2014 Top Tech to Watch

We predict the technologies that will make headlines this year so you'll never be surprised

Introduction

News comes unexpectedly, unless it’s tech news. Most project information dribbles out over long periods, draining the surprise and delight from the event by the time it occurs.

It’s like watching a recorded football game when you already know the result. So we at IEEE Spectrum have trained our critical eye on the top 10 headlines of the next 12 months. These include a superfast wireless system, Chinese space launches, eerily silent electric race cars, and that recurring chestnut of tech news, the jet pack. By giving you the surprise and the delight now, we allow you to show the proper degree of detachment later on.

Honorable Mentions

  • Brits Dial “M” for Money

    There’s now a digital way to provide quid pro quo

    This year Brits will be able to text money to one another (a trick people have been doing in Africa for years). Under the program, which covers most bank accounts in the country, someone who wants to split the check or bail out a cash-strapped kid at university will need no more than the recipient’s mobile phone number. —Philip Ross

  • Take Two Apps and Call Me in the Morning

    Prescription-only smartphone apps arrive at the doctor’s office

    This year, patients throughout the United States will begin downloading the world’s first doctor-prescribed smartphone app. BlueStar, an app that helps diabetics control their blood sugar, has been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and some insurance companies will reimburse users for its cost. The FDA told the app’s developer, the Baltimore-based WellDoc, that a doctor’s prescription is necessary because the app doesn’t simply track the user’s activity, it also recommends actions based on the doctor’s treatment plan. —Emily Waltz

    Read an extended article about this prescription mobile health application.

  • Games Google Plays

    Will the search giant launch a game console this year?

    Google has struggled for years to become a major force in hardware, but it doesn’t take a marketing genius to see how a game console could expand the already immense reach of Google’s Android operating system.

    Buzz started after a Wall Street Journal story reported last June that the company is working on a game machine along with a smart watch. A spokesman for Google declined to comment on the rumors, but he noted the company’s May release of Google Play, a cross-platform game service and software development platform. “By building off of what Google is good at—mobile and cloud services—these game services help power great gaming experiences for users,” the spokesman says. If Google does enter the market, it will face stiff competition from Microsoft’s and Sony’s latest game systems—and possibly even from another company that’s rumored to be considering a move into the console market: Apple.

    —David Kushner

  • Jet Me Out of Here

    At last, we’ll have personal vertical transportation

    At last, we’ll have personal vertical transportation

    This year, half a century after James Bond first flew one, Martin Aircraft Co., of Christchurch, New Zealand, will begin selling a jet pack, of sorts: It uses not jets but rather a pair of ducted fans. It can fly 30 kilometers and is tentatively priced at US $250 000 (for armies) or $150 000 (for emergency rescue services). A consumer version will take a bit longer to get regulators’ approval. —Philip Ross

  • NASA’s Artful Dodgers

    A contest tests drones’ ability not to run into one another

    A contest tests drones’ ability not to run into one another

    Robotic aircraft from all around the United States will compete later this year near Edinburgh, Ind., to deter mine which can best sense other craft and avoid colliding with them. NASA is putting up a US $500 000 prize and plans a more challenging contest in 2015, for a prize of $1 million. —Philip Ross

  • Gooooooooaalll!

    High-speed cameras and smart watches will verify goals at the 2014 World Cup

    At this summer’s FIFA World Cup soccer tournament in Brazil, an electronic referee will join the whistle-blowing kind. GoalControl, of Würselen, Germany, will position 14 high-speed cameras on the field as part of its GoalControl 4D system. When the system detects that a goal has been scored, it will send a vibration and a text alert to officials’ watches. Miscalled goals should be a thing of the past. —Tekla S. Perry

  • 3-D Printing Prices to Plummet?

    High-end printers could proliferate when key patents expire

    While hobbyist 3-D printers are abundant and cheap, costing as little as US $300, companies still shell out tens of thousands of dollars for industrial-grade machines. These high-resolution fabricators make wedding rings, robotic hands, and countless more creations and components using a technique known as selective laser sintering, in which lasers fuse portions of a growing powder mass to erect a 3-D form. But this year, key patents on the technology, owned by 3D Systems, will expire. So expect competition to rise and prices to plummet. That could very well usher in the manufacturing revolution we’ve all been waiting for. —Ariel Bleicher

  • A Smartphone Meant to Last

    You may never have to throw away a handset again

    You’ll soon be able to buy a phone that outlasts its parts if Project Ara pans out. Ara, led by Google-owned Motorola Mobility, aims to make smartphones that users can upgrade or customize at will. Broken screen? Just snap on a new one. Sluggish memory? Pop in the latest chip. Ara’s designers have promised a developer’s kit by early this year, so it’s possible that handsets will go on sale before December. —Ariel Bleicher

Hover or tap on any of the headlines to read a brief description.