Most hopeful tech developments of 2021

Welp, 2021 is sort of behind us. And in the event you ask me, it wasn’t fairly the about-face from 2020 we’d been hoping for. It wasn’t as tough as final yr. But it surely was nonetheless kinda tough.

However! Dogged optimists that we’re, we refuse to be cowed by doom-saying, humbuggery, and trendy cynicism. So we’re delighted to current you, expensive readers, with 5 tech-flavored issues from the previous yr you’ll be able to really feel unequivocally good about.

1. A flotilla of plastic-eating ocean cleanup robotic boats is coming ????

Each ocean has a junkyard. These floating trash collections are shaped by currents that gather all method of flotsam into little eddies the place the trash swirls round on the floor. Or within the case of the “great Pacific garbage patch,” not so little. It’s truly two patches – one on both sides of the Pacific – and, in whole, twice the dimensions of Texas. (That’s thrice the dimensions of France, for these on the metric system.)

Enter Jenny: an aquatic trash assortment system that skimmed 20,000 pounds of floating plastic out of the Pacific this yr. Jenny operates through the use of two boats to drag a internet between them, much like trawl-fishing, to scoop up trash. The one draw back is that these boats go away a carbon footprint.

Nevertheless, different ocean-cleaning vessels are being developed that construct on the trawl-and-capture idea however don’t burn fossil fuels. Meet FRED, as an illustration – the Floating Robot for Eliminating Debris. FRED runs on solar energy, trapping items of plastic as small as 5 mm. (That’s 0.2 inches, for these within the U.S.) Even celebrities are getting in on the motion. Coldplay sponsored a similar plastic collection robot boat this yr, which was deployed to Malaysia the place it’s accumulating as much as 110 tons of trash every day.

My private favourite, although, is the Manta: a 185-foot, zero-pollution trash-eating sailboat that, when not serving as a state-of-the-art analysis lab, runs autonomously and collects three tons of trash per hour. Take a look at runs are anticipated in 2024. From there, Mantas can be deployed to some of the world’s largest rivers and coastal areas, scarfing up floating rubbish earlier than it finds its solution to the open ocean. Watch this four-minute video to be taught extra. You’ll be glad you probably did.

So, what will we do with all this robot-collected plastic? Right here’s hoping these ocean cleanup organizations find out about Nzambi Matee, a Kenyan entrepreneur who recycles plastic into bricks which might be stronger than concrete at her manufacturing facility in Nairobi. On the danger of utilizing corporate jargon, that’d be a critically synergistic partnership.

And if, like me, you consider an oz. of prevention is price a pound of treatment (that’s 28.3g and 0.45kg, respectively, for these… OK, I’ll cease now), single-use plastic straws and baggage are trending downward. The marketplace for reusable straws has grown 12 % lately. And China started implementing a ban on plastic straws and most single-use plastic bags this yr, as did Thailand.

2. Renewable power for enjoyable and revenue ????

The solar isn’t simply a deadly laser. It’s additionally what powered this camper van on a 3,000-km street journey round Europe in September. Constructed as a proof-of-concept by Dutch college students, the van encompasses a lavatory, residing space, kitchen, and double mattress. Even on cloudy days, it will probably nonetheless produce 60-70 % of its personal power, with the remainder coming from customary electrical car charging stations. Idea confirmed.


Nonetheless, that complete “requires daylight” factor is a limiting issue for large-scale photo voltaic, which is why wind energy appears so promising. However wind generators have their limits, too. The truth that they will’t function in excessive winds—precisely once they’d be capable of seize excessive quantities of power—is a tragic irony.

Or it was, till this yr when Japanese startup Challenergy put in a wind turbine capable of operating in a typhoon within the Philippines. With typhoons and hurricanes turning into extra frequent, producing energy from them might be the silver lining to all these storm clouds.

And shortly we’ll all be capable of generate wind energy from the consolation of our personal properties with the assistance of turbines disguised as kinetic sculptures. The design options dozens of spinning blades suspended in a grid and may be arrange alongside any exterior wall. Whereas it’s nonetheless within the prototyping part, the designer is at the moment in talks with producers. Might wind partitions be the must-have present of vacation seasons to return?

3. Sustainable agriculture is moo-ving forward

Y’know the way decreasing methane emissions is regarded as one of the simplest methods to gradual world warming? And also you’ve “herd” how the planet’s 1 billion-plus cows produce an entire lot of methane?

