Technology’s pioneers: the world of tomorrow, nanomedicine, robotics and greener energies

green-energyThe World Economic Forum publishes a comprehensive series of reports which examine in detail the broad range of global issues it seeks to address with stakeholders as part of its mission of improving the state of the world.

Besides reports such as the Global Competitiveness Report, the Global Risks Report and the Global Gender Gap Report, the Forum also releases titles covering the environment, education, individual industries and technologies.

In previous years, the report on Technology Pioneers has proved a strong indicator of upcoming trends, and this year’s selection of 36 is likewise expected to point the way towards products and services that will gain prominence in the coming years.

Greener tomorrow

Many of this year’s Technology Pioneers are developing products that make both environmental and economic sense: Alphabet Energy can generate power from waste heat in chimneys and exhausts; Oasys Water can desalinate water at energy-saving low temperatures; air conditioners by Advantix Systems cool and dehumidify air more efficiently in humid climates; and EcoNation’s new-generation skylights enable electric lights to be switched off.

Transparent photovoltaic cells developed by SunPartner will soon enable windows, billboards and device screens generate electricity, while Nest Labs’ thermostat is helping consumers to cut their heating and cooling bills.

Precise and targeted therapies

In the health sector, these pioneers are making breakthroughs in nanomedicine and genetics that promise to revolutionize the treatment of cancer and other diseases. BIND Therapeutics can target drugs to diseased cells; nanoparticles designed by Selecta Biosciences can heighten or dampen immune system response; bluebird bio is tackling genetic diseases by using a virus to rewrite patients’ DNA; and Agios is targeting enzymes to starve diseased cells of the nutrients they need. nanomedicine

Foundation Medicine and Natera have pioneered technologies to make diagnostic testing more precise – respectively, helping cancer patients to identify the most promising treatments, and giving prospective parents the best chance of a healthy, viable pregnancy.

Smarter products and services

Some products and services promise a quantum leap towards new and smarter ways of doing things. Wireless electricity, being developed by WiTricity, will mean everything from mobile phones to floor lamps and electric cars can operate without needing to be plugged in.

The “sharing economy” is another potentially revolutionary trend: from broadband connections to do-it-yourself equipment to their own time and skills, many people own things they don’t use all the time. The Internet is making it possible to monetize such spare capacity. This trend is represented this year by Airbnb, which is transforming the travel sector by enabling people to rent out rooms in their homes or entire properties.

roboticsRobotics renaissance

Rethink Robotics has developed an easily trainable robot that can work alongside humans in warehouses and on factory production lines, while SynTouch has invented a robot finger with the sensitivity of human touch, promising to make robots much more dexterous and versatile. Cyberdyne has developed a robot suit that helps the elderly and disabled to walk, and can assist workers with heavy lifting. Also using technology to remedy a disability, Second Sight has developed a type of “bionic eye” – retinal implants that can help some blind people to see again.

Redesigning education

The internet is revolutionizing the education sector, with three of the Technology Pioneers at the forefront. Coursera is leading the way with massive open online courses that give everyone access to elite universities. Codecademy’s collaborative approach to code learning, in which users create courses and learners help each other, promises to be more widely applicable. Dnevnik.ru has developed comprehensive software for educational institutions to manage learning.

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