۳D printing becomes a mainstream consumer technology
۳D printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), is a process that allows physical objects to be printed in three dimensions, in contrast to traditional paper printers that work in two dimensions. Controlled by computer, successive layers of material are laid down, resulting in products created with a high degree of precision. This is usually achieved with powder heated by a laser, or held in place by spray-on adhesive.
Additive manufacturing was first demonstrated in the 1980s.* For many years, it was limited to specialist uses in product design, industrial prototyping, medical modelling and architecture. Like the earliest computers, these machines were bulky, expensive and slow; typically confined to large companies with massive R&D budgets.
As the technology progressed, it became cheaper and faster, easier and more practical. The Internet allowed objects to be digitised, stored online and downloaded by users around the world. As it gained popularity and awareness among the general public, the term “3D printing” became the preferred way of describing this process. By 2010, a huge array of associated websites and communities had sprung up.*
Like many emerging technologies, however, 3D printing was subject to considerable hype and misconception. Although a number of desktop versions were being unveiled,* these generally remained expensive and/or with technical limitations. Enterprise-level devices continued to show greater promise in the medium term – precisely customised prosthetics and medical implants, for example, could now offer life-altering benefits to patients.*** It would take until the late 2010s for home-use 3D printing to exceed 1 million global sales* and a few more years to become truly mainstream for consumers.*
Driving its adoption were ongoing improvements in cost, speed and ease of use – helped by the entry and growth of more established printing vendors such as Canon, Epson and HP – along with continued advances in the range of “ink” materials.* By the end of this period (2019-2024), it is common for shoes and clothing to be purchased online and manufactured in the wearer’s home within a matter of minutes.* This adds to the already huge variety of plastics and metals that can be used, in addition to glass, concrete and even food such as chocolate.
Further into the future, 3D printing makes even greater strides. In schools, classroom use of this technology becomes widespread.* In hospitals, it is possible to manufacture human organs from scratch, eliminating the need for donors.* Large-format 3D printing is used more and more often in the construction of buildings and vehicles – even bases on the Moon.* By the late 21st century, entire skyscrapers can be printed from the ground up at nano-scale resolution.* The overall effect of 3D printing is an increased localisation of activity, a reduced need for transport, lowered carbon emissions and less waste.
China’s first high-tech stealth fighter enters service
Entering service this year is the Chengdu J-20 (literally, “Annihilator Twenty”), a fifth generation stealth fighter jet developed for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.* Until now, the United States was the only country to operate a stealth fighter; in its case, the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, which is slightly smaller than the J-20.
Though it has slightly less agility and speed than the F-22, the J-20 has a longer range and nevertheless acts as a formidable addition to the Chinese air force. It is built using several Russian components and is believed to be designed using certain Russian plans. Armaments include both long and short range air-to-air missiles together with lateral weapons bays.
The avionics and navigation technology is highly advanced, and regarded with secrecy by the Chinese government. This has raised suspicions of cyber-espionage, as the Chinese program bears a number of striking resemblances to the American F-35 Lightning II. Investigations point to leaks from government contract firms. The affair leads to a period of tense international relations between the two superpowers. The J-20 meanwhile acts as another milestone in China’s march towards an ever larger and more high-tech military force.*
Credit: Alexandr Chechin
A new generation of U.S. tanks
In addition to the M1A3 Abrams (first deployed in ۲۰۱۷), a new Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) has been developed. This huge tank weighs 84 tons – more than twice as much as its predecessor. It is so heavily armoured, in fact, that it can withstand hits from roadside improvised explosive devices.* Designed to carry a nine-man squad and three-man driving crew into battle, it provides covering fire with a 30mm cannon, the Mk44 Bushmaster II.
The vehicle is equipped with a hi-tech C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) system. It has an E-X-Drive hybrid electric system, for high power and torque, with an engine that is 20% more fuel efficient than the previous generation. Its top speed is 47 mph (75 km/h) and maximum range is 188 mi (300 km).