Properly, we’ve now bought a solution to reduce the cow population while still enjoying ice cream, because of an Israeli startup referred to as Imagindairy. (Finest. Title. Ever.) Their expertise makes use of microorganisms to provide whey and casein, the first parts of dairy milk, eliminating the necessity for cows to be concerned in any respect. This moo-less moo-juice is anticipated to land in grocery shops in 2023.

Talking of turning agriculture on its head, U.K.’s largest vertical farm harvested its first crop of leafy greens this yr. The farm can develop about 2 million heads of greens per yr in vertical towers, quadrupling the yield you’d historically get from a bit of land that measurement. In contrast to different vertical farms that depend on synthetic mild and warmth, this farm simply wants daylight. And looking out towards the longer term, town of Shenzhen, China, introduced plans for a 51-story “farmscraper” that can embody places of work, retailers, and a 10,000-acre vertical farm succesful of feeding 40,000 individuals a yr.

In the meantime, a gaggle of refugees in Cameroon is taking the idea of “grassroots” to an entire new stage. The camp the place they dwell was fully deforested as residents lower down bushes for gasoline. Utilizing “cocoon” expertise, which includes an underground water tank that surrounds the roots of seedlings, they began reforesting the area in 2018. Now these bushes are large enough to offer the shade wanted to develop different crops, giving the refugees a extra steady supply of meals.

Final, from the “What the whaaaaaaaaat?” recordsdata, scientists at the moment are rising (sure: rising) metals. A steel farm in Malaysia is proving the viability of a technique called phytomining to provide nickel with out the heavy equipment, poisonous run-off, and basic land devastation related to conventional mining. It really works by cultivating bushes that accumulate steel concentrations, shaving off their development periodically, burning it, and refining the ashy bio-ore, which is roughly 25 % nickel by weight.

4. Public, personal, and non-profit teams are on a mission to shut the digital divide ????

Lack of entry to dependable high-speed web service and different utilities exacerbates the financial, instructional, and social disparities that already hurt a lot of the world’s inhabitants.

That’s why UNICEF’s Workplace of Innovation goes massive on eliminating the digital divide. This yr they established an innovation center in Sweden, centered on sourcing options from the very individuals UNICEF serves: kids and youth. Already, teenagers have prototyped lamps to assist kids in refugee camps do their homework when there’s no electrical energy.

The Workplace of Innovation additionally runs a program referred to as Giga that goals to “join each faculty to the Web and each younger individual to data, alternative, and selection.” Giga has already recognized a million colleges in want of connectivity and has introduced web service to round 3,000 of them. They just lately partnered with African e-commerce platform Jumia to present colleges a neater approach to enroll and pay for web service.


Given that just about half the world nonetheless has no significant entry to the data superhighway, there’s an extended street forward. However a team of technicians in Detroit is making strides, one family at a time. Members of the Detroit Equitable Web Initiative (DEII) go door-to-door in underserved neighborhoods putting in WiFi tools at no cost and providing web service for pennies a day. Being from these communities themselves, DEII staff have an unparalleled capacity to win residents’ belief and strategize on the fly.

On the infrastructure aspect, public-private partnerships are rising in popularity. For instance, East Cleaveland, one of the poorest and least linked cities within the U.S., is getting a $650,000 broadband enlargement courtesy of Microsoft, Eaton Company, and Basic Electrical. The infrastructure will join 2,000 further households with 4G service for simply $15 a month.

5. A(nother) yr of video conferencing bloopers ????????????

Tech improvements are superb, however they nonetheless require human participation. Fortunately, which means tech can present a good quantity of unintentional leisure worth. 2020 taught us the significance of turning your digicam and microphone off when utilizing the toilet, bad-mouthing your trainer, and/or eschewing pants throughout a name. And the enjoyable continues! 2021 introduced us bloopers you’ll be able to share at work with out inviting a name from HR. Let’s relive the magic, lets?

The yr kicked off with the befuddled legal professional who couldn’t work out the way to un-filter his look on Zoom. Sure, buddies, we’re speaking in regards to the “I’m not a cat” lawyer.

Then, the very subsequent day, the universe gave us the present of politician Tom Emmer caught on a filter that made him seem upside-down. Whereas delivering a speech. Dwell. To the U.S. Home of Representatives.

Each incidents recall a 2020 blooper that prompted the web to lose its thoughts when group organizer Lizet Ocampo turned on a filter that made her appear to be a potato… then couldn’t flip it off. One of her group members tweeted an image of it that immediately went viral. The perfect half, although, was the best way Ms. Ocampo made the incident much more a-peel-ing.

The ethical of these tales? Mates don’t let buddies use filters. Please Zoom responsibly in 2022 and past.

This article initially appeared on Atlassian’s blog and is reprinted with permission.