10 Innovations that Defined the Decade
By Engine Room Posted 2mth(s) ago Reading Time: A few minutes
It’s 2021 - the start of not just another year but also the dawn of (can-you-believe-it) a brand-new decade. Needless to say, a great deal has happened on our planet over the past ten years. Think: the reign of PokemonGo, the rise and fall of fidget spinners and yes, Leonardo Dicaprio finally winning an Oscar.
In our not-so-little world of engineering, plenty too has happened. In fact, we were taken by surprise at how some of today’s seemingly novel innovations were actually introduced much earlier in the 2010s, and vice versa. Take a walk down memory lane with us to rediscover 10 of our favourite decade-defining innovations, made possible only by feats of engineering.
2011 | Nanorobotics
Ushering in the 2010s was a big breakthrough in tiny engineering. With significant advances in nanotechnology, scientists were able to build nanobots so small they were almost invisible to the naked eye. And then, like a sci-fi movie coming to life, they learnt to control these nanobots inside a living, breathing body! Sounds creepy? Perhaps a little, but this development set the stage for nanobots serving as miniature surgeons today, assisting our doctors in repairing damaged cells or replacing entire intracellular structures in the human body. Pretty cool huh?
2012 | 3D Bioprinting
Yes, 3D printing is not exactly new. In fact, it was first imagined by physical chemist and writer David E. H. Jones in 1974, way before most of you reading this were even born. But hot off the press in 2012 was a critical development in 3D bioprinting, when otolaryngologist (read: eye, nose, throat doctor) Glenn Green bioengineered one of the first synthetic windpipes that saved three babies. The kids all suffered from the same fatal, no-cure condition that caused their windpipes to collapse periodically, and Little Kaiba Gionfriddo (pictured below) was the very first child in the world to benefit from the never-seen-before 3D printed devices that kept his airway open and literally gave him life.
2013 | Lab-Grown Meat
Now, before you die-hard carnivores roll your eyes at us, you have to admit that this fast-growing trend might just be the answer to solving two of mother Earth’s biggest problems: world hunger and carbon emissions. Ever since the first US$330,000 burger was eaten at a press conference in 2013, this meat substitute revolution, which involves some high-level tissue engineering, has taken the planet by storm and looks like it’s about to stay. Say hello to the future of food!
2014 | Electric Cars
Electric cars hardly make for a rare sighting today, but not too long ago, these vehicles were about as common as unicorns. Back then, commercially viable electric automobiles were under-performing and over-priced, making them both unappealing and inaccessible. It was only in 2014 that German giant BMW revolutionised the motor market with the I3, boasting optimal horsepower and a novel design that allowed drivers to use a single pedal to both accelerate and brake, resulting in a more energy-efficient ride.
2015 | Reusable Rockets
Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Elon Musk is a certifiable visionary. For years, his aerospace enterprise, SpaceX, chipped away at developing a reusable rocket system. They finally made history in December 2015, when their Falcon 9 rocket launched, delivered a payload into orbit, and landed back at Cape Canaveral. But what does this really mean, right? Well, rockets were historically one-time use engines, so the fact that they can be used more than once now can potentially save the space exploration industry billions of dollars. Plus, it could also come in handy if, you know, we ever need to abandon Earth and move to Mars.
2016 | Virtual Headsets
If you’ve ever dropped by the Engine Room booth at one of your school career fairs, you’ll know that we’re pretty big fans of the Oculus Rift. Since the launch of our special virtual tour experience featuring ExxonMobil and SSMC, we almost never go anywhere without it. Well, we got lucky because these commercial headsets only came into market a few years ago, after its crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter raised a whopping US$2.5 million. Believe it or not, the first rough prototype of the Oculus Rift was hacked together by one Palmer Luckey, in his parents’ garage no less. The then 18-year-old had an obsession with electronics and engineering, and today owns an American defense technology company. #MicDrop
2017 | Revolutionary Desktop Process
We can’t get through a list of decade-defining innovations without spotlighting this gift of genius from one of our partner companies, AMD. The AMD Ryzen is a line of flagship desktop processors that brought highly multi-threaded performance into the mainstream at an affordable price for the very first time. Ryzen processors won fast acclaim from technology analysts and reviewers, while gamers around the world rejoiced at the promise of superior graphics, improved per-core performance and new overclocking features. You get it if you’re a legit gamer, but if not, let’s move on.
2018 | Mobile Robots
If you happen to live around Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, you might have spotted a peculiar dog-like robot scurrying about not many months ago. The creature, known as Spot, was deployed to patrol the park in time where sharing space with fellow humans was dangerous, and raised more than a few eyebrows. In 2018, American engineering and robotics design company, Boston Dynamics, developed its canine cousin that was smaller and more agile. Aptly named SpotMini, the mobile robot was the firm’s first commercial product to market, built as an advanced navigator that could map its location, recognise and avoid obstacles, and climb and descend stairs. SpotMini might not be able to fetch your slippers, but give it an attachable snake-like arm and it can actually open the door for you. Say what.
2019 | Foldable Smartphones
Remember the Nokia Morph smartphone concept from 2008? Sci-fi nerds like us have been dreaming of foldable displays much longer and in 2019, that dream became a reality with products like the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Motorola Razr. A whole lot of engineering has gone behind the mechanical, moving system of these flexible panels, and while the first generation foldables are pricey and not yet perfect, they sure do offer a peek into the future - one that will surely be mind-bending. Geddit??
2020 | AI Powered Temperature Screening
Before we round up this list of ingenious innovations, we gotta get some of that #supportlocal flex in with the iThermo. This homegrown technology was ideated during the height of COVID-19, to help institutions perform large scale temperature screenings at speed. Manufactured by healthcare AI startup KroniKare, iThermo uses a smartphone fitted with thermal and 3D laser cameras, in tandem with an AI application to process and analyse the images to measure temperature, all while factoring in safe distance. Respect.
And there you have it - 10 engineering-empowered innovations that defined the decade. We can’t wait to see what the next 10 years has in store, and who knows, perhaps something of yours might make our list someday!