Top Technology Breakthroughs of 2008

10. Flexible Displays
Researchers have worked on thin, paperlike displays that can be folded, rolled or sewn into the sleeve of your hoodie. Flexible displays could change the way we interact with the info-universe, creating new kinds of cellphones, portable computers, e-newspapers and electronic books.
Meanwhile, Hewlett Packard announced a manufacturing breakthrough that allows the thin-film transistor arrays to be fabricated on flexible plastic materials, enabling manufacturers to “print” displays on big, newsprintlike rolls. Samsung showed off a mobile phone prototype with a flexible display that folds like a book.

9. Edible Chips
Grandma’s pillbox with the days of the week neatly marked is set to go high tech. Tiny edible chips will replace the organizer, tracking when patients take their pills (or don’t) and monitoring the effects of the drugs they’re taking. Proteus, a Redwood City, California, company, has created tiny chips out of silicon grains that, once swallowed, activate in the stomach. The chips send a signal to an external patch that monitors vital parameters such as heart rate, temperature, state of wakefulness or body angle.

The data is then sent to an online repository or a cellphone for the physician and the patient to track. Proteus says its chips can keep score of how patients are responding to the medication. That may be just the beginning, as the chips could improve drug delivery and even insert other kinds of health monitors inside the body. Now doctors may have a better answer to a common patient complaint — they will know exactly how it feels.

If proven in clinical trials, edible chips could let physicians look into a patient’s system in a way that could change how medicine is prescribed and how we take the drugs.

8. Speedo LZR
Michael Phelps. 2008 Olympics. Enough said. Phelps and others were able to log faster times because of Speedo’s LZR swimsuit. It blends new materials and a dose of NASA rocket science to boost the speeds of elite swimmers — legally.

7. Flash Memory
When Apple blessed the iPod with flash memory, it gave new life to a technology that had long played second fiddle to hard disk drives. Now flash memory is a mainstay of most consumer electronics products, from ultralight notebooks to digital cameras and media players.

Next, the who’s who of the tech industry — EMC, Sun Microsystems, Intel and Hitachi — are championing flash drives for larger business users.

The advantage? Solid-state flash drives offer faster response times than hard disk drives and they require much less power. The hitch is that they are almost eight times more expensive than hard disk drives. But with the star power behind flash storage, the prices have nowhere to go but down.

More data centers are likely to move to flash storage in 2009, which is likely to drive prices down further. If this trend takes off, say goodbye to the hard disk drives in your house. It will be time to flash your drive.

6. GPS
The Global Positioning System is old, old, older than you think. The system has been operational since 1978 and available for commercial use since 1993, but for years its use was relegated to expensive personal navigation devices and the dashboards of high-end cars.

This year, suddenly GPS popped up everywhere else, from the iPhone 3G and the T-Mobile G1 to notebooks such as Fujitsu’s LifeBook series.

And devices that couldn’t or didn’t include true GPS made do with cell-tower triangulation or geolocation based on Wi-Fi hotspots. Now getting lost is no longer an option.

With widespread GPS capabilities throughout the gadget world, services that make use of geographic data, like Loopt and Yahoo’s Firebird, will be able to build critical mass.

5. The Memristor
It’s not often that a fundamental tech breakthrough has the potential to change how we compute. Nearly 37 years after it was first described in a series of mathematical equations, researchers at HP Labs proved that the fourth fundamental element of electronic circuitry is for real. The “memristor,” or memory transistor, now joins the three other widely known elements: the capacitor, the resistor and the inductor.

The discovery will make it possible to develop computer systems that remember what’s stored in memory when they are turned off. That means computers that don’t need to be booted up and systems that are far more energy efficient than the current crop.

4. Video-Capable SLRs
Shooting high-def videos with an SLR is cheap compared to using professional video equipment — and it gives photographers access to a wide range of lenses.

3. USB 3.0
Fasten your seatbelts. The data-transfer freeway is set to turn into an autobahn. The Universal Serial Bus, or USB, a popular standard for transferring files to your PC or charging your iPhone, got its first major update in eight years. USB 3.0 will be 10 times faster than the current USB 2.0 standard, and will increase the amount of electrical current that can be delivered through a USB cable.

Users need the increased speed — 4.8 gigabits per second, to be precise. Digital cameras and pocket-size HD video recorders generate a torrent of bits, all of which need to be transferred quickly to computers, so they can be uploaded to YouTube, adding to the internet video that only a handful of people will ever watch.

And as consumers carry around more devices, charging them off a PC using a USB cable will be much easier than carrying multiple chargers. With the USB 3.0 specifications nailed down this year, the standard will bump up the power output to 900 milliamps from 100 milliamps, allowing more devices to be charged faster.

2. Android
It is the free mobile operating system from Google. It’s the first mobile OS to make its debut in years and the G1 is just the first of what will be many phones that use it. With its open source base, growing developer community and dozens of cellphone manufacturers pledging to make Android phones, Android has the potential to reshape the wireless industry in significant ways.

At least half a dozen manufacturers are likely to release Android phones in 2009, increasing the pressure on other smartphone operating systems. The iPhone is likely to remain the top-selling smartphone through the end of the year, however.

1. Apple’s App Store
Until this year, mobile app developers lacked an easy way to get their software into the hands of consumers, forcing them to make deals with finicky and power-hungry carriers if they wanted to get any distribution at all. Apple’s App Store changed all that. It made creating and distributing mobile applications for cellphone users easy — jumpstarting the mobile-app development market and creating clones such as the Android Market. It even forced Research in Motion to offer a BlackBerry Application Storefront. For thousands of programmers, the cellphone is the new PC.

Outlook: App stores have changed forever the way we use our phones, turning them into personalized devices filled with utilities, handy tools and copies of Tap Tap Revenge.

Source: wired.com

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