With its monstrous weight, superb armour, high manoeuvrability and numerous hi-tech systems, the GCV is a formidable addition to the U.S. army. Its open architecture and infrastructure means it can also be adapted to other existing and future C4ISR systems. It remains in service until the 2050s.
British troops leave Germany
Britain has maintained a continuous military presence in Germany since World War II. After the Cold War, however, there was less need to keep personnel stationed there. The last remaining army bases are finally closed this year. Around 15,000 troops had left in 2016; the remaining 4,500 are brought back in 2019, closing an important chapter in the history of both countries. This move saves Britain around £۲۴۰ million a year in operational running costs.*
The ExoMars rover touches down on Mars
ExoMars is a joint mission between ESA and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) which is divided into two parts. The first phase of the mission is launched in 2016, arriving nine months later. This consists of an orbiter – ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter – which maps sources of methane and other gases on Mars, to determine the best location for a rover to study. It also contains a static demonstration module to prove the landing site is viable.
The second phase is launched in 2018, arriving in 2019 with the ExoMars rover built by ESA. This lands on Mars using a “sky crane” system, in which four rockets slow the descent once the main parachute has been deployed.
The rover’s primary objective is to determine any signs of microbial life on Mars, past or present. It is equipped with a drill that bores down two meters below the surface to retrieve samples. These are transferred to a miniature laboratory inside the rover. This contains a sensor for biological molecules, infrared and X-ray spectroscopes that catalog the mineralogical makeup of the sample, together with imaging devices.
Located in the drill structure is another infrared spectrometer which studies the inside surface of the bore hole. ExoMars uses ground-penetrating radar to search for ideal locations at which to drill. The mission is almost entirely automated, as the rover uses imaging cameras to create a 3D map of the terrain in order to avoid obstacles. It has a lifespan of six months, travelling approximately 100 metres each day and testing dozens of different samples.
Alongside the ESA rover, NASA had originally planned to include its own – the Mars Astrobiology Explorer-Catcher (MAX-C). However, this was cancelled in 2011 due to budget cuts. The remaining program lays the foundation for the first Mars sample return mission, to be carried out in the 2020s.*
The first manned outpost beyond the Moon begins assembly
The “Gateway Spacecraft” is humanity’s first manned outpost beyond the Moon. Its orbit is placed at Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2 (L2)* – roughly 38,000 miles from the Moon and 277,000 miles from Earth – a location allowing it to function as a stepping stone for future missions to the Moon, Mars and nearby asteroids.
Some of the construction involves using “recycled” parts from the International Space Station, which itself is nearing the end of its life. The new Space Launch System delivers the first components in 2019.* Because it lies outside the Earth’s magnetic field, special consideration is given to the shielding needed to protect the astronauts at risk from the Sun’s radiation.
Earth-Moon Lagrange Points. Diagram not to scale. Credit: NASA
The first mission to a gas giant using solar sail propulsion
Solar sail propulsion is a new method of space travel that requires no fuel, but instead captures the Sun’s energy in the form of high-speed gas particles and photons. Known as the “solar wind”, this stream of charged particles can be harnessed so that it strikes large mirrors, gradually accelerating a craft to extremely high speeds.
It was first demonstrated in ۲۰۱۰ with a 14m (46 ft) Japanese experimental probe called IKAROS. This passed by Venus at a distance of 80,800 km (50,200 mi). It was followed by a NASA spacecraft – NanoSail-D2 – in 2011.
Later in this decade, a much larger spacecraft is deployed, again by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). This measures 50m (164 ft) and is shaped like a flower. It features a hybrid propulsion method that combines sailing with an ion-propulsion engine, powered by embedded solar cells. The craft is sent to explore Jupiter and the nearby Trojan asteroids that share the planet’s orbit.**
The first prototype Stratobus is launched
The Stratobus – developed by a collaboration of European investors – is a cross between a drone and a satellite. In some ways, it resembles Project Loon, a network of high-altitude balloons that Google has been developing. Unlike Project Loon, which is partially automated, the Stratobus is completely automated, with a longer lifespan and much wider variety of uses.
