Analysis

Top tech trends to look out for in 2022

22nd March 2022
Sam Holland

As we approach the end of Q1, 2022, Electronic Specifier considers what this eventful new year has in store when it comes to the tech industry.

Of course, we are not just in a new year: we’re also just two years into the beginning of a new decade. And with this decade has come an exciting discovery about just how connected the world can be, owing to the need for remote working and video calls which skyrocketed as people practised physical distancing during the COVID lockdowns of 2020 and 2021.

It is no wonder that the world is now starting to see an increased focus, not only on the use of typical online working and socialising, but also on the use of the Internet in virtual reality, augmented reality, and other immersive technologies.

With that said, let’s start with what is perhaps the most obvious new technology trend of all…

The Metaverse

The inherent technology behind the Metaverse is not quite as new as many people would think: in fact, the Internet and virtual reality have existed in tandem (at least on a basic level) for years. After all, there are many VR games that enable online multiplayer, to name just one example of how the technologies can be combined.

With that said, what makes the Metaverse an exciting tech trend is that it will be far more immersive than just Internet-connected virtual reality – as well as augmented reality – combined: it is the start of a future in which the true potential of the Internet can be realised. As the academic paper ‘Educational applications of metaverse: possibilities and limitations’ defines the Metaverse:

“The 'Metaverse' refers to a virtual reality existing beyond reality. It is a compound word of ‘meta’, meaning transcendence and virtuality, and ‘universe’, meaning world and universe. This term refers to the digitised earth as a new world expressed through digital media such as smartphones and the Internet.”

Of course, the benefits of such a level of connectivity and immersiveness are innumerable: to expand on the concept of education in the Metaverse, which the above essay discusses, the enhancement of the metaverse will be invaluable to engineering and manufacturing. It will be equipped to offer better STEM training across the industry, as engineers in training will be able to have a ‘virtually’ hands-on experience of interacting with an industrial plant, factory systems, and so on and so forth.

The Linde Virtual Academy (LVA) is a strong example of how virtual reality is already being utilised in STEM training. The company is dedicated to VR-focused training in many industries, particularly oil and gas, and focuses on training in VR simulations. LVA explains that the Metaverse would be similar to what the company has already created itself, wherein a trainee works on a real-life replica of an industrial plant in virtual reality. “[T]his plant would be ever-changing, constantly online, and you would never know what to expect,” says the company's website. “Much like in real life, trainees could be presented with unpredictable obstacles … such as a fire or a hydrocarbon release or mechanical failures.”

The next frontier of 3D printing

Nowadays, it may seem odd to think that 3D printing was considered so novel, possibly even unrealistic, as it first entered the public eye in the 2000s. Nevertheless, various parts of the manufacturing industry will have been familiar with a 3D printer all the way back in the 1980s when rapid prototyping was first becoming a reality.

But by this current point in time, commercial 3D printers have even been on gift shop shelves for years! And still, this is only the start of what additive manufacturing, or AM (the umbrella term for all computer-aided product printing) can bring to the industry. Specifically, this is in the areas of construction: 3D-printed houses are being realised more and more. In fact, according to The Guardian, a Dutch couple became Europe’s first tenants of a 3D-printed home in 2021. And on top of this, the website of the smart home company GIRA discusses its first German 3D-printed home prototype.

And houses such as these, along with other examples of developments in 3D-printed buildings, are just part of the turning point that we are seeing throughout this decade: 2022 is seeing plenty of plans for the use of additive manufacturing in many areas of architecture. In fact, perhaps the advancement known as ‘Printfrastructure’ will be used as common parlance over time to describe the increase in 3D printing-based infrastructure. For now, however, Printfrastructure is the name of the technology used to develop HS2 (High Speed 2), the revolutionary UK rail system. Printfrastructure sees the process of computer-controlled robots developing 3D-printed concrete to build the structures of the train track.

As HS2’s media centre explains, the efficiency and robustness of such concrete may “not only significantly reduce the quantity of concrete required but also cut waste”. And still, the efficiency benefits of 3D printing do not end in the context of architecture and the like: one NGO, called TeenCrunch, is partnering with the manufacturing R&D company Sygnis S.A., as well as the AM software manufacturer 3YOURMIND, in an initiative to develop equipment and other resources for Ukraine as Russia continues to invade the country.

The initiative, called Tech Against Tanks, utilises the deployment and development of 3D-printed medical and defence technologies and other supplies in an effort to reduce the logistical difficulties that would come from traditional methods of production. To quote 3YOURMIND, the project “calls on the maker community to donate machines, materials, battlefield-ready application designs, funding, and production capabilities to bolster Ukraine’s defence measures and civilian aid”.

With such industrial and military applications being achieved by additive manufacturing, perhaps 2022 will even set the stage for commercial 3D printing to become a household technology over this exciting decade. Because again: it is telling that we are already seeing some shops selling 3D printers today.

Quantum computing

Last – but by far not least – in this list of top tech trends for 2022 is quantum computing (QC).

QC is the processing technology by which the limitations of even the most powerful supercomputers in the world can be surpassed. This is chiefly down to the fact that QC’s very method of calculations is fundamentally different in quantum computing than it is to supercomputing. While the latter utilises an enormous number of binary calculations (the ‘bits’ formed of 1s and 0s) for digital computation, the former outright uses ‘qubits’ (quantum bits) to expedite and enhance such digital computation.

The use of qubits, which are formed of the subatomic particles known as electrons and photons, enables digital computation that is carried out with entanglement. Entanglement is the process by which qubits (the photons) can be processed simultaneously in a quantum state (more information on which can be found by reading up on quantum algorithms and the use of lasers and other forms of light manipulation to utilise photons: quantum optics).

The efficiency that this achieves leads to an unprecedented use of parallelism, namely the process by which multiple computations can occur simultaneously. The result is that there are countless applications that may never be achieved with supercomputing alone.

Just some of quantum computing’s applications and industrial areas that will benefit throughout 2022 – and of course beyond – are as follows:

  • Machine learning and robotics

  • Pharmaceuticals and other fields of medical R&D

  • Financial, logistical, and further business area modelling

  • Climate change predictions

By far the most recent development in quantum computing, however, is in improving the very nature of qubits themselves – which, however phenomenal, typically experience EMI (electromagnetic interference) that burdens the use of quantum computing today.

Microsoft proposes that the solution to QC’s environmental challenges is to approach qubits with the use of topology (which the tech giant explains is the “branch of mathematics describing structures that experience physical changes such as being bent, twisted, compacted, or stretched, yet still maintain the properties of the original form”). Specifically, Microsoft’s proposed approach is in topological qubits, which are, to quote the software company’s site, “scalable and stable quantum bits” – owing to the spatial arrangements of subatomic particles that are achieved by making them topological.

As explained by Microsoft’s researcher and engineer Dr Chetan Nayak in the company’s announcement:

“We [Microsoft] hypothesise that the topological qubit will have a favourable combination of speed, size, and stability compared to other qubits.

“We believe ultimately it will power a fully scalable quantum machine in the future, which will in turn enable us to realise the full promise of quantum to solve the most complex and pressing challenges our society faces.”

And while quantum computing is already proving invaluable, 2022’s developments into the technology – of which Microsoft’s is one of many – appear to be pivotol. In fact, the metaverse, breakthroughs in 3D printing R&D, and all manner of quantum computing advancements provide just three of the countless glimpses into the future that science and engineering is letting us see today.

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