Most hopeful tech developments of 2021

Welp, 2021 is sort of behind us. And for those who 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 was nonetheless kinda tough.

But! 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 may really feel unequivocally good about.

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

Every ocean has a junkyard. These floating trash collections are shaped by currents that accumulate 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 really two patches – one on either side of the Pacific – and, in whole, twice the scale of Texas. (That’s thrice the scale 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 web between them, just like trawl-fishing, to scoop up trash. The solely draw back is that these boats go away a carbon footprint.

However, 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 gathering 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. Test 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 strategy to the open ocean. Watch this four-minute video to be taught extra. You’ll be glad you probably did.

So, what can we do with all this robot-collected plastic? 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 unit in Nairobi. At the danger of utilizing corporate jargon, that’d be a severely 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 luggage are trending downward. The marketplace for reusable straws has grown 12 p.c 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 highway journey round Europe in September. Built as a proof-of-concept by Dutch college students, the van contains a toilet, dwelling space, kitchen, and double mattress. Even on cloudy days, it will probably nonetheless produce 60-70 p.c of its personal power, with the remaining coming from commonplace electrical car charging stations. Concept confirmed.

Still, that complete “requires sunlight” factor is a limiting issue for large-scale photo voltaic, which is why wind energy appears so promising. But wind generators have their limits, too. The proven fact that they’ll’t function in excessive winds—precisely after 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 could possibly be the silver lining to all these storm clouds.


And quickly 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 will be arrange alongside any exterior wall. While it’s nonetheless within the prototyping section, the designer is presently in talks with producers. Could wind partitions be the must-have reward of vacation seasons to come back?

3. Sustainable agriculture is moo-ving forward

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

Well, we’ve now bought a strategy to reduce the cow population while still enjoying ice cream, due to an Israeli startup known as Imagindairy. (Best. Name. Ever.) Their know-how 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 predicted to land in grocery shops in 2023.

Speaking 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 chunk of land that dimension. Unlike different vertical farms that depend on synthetic mild and warmth, this farm simply wants daylight. And wanting towards the longer term, town of Shenzhen, China, introduced plans for a 51-story “farmscraper” that may embody places of work, outlets, and a 10,000-acre vertical farm succesful of feeding 40,000 folks a yr.

Meanwhile, a bunch of refugees in Cameroon is taking the idea of “grassroots” to an entire new degree. The camp the place they reside was utterly deforested as residents reduce down timber for gasoline. Using “cocoon” know-how, which entails an underground water tank that surrounds the roots of seedlings, they began reforesting the area in 2018. Now these timber are sufficiently big to offer the shade wanted to develop different crops, giving the refugees a extra steady supply of meals.

Last, from the “What the whaaaaaaaaat?” recordsdata, scientists are actually 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 normal land devastation related to conventional mining. It works by cultivating timber that accumulate steel concentrations, shaving off their development periodically, burning it, and refining the ashy bio-ore, which is roughly 25 p.c nickel by weight.

4. Public, non-public, 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, academic, and social disparities that already hurt a lot of the world’s inhabitants.

That’s why UNICEF’s Office of Innovation goes huge on eliminating the digital divide. This yr they established an innovation center in Sweden, targeted on sourcing options from the very folks 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 Office of Innovation additionally runs a program known as Giga that goals to “connect every school to the Internet and every young person to information, opportunity, and choice.” Giga has already recognized a million colleges in want of connectivity and has introduced web service to round 3,000 of them. They not too long ago partnered with African e-commerce platform Jumia to provide colleges a better method to enroll and pay for web service.

Given that almost half the world nonetheless has no significant entry to the data superhighway, there’s a protracted highway forward. But a team of technicians in Detroit is making strides, one family at a time. Members of the Detroit Equitable Internet Initiative (DEII) go door-to-door in underserved neighborhoods putting in WiFi gear at no cost and providing web service for pennies a day. Being from these communities themselves, DEII staff have an unparalleled capability 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 related cities within the U.S., is getting a $650,000 broadband enlargement courtesy of Microsoft, Eaton Corporation, and General Electric. The infrastructure will join 2,000 extra 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. Thankfully, meaning tech can present a good quantity of unintentional leisure worth. 2020 taught us the significance of turning your digital camera 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 may 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 best way to un-filter his look on Zoom. Yes, mates, we’re speaking concerning the “I am not a cat” lawyer.

Then, the very subsequent day, the universe gave us the reward of politician Tom Emmer caught on a filter that made him seem upside-down. While delivering a speech. Live. To the U.S. House of Representatives.

Both incidents recall a 2020 blooper that precipitated the web to lose its thoughts when neighborhood organizer Lizet Ocampo turned on a filter that made her appear like a potato… then couldn’t flip it off. One of her crew members tweeted an image of it that immediately went viral. The better part, although, was the way in which Ms. Ocampo made the incident much more a-peel-ing.

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

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

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