Operating in a fixed position for up to five years, the Stratobus is placed at an altitude of 12.5 miles (66,000 ft) – the lower reaches of the stratosphere. Each airship measures nearly 100 metres long and 30 metres in diameter, with a shell fabric made of braided carbon fibre. It has a payload capacity of 200 kg (440 lb), enough to carry a significant amount of scientific equipment, sensors and communication devices.* Power comes from solar panels that rotate in response to sunlight and energy storage is made possible by a light reversible fuel cell.
Stratobus offers a cheaper alternative to satellites, while also complementing the latter if need be. It can handle a diverse range of missions including observation, security, telecommunications, broadcasting and navigation. However, along with an explosion in the use of drones* and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) emerging around this time, concerns are raised over yet another layer of surveillance and spying with potential to intrude upon the lives of citizens.*
Launch of the BIOMASS mission
BIOMASS is a €۴۰۰ million Earth Observation mission launched by the European Space Agency (ESA). It provides the first truly comprehensive measurements of global forest biomass. High resolution maps of tropical, temperate and boreal forest biomass are generated, using a radar sensor powerful enough to determine both the height and wood content of individual trees. These ultra-accurate maps help scientists address fundamental questions about changes in forest structure – especially in tropical regions, where ground data are scant. They also help put a figure on the carbon emissions resulting from deforestation and land-use change, making it possible to form better estimates of future climate change. The mission runs from 2019-2024.*
Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system is fully operational
Galileo is a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) built by the European Union (EU) and European Space Agency (ESA). The €۵ billion project is named after the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei. One of the aims of Galileo is to provide a high-precision positioning system upon which European nations can rely, independently from the Russian GLONASS, American GPS, and Chinese Compass systems, which can be disabled in times of war or political conflict.
When in operation, it uses two ground operation centres near Munich, Germany and in Fucino, Italy. In 2010, Prague in the Czech Republic was voted by EU ministers as the headquarters for the project. In 2011, the first two of four operational satellites were launched to validate the system. The next two followed in 2012, making it possible to test Galileo “end-to-end”. Once this In-Orbit Validation (IOV) phase was completed, more satellites were launched, reaching Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in the middle of the decade. Full completion of the 30 satellites in the Galileo system (27 operational + 3 active spares) is achieved in 2019.* Europe now has its own independent satellite navigation capability.*
In addition to basic navigation services free of charge (giving horizontal and vertical measurements accurate to within 1 metre), Galileo provides a unique global Search and Rescue (SAR) function. Satellites can relay distress signals from a user’s transmitter to the Rescue Coordination Centre, which then initiates a rescue operation. At the same time, the system provides a signal to the user, informing them that their situation has been detected and that help is on the way. This latter feature is a major upgrade compared to the existing GPS and GLONASS systems, which do not provide feedback to the user. The use of basic (low-precision) Galileo services is free and open to everyone. High-precision capabilities are available for paying commercial users and for military use.
Credit: Lukas Rohrt
Computers break the exaflop barrier
An exaflop is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 (a million trillion, or a quintillion) calculations per second. The world’s top supercomputers are now reaching this speed, which is a 1000-fold improvement over those of a decade earlier.* This exponential growth will continue for many years to come.
Personal computers are becoming ever more compact and sophisticated, with laptops and other mobile devices far outnumbering desktops.* Physical hard drives have become almost redundant, with most storage now done online using “virtual drives” in remote servers, aided by the growth in broadband speeds and wireless communications.
Web applications have reached startling levels of sophistication, especially where search engines are concerned. These not only find keywords in a search, but also interpret the context and semantics of the request, often with voice recognition software. Natural language processing had already begun to emerge some years earlier with Siri and other such tools. This form of AI, acting like a personal assistant, is now even more powerful and versatile.* Users can ask highly specific questions and receive detailed answers customised to their exact requirements.
