Technology trends in 2015

27 January 2015

The pace of change is speeding up, with new technologies and ways of living appearing ever more frequently. Some are good, some are bad and some never really take off.



Saga magazine’s experts choose which interesting, useful or simply startling new things they think will be in all our lives by this time next year.

Drones will fill the skies

Once the preserve of the military, drones or UAVs – unmanned air vehicles – have already made the headlines, when a privately owned one had a near miss with a passenger jet at Heathrow late last year. And, unless the Civil Aviation Authority tightens its rules, this year the heavens could be full of them.

Amazon is testing a service called Amazon Prime Air, where drones drop off packages right to your doorstep within 30 minutes of ordering.

And it’s not just commercial companies that are in on the trend. Currently anyone can buy their own drone, with prices starting at around £30. The Hexo+, coming in May, doesn’t even need a human pilot to guide it. This clever camera copter, controlled via your smartphone, can lock onto a moving subject and automatically track it, shooting the action at speeds of up to 70km/h.

Goodbye to passwords

Are you fed up with having to remember dozens of different passwords? Well, soon you might never have to again.

The dream of a password-less world came one step closer recently when the California-based FIDO (Fast Identity Online) Alliance published draft specifications for a new standard that will provide secure access to websites and services, such as online banking, without the need for traditional log-in credentials. The system will likely use a combination of hardware and biometric identifiers, such as fingerprint recognition. And as well as saving us hassle, the system will also be much harder for hackers to crack, compared with usernames and passwords.

FIDO is working closely with big industry names, including Google and PayPal, so we’re hopeful that by this time next year we’ll be able to kiss passwords goodbye for ever.

Cars that drive themselves

Driverless cars have been a dream of the tech industry for about as long as jetpacks and colonies on Mars. The difference is: they are coming soon.

Google has built up a miniature fleet of cars modified with $150,000-worth of state-of-the-art gadgets, including their Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) system, which uses lasers to generate a constantly updating 3D map of the space around the car. A 2012 video showed their ‘Google Chauffeur’ car taking a blind man out to run errands – just one of its many potential applications.

It’s not just Google, either – BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Honda and Chrysler are all developing driverless vehicles.

Autonomous vehicles are already legal in several US states, while Business Secretary Vince Cable announced last year that they would be permitted on British roads from early 2015. Various cities have been invited to bid for £10 million in funding to carry out trials over the next 18-24 months.

 

Microsoft launches Windows 10

It’s no secret that Windows 8 has been a bit of a flop. It was Microsoft’s attempt to create a universal operating system for PCs, tablets and smartphones – but instead, thanks to a confusing interface and removal of familiar controls, such as the Start menu, it was just universally loathed. And it didn’t help that many of us were forced into upgrading to it when Microsoft killed off Windows XP last year.

But we have big hopes for its successor, due out later this year. Windows 10 (no one’s sure what happened to Windows 9) is currently only at the preview stage, but it’s already clear that Microsoft has been listening to criticism. And, yes, the Start menu is making a comeback, thank heavens!

 

The Big Bang Theory unravelled

In March this year, NASA’s spacecraft Dawn will enter orbit around Texas-sized dwarf planet Ceres, an enigmatic world of rock and ice in the doughnut-shaped asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The probe, powered by an advanced NASA technology known as ion propulsion, has already studied the massive asteroid Vesta.

Differences in geology between these protoplanets that formed and evolved in different regions of the solar system under very different conditions will shed new light on the processes that operated more than 4.6 billion years ago, during the first few million years of the evolution of our solar system.

 

Heating your home the smart way

The ‘internet of things’ may just sound like another tech-industry buzz phrase, but the principle is actually very interesting. The idea is that devices around your home – including your central heating – can be connected to the web, usually through your home Wi-Fi, making them ‘smarter’, and allowing you to control them remotely.

One of the biggest companies behind smart thermostats is Nest, founded by iPod creator Tony Fadell in 2010 and bought by Google for £2 billion in January 2014. The Nest thermostat senses when you are out and turns down the heating. You can also control it from your smartphone so your house is toasty when you get in, or if you’re going to be out late, you can turn the heating off and save money.

 

Robots will rule the roost

Clever home-security devices, such as Canary and the Withings Home, are bringing absent householders peace of mind. The devices keep track of things while you’re away or in a different part of the house. Canary has all sorts of neat sensors to alert you via text if anything is amiss at home. Usefully, it analyses normal home activity and learns to ignore your pets, to avoid vexing false alarms.

Science fiction is full of helpful household robots, but one US tech company is planning on making them a reality by the end of 2015, thanks to a crowdfunding campaign. Jibo is a cute-looking intelligent device designed to be a personal assistant and family companion. You can speak to it, ask it questions and, with its two hi-res cameras and facial tracking technology, get it to take photos or host Skype calls, even if you’re moving around. It can recognise faces and will deliver messages and reminders to specific family members. It’s like having your own C-3PO but without the nagging.

 

Cashless phone payments

In fact, this has been possible for some time now in the US – Google Wallet launched in 2011, letting people tap and pay for goods and services with a compatible Android device.

So far, the dream of cashless payment hasn’t gained huge traction, but that could all change now that Apple has thrown its hat into the ring with its Apple Pay system. The iPhone 6 has the potential to make mobile payments built-in, as well as the extra security of a built-in fingerprint scanner to verify your identity. You’ll eventually be able to pay for items using an iPad or the new Apple Watch, too. Currently, there is no UK date for either Google Wallet or Apple Pay, but Apple is expected to launch its service here later this year. 

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