2. NASA Starts to Work on a Faster-Than-Light Warp Drive Full sizeSpeaking at the 100 Year Starship 2012 Public Symposium earlier this year, physicist Harold White stunned the aeronautics world when he announced that he and his team at NASA had begun work on the development of a faster-than-light warp drive. His proposed design, an ingenious re-imagining of an Alcubierre Drive, may eventually result in an engine that can transport a spacecraft to the nearest star in a matter of weeks — and all without violating Einstein's law of relativity. Though still in the proof-of-concept phase, White and his colleagues are trying to turn theory into practice — and potentially change the nature of space travel as we know it.
4. The Earth Experiences its First True Superstorm Back in 1999, Art Bell and Whitley Strieber published a book titled The Coming Global Superstorm. It predicted that global warming would eventually result in sudden and catastrophic climatic effects — including the onset of unusually large storms. Now, 13 years later — although some are still loathe to admit it — the Atlantic Ocean experienced its first bona fide superstorm. Sandy was a colossal hurricane that occupied a space measuring 1.8 million square miles (4.6 million square kilometers), and stretched from the Mid-Atlantic to the Ohio Valley, and into Canada and New England. It may have been the first, but it certainly won't be the last.
5. The World's First Cybernetic Hate Crime Occurs at a McDonalds in France Full sizeSteve Mann, the "father of wearable computing," was physically assaulted while visiting a McDonalds in Paris, France. The Canadian university professor was at the restaurant with his family when three different McDonalds employees took exception to his "Digital Eye Glass" device and attempted to forcibly remove it from his head. Mann was then physically removed from the store by the employees, along with having his support documentation destroyed. It was the first ever recorded assault of a person instigated by the prominent display of a Google Glass-like wearable computer.
6. Augmented Reality Goes Mainstream Speaking of Google Glass — this was the year that augmented reality finally hit the big time. Back in April, Google unveiled preliminary designs and a short concept piece showcasing the technology — an initiative to create smart shades straight out of Vernon Vinge's Rainbows End or Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson'sTransmetropolitan. Soon thereafter, beta testers could be seen cruising the streets of California with their sweet wearable devices.
8. The First Successful Commercial Cargo Delivery to Space Goes Off Without a Hitch Full sizeEarly on the morning of October 10, SpaceX's supply-hauling Dragon capsule was successfully captured by astronauts aboard the International Space Station, marking the first-ever commercial cargo delivery to the manned space outpost. With 11 resupply missions remaining in the SpaceX/NASA contract, it seems the private company's billion-dollar delivery deal with The Agency is off to a good start — as is the prospect for commercial space flight in general.
9. An Electric Car is the Year's Best Full sizeIf anyone ever doubted that electric cars were the future, those concerns were officially laid to rest in 2012. Tesla's luxury Sedan, the Model S, captured one of the auto industry's most prestigious awards by taking home Motor Trend's Car of the Year honors. It marked the first time that an electric car has taken the top prize — a vehicle that doesn't run on gas or have an internal combustion engine.
10. Doctors Communicate With a Man in a Coma Full sizeBack in 2010, neuroscientists confirmed that it was possible to communicate with some patients locked in a vegetative state by using an fMRI scanner. Though limited, the breakthrough suggested that more meaningful dialogue with patients in a coma could someday be possible. And now, two years later, it finally happened. A Canadian man in a vegetative state used his thoughts to tell scientists that he is not in any pain, marking the first time a patient in such a condition has relayed information relevant to their care.
11. The First Large-Scale Geoengineering Project is Detected Off Canada's West Coast Full sizeThis wasn't how it was supposed to play out, but a massive and illegal geoengineering project was detected off Canada's west coast in October — the product of a "rogue geohacker" named Russ George. Backed by a private company, the U.S. businessmanunilaterally conducted the world's most significant geoengineering project to date by dumping around 100 tonnes of iron sulphate into the Pacific Ocean, a technique known as ocean fertilization. The experiment, which is in violation of two United Nations moratoria, outraged environmental, legal, and civic groups.
12. A Child Attends School By Sending a Robot in His Place Full sizeThe rise of telecommuting robots has increasingly allowed stay-at-home workers to create a virtual presence at their remote workplaces. It now appears, however, that working professionals aren't the only ones taking advantage of telepresence technologies: A six-year old boy with severe allergies from Seneca Falls, NY, is using a VGo robot to attend school — and it's an experiment that appears to be working. The technology is quickly attracting the attention of other educators, including districts in Colorado, Arkansas, and Pittsburgh. It may only be a matter of time before VGo and other telepresence robots will make their way into other schools.
13. A Paralyzed Woman Controls a Robotic Arm Using Only Her Mind Researchers made significant improvements to BrainGate this year — a brain-machine interface that allows users to control an external device with their minds. Cathy Hutchinson, who has been paralyzed from the neck down for 15 years, was able to drink her morning coffee by controlling a robotic arm using only her mind. Hutchinson is one of two quadriplegic patients — both of them stroke victims — who have learned to control the device by means of the BrainGate neural implant. It's the first published demonstration that humans with severe brain injuries can control a sophisticated prosthetic arm with such a system.
14. Self-Driving Cars Become Legal in Several States Slowly but surely we're entering into the era of the driverless car. 2012 marked an important year as three states made autonomous vehicles legal, including California, Nevada, and Florida. Upon signing the bill into law in California, Governor Jerry Brown said they're "turning today's science fiction into tomorrow's reality." Self-driving cars, once perfected and produced en masse, will help with traffic congestion and significantly reduce the chance of auto accidents through the use of GPS, radar, and other technologies.
16. Researchers Create the First Complete Computer Model of a Living Organism Full sizeStanford researchers created the first complete computational model of an actual organism — Mycoplasma genitalia, a sexually transmitted disease and the world's smallest free-living bacteria at 525 genes. The breakthrough represented a significant step forward in the field of artificial life - and the promise of developing entirely new organisms. Through future work, scientists may be able to develop new approaches for the diagnosis and treatment of disease — including the creation of yeast or bacteria designed to mass-produce pharmaceuticals — and to create personalized medicine. And in other computer news, researchers successfully simulated a nuclear explosion down to the molecular level.