We’ve already counted down the biggest and best tech stories of 2013, but behind the stories are the awe-inspiring advances that drive both science and the commercial tech industry forward.
This year had no shortage of technology advances—some of which that read like a line out of a 1980s sci-fiction novel. But these are also discoveries and innovations that will dictate the technologies of the future—the 10 best technology advances of 2013:
10. The Bionic Eye: A Retinal Implant That Can Receive Updates
The Argus Retinal Prosthesis is the first of its kind—a bionic retinal implant that helps people see in the same way a hearing aid helps people hear. The Argus II was approved and released commercially in the United States in this year and received a firmware update that granted users color vision. The Argus II is a peek into the future—a glance into a future where once these implants get good enough, a bionic eye will be better than a natural human one.
9. Hard Drives Filled With Helium
Besides just sounding cool, the new helium-filled hard drives introduced by Western Digital this year are a game-changer in storage technology. To put it simply, because their new highly efficient hard drives are filled with helium rather than air, they can now cram 6 TB of capacity into a single drive. You probably won’t be buying one of these any time soon, but with big cloud-centered companies taking part, you just might feel the benefits as a consumer of services like Netflix (especially now that 4K streaming has been announced).
8. Displays Get Insanely High Definition
Oh you thought your 1080p television looked good? Wait till you take a look at the 4K displays that companies have been flaunting all year. They made a big splash at CES earlier this year, but now that prices have gone down and more content has become available, 4K displays might become the new standard sooner than we think.
7. Wearable Technology Really is The Next Big Thing
Journalists have been predicting that wearable technology will be the “next big thing” for what seems like forever. With milestone releases like Google Glass, the Pebble Smartwatch, the Samsung Galaxy Gear and the Nike+ Fuelband SE, it just might be time to finally crown wearables as the official “next big thing”. It’s at the point where the once-rumored, but still unannounced iWatch is almost a given in 2014.
6. Virtual Reality Gets Real
Although the Oculus Rift hasn’t seen its commercial release yet, developer kits are out—and the experience has been stunning the world. With its lag-free head tracking and HD displays, this Kickstarter-funded, virtual reality headset is the only one that has ever mattered. If the way it took the game development community by storm in 2013 is any sign, 2014 will be the year the Oculus Rift becomes the sought-after piece of mainstream commercial hardware that it’s always meant to be.
5. The First Lab-Grown Burger Is Eaten
And it “almost” tastes like real thing. After five years and $330,000 dollars worth of research money, the fake beef in the world’s first lab-grown burger was finally cooked and eaten. It was created from stem cells in a London lab and was funded primarily by Google cofounder Sergey Brin. It’s still unclear whether something like this could truly solve world hunger, but it’s an incredible technological accomplishment in its own right.
4. Voice Recognition Finally Gets Good
Apple tried to make its big splash into voice recognition in 2012 with the first version of Siri on the iPhone 5, but it wasn’t until 2013 that live voice recognition was good enough to be actually worth using. From Google’s integrated voice search to the Xbox One’s new Kinect to the iPhone 5s’ Siri, the technology has finally crossed the threshold—computers finally understand the human voice.
3. First Flying Car Gets Tested Publicly
Alongside the jet pack, the lack of flying cars in modern society has been a constant reminder of how far we have to go for the past 50 years. But 2013 saw the first movement on this front in years: the first flying car to actually get tested out in the public. The Transition is a vehicle that can drive down the street and take liftoff with just 100 feet of runway. It might be a strange looking car to park in your driveway, but it just might be the most accessible and serious commercial flying car in existence.
2. 3D Printers Are Taken To The Next Level
Not only have 3D printers successfully breached the mainstream commercial market, they’re also now being used to do things that seem like something right out of a science fiction film. 2013 saw the printing of things like the first workable gun, jet parts, and even a human embryonic stem cell.
1. The Reality of Drone Technologies Go Public
The drone story in 2013 is marked by two incredibly memorable moments: First, the image of Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) taking the floor at Congress to perform a nearly 13-hour filibuster of the nomination of C.I.A. director John Brennan to raise the question whether the government would ever use Unmanned Aerial Vehicles against American people. Second, the odd, idealistic and exciting promotional video for Amazon’s proposed Prime Air delivery service. There’s no doubting that despite the legal, ethical, and political battles ahead, our future is probably going to include drones in some capacity.