Bionic eyes with high resolution are commercially available
Following years of trials, high resolution bionic eyes are now available for patients with degenerative vision loss. The first prototypes of this technology were somewhat crude and pixelated, with less than 100 dots of resolution. However, these new versions provide over 1000 dots, allowing patients to recognise faces and read large print.*
Bionic eyes continue to gain in sophistication over subsequent decades, making rapid progress in resolution and visual quality. Fully artificial eyes are eventually developed that actually provide better vision than healthy eyes. This leads even people with normal eyes to “upgrade” their sight.
A vaccine to treat melanoma
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, killing over 48,000 people worldwide each year. During the 2010s, attempts were made to develop an implantable vaccine to treat the condition. In preclinical trials, 50 percent of mice treated with two doses of the vaccine – animals that would otherwise have died from melanoma within about 25 days – showed complete tumour regression. The Phase I study involving humans was completed in 2015* with similar success. By the end of this decade,* after subsequent phases and approval by the FDA, it is available to the wider public.
A small, disc-like sponge – about the size of a fingernail and made from a biodegredable polymer – is implanted under the skin. This contains growth factors and components designed to activate and reprogram a patient’s own immune cells “on site”. By controlling their biology, it can instruct the immune cells to patrol the body and hunt for cancer cells, killing them. Although initially designed to target cancerous melanoma in skin, this method has potential in treating many other types of cancer. It also helps to lower the cost of cancer treatments, by shifting vaccine production from the laboratory to directly within a patient’s own body.*
Connected vehicle technology is being deployed in a number of countries
Many of the world’s cars are already linked to the Internet in some way. By 2019, another layer of technology is being added in the form of wireless connections between vehicles.* Using a combination of Wi-Fi and GPS signals, they are now able to alert drivers to potential hazards or obstructions. For example, if a car two vehicles ahead of the driver brakes, but the car immediately in front does not, this technology warns him/her with a loud beep and flashing red lights on the windshield to hit the brakes.
By communicating with each other and the roadway infrastructure, cars now have greatly improved safety, while traffic congestion and carbon emissions are reduced. In fact, the system is so effective that in some countries, accident fatalities drop by 80%.* It soon becomes mandatory, due to the obvious economic and safety benefits. This technology had already begun to appear on trucks, a few years earlier. Now passenger cars are using it too.
Automated freight transport
Autonomous rapid transit has already been in place at certain airports and on city metro systems. By 2019, it has begun spreading to public roads, with significant numbers of driverless trucks appearing.* These are capable of travelling hundreds of miles on their own, negotiating traffic and obstacles using advanced GPS technologies.
They have a number of advantages over human drivers – such as being able to operate for 24 hours a day without getting tired, never being absent, and not requiring a salary or training. The trucks can also detect mechanical or software faults. These automated vehicles will eventually include cars, taxis and other types of road vehicles, becoming widespread by the 2030s.
US copyright begins to expire, starting with all works from 1923
Up until 1998, US copyright law stood with all works published before 1923 in the public domain, all works between 1923 and 1977 holding a copyright for 75 years (assuming a renewal was made) and works published after 1977 holding a copyright dependent on the author’s date of death.
However, the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 made several revisions to the law. While all works published prior to 1923 remained in the public domain, all works published between 1923 and 1977 had their copyrights extended to 95 years after their creation. According to this law, the copyright of the first year of materials, 1923, will expire in 2019, assuming they did not have their copyright renewed. In 2020, all works from 1924 will enter the public domain, and so on.**
Examples of works now entering the public domain this year include the Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of poems, New Hampshire, by Robert Frost; the Noël Coward play, The Young Idea; and the film, The Ten Commandments, directed by Cecil B. DeMille.
