We started a new series of articles about inventions, those technological advances that arise from the innovative spirit of the brightest minds on the planet, and whose main objective is to make our lives easier. On this occasion we will focus on discoveries of recent appearance, inventions that have arisen during the beginning of the 21st century and that augur a future full of new possibilities.
We have already spoken in this blog about Steve Jobs, one of the most innovative characters in our recent history, and also of several of the milestones that his work marked in the technological progress. We just left one in the inkwell: the iPad, an Apple device that, when it was released on January 27, 2010, revolutionized the technology landscape again.
“Did you know that Apple had to pay 60 million dollars to the Taiwanese company Shenzhen Proview Technology because it had registered the name “iPad” in 2001?”
When the iPad arrived on the market, another recent invention took its place in the homes of half the world: the netbook, small laptops that became very popular as of 2007. But the tablet of Jobs was much more comfortable to use, much lighter and had unique applications.
The impact of the iPad was such that in 2013 the companies Asus and Acer, the main producers of netbooks, announced their decision to stop making this type of device; In addition, the invention of Jobs meant the opening of the tablet market and the starting signal for other companies to start producing similar devices massively. The figures brought Jobs back to life: just two years after the introduction of his tablet, Apple had already sold 84 million iPads around the world.
Self-replicating 3D printers
Although it may seem like a recent invention, 3D printing emerged in the mid-80s when Chuck Hull, founder of 3D Systems, patented stereolithography, a method that allowed solid resin objects to be printed using ultraviolet light. However, this type of printers were only intended for industrial use, due, in part, to its high price.
Everything changed in 2004 with the appearance of RepRap, an open source project that aimed to encourage the creation of self-replicating 3D printers. That is, devices capable of printing each of its parts, which can be assembled later to get to replicate the printer itself.
Driven by the advances of RepRap, Adam Mayer, Bre Pettis, and Zach Smith created in 2009 Makerbot Industries with a clear objective: to design a 3D printer kit that anyone could assemble at home. After working for three years in the field of open source, Makerbot launched its Replicator 2 design and stopped sharing its designs with other programmers; In addition, they opened the first commercial 3D printer store.
Currently, and thanks to the efforts of these innovators, 3D printing is almost within reach of anyone. In the not too distant future, millions of homes will have a printer of this type. The possibilities are enormous: we can print things as useful as hangers, shelves, molds for cooking or even cutlery.
The artificial hearts
The importance of a healthy heart for the survival of a human being is vital. For that reason, for decades a good number of scientists has been investigating the possibility of creating artificial versions of this organ.
The first experiments with synthetic replacements date back to the 1930s, although they were carried out in dogs. It was in 1969 when doctors Denton A. Cooley and Domingo Liotta performed the first implant of a total artificial heart. Already in the 21st century appeared the first completely self-contained artificial heart, the AbioCor, created by the Abiomed company. It was used for the first time in 2011, it was made of plastic and titanium and it worked with an internal battery. Its main disadvantage was its short duration: eighteen months.
“Did you know that the artificial heart AbioCor appeared in the action movie “Crank: High Voltage”, released in 2009?”
Fortunately science never stops to rest: in 2013 the French Alain F. Carpentier presented an artificial heart with better performance than the AbioCor, the Carmat, designed with biosynthetic animal tissues (which, treated with chemical products, aim to avoid rejections of patient’s organism) and that it was capable of pumping blood through electrical sensors and with a longer life expectancy.
The driverless car from Google
Thinking about making a car trip without a driver on board sounded like science fiction years ago. Now, however, the development of smart vehicles has become one of the innovative fashion trends.
The company Google has been one of the pioneers in this field thanks to its Google Self-Driving Car project, which was kept secret for quite some time. In 2010, the company announced that it already had a small fleet of vehicles on the street, six Toyota Prius and one Audi TT. These vehicles traveled without driver thousands of kilometers.
“Did you know that in 1966 the writer Philip K. Dick imagined a future with cars without a human driver in his novel “Can we remember it for you wholesale?”
The operation of this car is based on a system of sensors located in strategic places of the vehicle. There is one on the wheel that allows you to gather information about the state and movement of the tires, another on the roof that allows you to record in 360º and thanks to its recognition software can distinguish everything that surrounds it, and a front camera that collects information about the lights of the rest of the vehicles. It also has several motion detectors that help the vehicle maintain its distance from other objects.
The blue LEDs
Although the blue LEDs did not see the light in the 21st century but at the end of the 20th century (exactly in 1995), we want to include them in this list because their worldwide recognition did not arrive until 2014, when their discoverers, Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura (considered the father of the find), received the Nobel Prize in Physics thanks to his innovations in this field.
The first LEDs that developed (a whopping sixty years ago) only emitted light between the red and green colors. The objective of all the researchers working on these diodes was to achieve blue, since it would allow, by combining the three colors, the lighting with white light. However, achieving such a technological feat seemed unthinkable. In the words of Enrique San Andrés, professor of Applied Physics at the Complutense University of Madrid,
“The great genius of Nakamura is that he did something that everyone in the scientific community said was impossible.”
However, in 1993, Nakamura and his colleagues managed to create a chip that generated the desired blue light using gallium nitride as a semiconductor material.
This source of artificial light is present in the daily life of millions of people around the world, lighting houses, car headlights or mobile phone screens, among other things. Its low consumption and its lifespan make it a great option to practice energy efficiency in our day to day.