TMCnet Feature
December 01, 2022

Little-Known Technology That Is Changing the World Around Us



We marvel at 21st century innovations such as smartphones, self-driving cars, and 3D printing that have redefined the world around us. At the same time, other extraordinary technologies have been evolving behind the scenes. These four examples highlight how some less visible, yet equally important technologies will change the world in the decades to come.  



1. Hyperscale

When we think about the “cloud”, an image of something large, distant, and out of our direct control comes to mind. With 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) joining software-as-a-service (SaaS (News - Alert)), infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), and big data storage in this unseen realm, the scale and complexity of many cloud data centers has earned them a new designation: hyperscale.

The hyperscale definition calls for a minimum of 5,000 servers and 10,000 square feet, although some cloud data centers now exceed one million square feet. Beyond the sheer size, hyperscale has become a transformative technology based on innovations like artificial intelligence (AI), network function virtualization (NFV), and containerization deployed on a massive scale. These elements combine to deliver the computing power and scalability needed for new applications like driverless cars, connected health, and “Industry 4.0” factory automation.

With internet traffic increasing ten-fold in less than a decade and data centers already consuming approximately 3% of the world’s electricity, many leading hyperscalers have pledged climate neutrality by 2030.

2. Augmented Reality

Unlike the more familiar virtual reality that places users into realistic, fictional worlds for gaming and entertainment, augmented reality (AR) weaves computer-generated elements into real-world experiences. Digital markers, overlayed images, and sounds are projected through eyewear, displays, or even windshields. AR also relies heavily on AI and high-speed computing to make digital features align with reality in time and space.

What are the applications for augmented reality?

Military applications of AR are already common and include super-imposed cockpit graphics in fighter jets and combat training programs with simulated enemies. As the technology and available bandwidth improves, augmented reality will become standard fare for car dashboards, interior design apps, and high-volume manufacturing. AR will eventually reshape education and healthcare, with classrooms becoming more immersive and doctors viewing detailed, strategically highlighted images of organs, arteries, and other bodily systems during surgical procedures.

1. Direct Air Capture (DAC) 

The emission of greenhouse gases must decline to curtail the effects of climate change, but carbon dioxide (CO2) can stay in the atmosphere for up to 1,000 years. Any practical solution must include innovation in the form of direct air capture (DAC). This technology uses a combination of chemical processes and heat to extract CO2 from ambient air, then either sequester (store) it underground or convert it into carbon neutral fuels.

What will it take for DAC to have an impact?

If you haven’t heard much about DAC yet, you are not alone. The 18 plants in existence today only capture a paltry 0.01 Mt CO2 per year - just a blip on the radar screen compared to the 1000+ Mt scale needed to move the needle. However, this technology has the potential to reach 60 Mt CO2 captured per year by the end of the decade (an impressive 6000-fold increase) and should continue to ramp from there.

Although it is just one piece of a complex puzzle, improved sequestration processes, private investment, international collaboration, and innovation to improve efficiency will make direct air capture a significant technology by mid-century.

1. Rural Broadband 

With over 14 million U.S. residents lacking access to broadband internet service, rural broadband is another essential application of new-age innovation. Rural broadband bridges the “digital divide” through a combination of ambitious investment and new technology. Fundamental services that require a broadband connection include e-commerce, online education, and telehealth visits. Broadband access for farmers also enables precision agriculture techniques to maximize yields and reduce waste.

Starlink, a division of SpaceX, has garnered attention for their growing constellation of satellites designed to deliver high-speed WiFi (News - Alert) from low earth orbit (LEO). Despite the promise of satellite-based rural broadband, this method cannot bridge the gap completely. Conventional broadband wireless networks, new fiber optic deployments, and hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) networks must all play a part to make universal broadband coverage a reality.

Where Will it Lead Us?

These under-the-radar 21st century innovations may not appear to have much in common, but each continues to build momentum based on the same ambitious goal: Transform existing technology to make it more useful, accessible, and sustainable for generations to come.

While still in their infancy, these examples show how even lesser-known technologies will have a significant impact on the world around us for decades to come.

Author:

Bret Palmer has worked in the tech industry for the past 14 years. He has successfully filled roles from business systems analyst to cyber security manager. He currently works as a content creator where he covers a wide range of technology related topics. When not at work, Bret enjoys playing pickleball, frisbee golf, and going on walks with his dog Chance. 



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