LEDs dominate the lighting industry
Light-emitting diode (LED) lamps are 20 times more efficient and over 100 times longer lasting than incandescent bulbs. LEDs were first demonstrated in the early 1960s, but were low-powered and only emitted light in the low, red frequencies of the spectrum. For many years, they were used as indicators such as red standby dots on TVs.
The first high-brightness blue LED was achieved in 1994 (an invention that earned the researchers a Nobel Prize in October 2014*). The existence of blue LEDs and high-efficiency LEDs quickly led to the development of the first white LED, which employed a phosphor coating to mix down-converted yellow light with blue to produce light that appeared white. As the technology developed further and the lamps became brighter, LEDs found new roles in a wide range of home, business and other applications.
Governments around the world began passing measures to phase out incandescent light bulbs for general lighting in favour of more energy-efficient alternatives.* These regulations effectively banned the manufacture, importation or sale of traditional filament bulbs – first in Brazil and Venezuela (2005), then most of Europe (2009), Australia (2009), Argentina (2012), Canada (2012), Russia (2012) and the United States (2012). Other countries would follow later in the decade, including China.*
By the early 2010s, many cities were recognising the benefits of LED lighting for streets and public areas. In particular, social housing communal areas could be made to feel safer and more secure,** while delivering huge energy savings in the long term (90%) and reducing the need for maintenance. Buildings that once appeared dim and foreboding at night were now illuminated with fresher, brighter light more closely resembling daylight. In addition, light pollution could be reduced with innovations in the way light was focussed, preventing it from overlapping or flooding areas it was not needed.*
Among the early adopters were Los Angeles – which completed a massive retrofit in 2012 – and New York which replaced all 250,000 of its street lights with LEDs by 2017.* The market share of LEDs continued to increase rapidly, as prices tumbled and public awareness grew. By the end of this decade, they comprise a clear majority of total sales in the lighting industry.* Regulations on mercury begin to limit the sale of fluorescent lamps from 2020,* boosting the uptake of LEDs even further in the years ahead.*
Jordan opens its first nuclear power plant
Earlier this decade, Jordan imported 98% of its energy requirements. This was costing the country, a desert nation of six million people, almost one-fifth of its GDP. Faced with such a burden, the government began pushing for greater energy independence. At the same time that Russian companies began searching for oil and natural gas deposits in Jordan, the Jordanian government made a series of deals regarding nuclear power.* In 2013, mining operations began which aimed to exploit Jordan’s previously untapped uranium deposits, estimated to be around 67,000 tonnes. By 2015, a five-megawatt research reactor was switched on at the Jordan University for Science and Technology. This led to the first commercial reactor in the kingdom’s history being completed in 2019.*
The multi-billion dollar project is built in the city of Majdal, in northern Al Mafraq. Once operational, it helps the Jordan Nuclear Regulatory Commission (JNRC) to reach its 2020 goal of 6% reliance on nuclear power.
One of the most pressing issues it is hoped the plant will address is the country’s water supply, which is precarious: a shortfall of nearly a third for drinking water and 50% for irrigation needs. Desalination had been looked at to cover the deficit. However, this method requires huge amounts of power: an estimated 900 MW for 800 million cubic feet of water. The annual output of the Majdal plant is 1 GW, but Jordan as a whole will require upwards of 8 GW of new power production by 2030. Despite this gap, it is hoped that the country will become a net energy exporter by then – with nuclear energy providing 30% of the kingdom’s power.*
During its construction, there is serious opposition to the project. Concerns are raised over safety standards and the lack of feasibility studies. The fact that Jordan lies in a seismically active region leads to fears of a possible meltdown similar to the Japanese Fukushima disaster of 2011.*
The City Circle Line opens in Copenhagen
Copenhagen’s Metro was first opened in 2002. Back then, only two lines were operational – running from Vanløse to Vestamager and Lergravsparken. The next phase commenced in 2007, with an extension of the existing line to Copenhagen Airport. This meant that journeys from the city centre of Copenhagen to the airport could be achieved in just 14 minutes. The fourth phase of the Metro is called Cityringen, or the City Circle Line. This route is a substantial upgrade, with 17 new stations covering major parts of the city centre as well as the Østerbro, Nørrebro, and Vesterbro districts and the Municipality of Frederiksberg previously not covered by the S-train or Metro line service. It takes approximately 24 minutes to travel all the way around the circle line. Originally planned for 2018, it is delayed by a year, opening in 2019.*
The East Side Access subway extension opens in NYC
This project connects Grand Central Station in Manhattan to the Long Island Rail Road, via underground tunnels. The idea for the East Side Access dates back to the sixties, but the New York fiscal crisis in 1970 halted work for several years. The newly opened route begins underneath the Sunnyside Rail Yard in Queens and connects to the 63rd Street Tunnel. On the Manhattan side of the project, a series of new tunnels are built which connect from the 63rd Street Tunnel to a new platform under Grand Central Station.
