, a sister company of Google, has been doing test deliveries in America, Australia, and Finland and will soon expand its mall-to-home delivery service, launched in late 2021.
Dronamics, a Bulgarian startup, will start using winged drones to shuttle cargo between 39 European airports. The question is: will the pace of drone deliveries pick up—or drop off?
For half a century, scientists have wondered whether changes to the shape of a supersonic aircraft could reduce the intensity of its sonic boom. Only recently have computers become powerful enough to run the simulations needed to turn those noise-reduction theories into practice. In 2022, NASA's x-59 Quest (short for "Quiet Supersonic Technology") will make its first test flight. Crucially, that test will take place over land—specifically, Edwards Air Force Base in California. When flying over land, Concorde, the world’s first and only commercial supersonic airliner, was not allowed to travel faster than sound.
The x-59’s sonic boom is expected to be just one-eighth as loud as the Conchords. At 75 perceived decibels, it will be equivalent to a distant thunderstorm—more of a sonic "thump". If it works, NASA hopes that regulators will lift the ban on supersonic flights over land, ushering in a new era for commercial flight.
Remote medical consultations have become commonplace. That could transform the prospects for wearable health trackers such as the Fitbit or Apple Watch. They are currently used primarily as fitness trackers, measuring steps taken, running and swimming speeds, heart rates during workouts, and so forth. But the line between consumer and medical uses of such devices is now blurring, say analysts at Gartner, a consultancy.
Smartwatches can already measure blood oxygenation, perform ECGs, and detect atrial fibrillation. The next version of the Apple Watch, expected in 2022, may include new sensors capable of measuring levels of glucose and alcohol in the blood, along with blood pressure and body temperature. Rockley Photonics, the company supplying the sensor technology, calls its system a "clinic on the wrist". Regulatory approval for such functions may take a while, but in the meantime, doctors, not just users, will be paying more attention to data from wearables.
In April 2021, the irrepressible entrepreneur Elon Musk excitedly tweeted that a macaque monkey was “literally playing a video game telepathically using a brain chip”. His company, Neuralink, had implanted two tiny sets of electrodes into the monkey’s brain. Signals from these electrodes, transmitted wirelessly and then decoded by a nearby computer, enabled the monkey to move the on-screen paddle in a game of Pong using thought alone.
In 2022, Neuralink hopes to test its device on humans to enable people who are paralyzed to operate a computer. Another firm, Synchron, has already received approval from American regulators to begin human trials of a similar device. Its "minimally invasive" neural prosthetic is inserted into the brain via blood vessels in the neck. As well as helping paralyzed people, Synchron is also looking at other uses, such as diagnosing and treating nervous-system conditions including epilepsy, depression, and hypertension.
Given the forefront of this change and invention, staying up to date on the latest and hottest technological developments is both desirable and required. Businesses of all sizes must accept these developing shifts in the global technological landscape. Then, using the right tools and platforms at your disposal, you should innovate if you want to overcome the ever-changing hurdles that industries, customers, and enterprises face.
Overall, these are exciting times, and the upcoming months have stakeholders from all industries holding their breath. So, which of these themes do you believe will have the most influence in 2022?