The new route cuts journey times by up to 40 minutes a day for customers who previously travelled to Penn Station and then took a subway, bus or walk to the East Side. It greatly eases traffic congestion, as it becomes the shortest and most direct route between Long Island and East Midtown Manhattan. The East Side Access reduces major burdens on the metropolitan area, namely overcrowding and overcapacity at Penn Station. Overall, trains become more reliable in the area and public transportation is a more realistic option for travellers.*
The final collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf
The Larsen ice shelf is a region in northwest Antarctica, forming three distinct embayments along the coast. It was named after the Norwegian-British explorer Captain Carl Anton Larsen, master of the Norwegian whaling vessel Jason, who sailed there in December 1893. During the late 20th century, rising average temperatures began to impact the stability of the Antarctic Peninsula. The smallest of the Larsen ice shelves – known as Larsen A – collapsed in 1995. This was followed by a more cataclysmic event in early 2002, when the next largest segment – Larsen B – partially fragmented over the course of just six weeks, prompting serious concern from scientists. Two-thirds of Larsen B was found to have disintegrated, about 3,250 km² of ice measuring 220m thick and comparable in size to the US state of Rhode Island. Dramatic images taken from orbiting satellites revealed the scale and extent of this collapse.*
Between 2002 and 2015, ongoing studies confirmed that the remaining one-third was weakening rapidly.* By 2019, Larsen B has shared the same fate as its smaller brother Larsen A, collapsing completely.* This section had been stable for almost 12,000 years, essentially the entire Holocene period since the previous glacial period. In more recent times, warm currents had eaten away the underside of the shelf, creating a “hotspot”. This had occurred in parallel with meltwater on the surface, forming ponds which flowed down into cracks and gradually levered the shelf apart.
An even larger segment further south – Larsen C – has also been destabilising. This third and final ice shelf will collapse too, in the coming decades.** Larsen C alone has the potential to raise sea levels by several centimetres, threatening coastal cities around the globe.
Other parts of Antarctica are seeing major ice loss during this time.** Although sea ice has witnessed a small increase in extent (due in part to reduced salinity from melting land ice entering the ocean, along with stronger winds from a more energetic climate system), the continent as a whole is undergoing a net loss of 134 gigatons per year.*
۵۳% by 2019 and 61% by 2020:
Estimated LED penetration of the global lighting market from 2010 to 2020, Statista:
۶۰% by 2020:
Lighting market report predicts strong growth for LED lighting (MAGAZINE), LEDs Magazine:
۶۴% by 2020:
By 2017, New York City aims to have replaced all of its street lights with LEDs, Future Timeline Blog:
۷۰% by 2020:
GE Lighting Sees Brighter Future With LED Growth, Forbes:
۸۲% by 2020:
LED ‘to hit 82% market share’ by 2020, Lux Review:
+ ۲۶ Gt Antarctic sea ice:
Modeled Trends in Antarctic Sea Ice Thickness, Holland et al, J Climate (2014)