IEEE Spectrum magazine in their January issue compiled a special report on Top Technologies that are likely to change the future in 2012; these 14 stories of technology are prominently in this year’s tech headlines.

1. Retinal Prosthesis

Finally in 2012 people can have retinal prosthesis to send images to their optic nerve. The future of vision for the blind is already here, thanks to the electrodes that bring eyesight to the needed. The electrodes take the place of damaged photoreceptors and stimulate the cells that are attached to the optic nerve.

After 13 years of product development, the Second Sight medical Products’ Argus II Retinal prosthesis System is now hitting market. ~ Eliza Strickland

2. China’s Supercomputers

China’s homegrown supercomputers are the excel of 2012 technology. This year, China’s chips will power the Dawning 6000. The first high performance computer to harness the power of a homegrown chip, the Shenwei SW1600 has already hit the headlines – the supercomputers that China can truly call its own.

As of now, the supercomputers like Tianhe-1A (2010), Sunway BlueLight MPP (2011) are already debuted in Top500, and we wait to see Dawning 600 in June 2012 which features Godson-3B CPUs processors.

3. LEDs for Less

In 2012, there will finally be a first-rate LED bulb you can afford. ~ Richard Stevenson, IEEE Spectrum

Philips has been working on LED bulbs that could generate light intensity equivalent to that of the traditional incandescent bulb and yet high come up with lasting lifetime at the same time. The LED market is awash with devices following a production ramp0up in China, which is making great efforts to cut energy consumption. This year 2012, you will for the first time be able to to afford an LED bulb that’s clearly superior to a CFL, it will give off a nice warm glow, work with your dimmer switch, use energy frugally and when you finally replace it after 15 years, you can just throw it in the dustbin.

4. Window 8

Many of us have already started using Developer’s version of Windows 8 – Microsoft’s game-changing and never-before experienced next generation Operating System. Windows XP was a huge success, Vista total failure, 7 couldn’t uplift the bad market of Vista; and now is the time for Win8 – the going to leapfrog the industry of computing and the consumer desktop market. Windows 8 is going to be the first OS to run equally in all devices irrespective of the firm – from a tablet to a traditional desktops to a smart phone.

The user can touch the tablet’s screen or use a keyboard and mouse to work the external screen.

Read: Top 10 features of Windows 8

5. Plug-ins Proliferating

Plug-in Electric Vehicle technology

Plug-in Electric Vehicle technology, img from Spectrum

Might look crazy, but this year plug-in cars will start to seem normal, according to David Schneider’s article in IEEE. Smart electric vehicles like Mitsubishi’s all-electric i_MiEV, Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, Tesla Roadster, Toyota RAV4 etc etc, are already in the market.

The number of plug-in cars on US roads is expected to rise sharply over the next few years- though not sharply enough to meet President Obamas stated goal of 1million by 2015. ~ Pike Research

6. 3-D Printing

People have been talking about 3D printing possibilities since long. This year 3D printing will go from prototyping to production since the promise of 3D printing is tantalizing. Full realization of that promise remains a long way off, but the bandwagon is rolling with many 3D printed objects and research still on.

7. EV Charging Stations

As of now we are using gasoline or petroleum to fuel up our vehicles, but 2012 is likely to test the feasibility of EV charging stations. So, electric vehicles will be fuelled up with direct current from public stations now. 8 years and 100,000 miles are set as auto battery warranty goal.

8. 3-D Integrated Circuits

In 2012, 3-D chips will help extend Moore’s Law – and move beyond it. Faster, cheaper, miniaturized chips/ICs getting more innovative this year. Intel (with its FinFET), IBM (training Watson to be a doctor), Texas Instruments (with their 2.5D the simple stacking configuration) and others; just wait 3D ICs will change the future. Let’s see if Nokia will come up with fully flexible (rotatable/folding) smart phone which they prototyped previously.

9. Private Spacecraft

This year commercial spaceflight will really take off ~ James Oberg.

Got enough bucks and a reason, take a rid to space craft. The tourist spaceship is expected to get airborne in 2012. Some spaceships that will be in ready positions are SpaceShipTwo from Virgin Galactic, Lynx from Xcor Aerospace, New Shepard from Blue Origin, Dragon from SpaceX, Dream Chaser from SIerra Nevada Corp and A variant of a Soviet spacecraft from Excalibur Almaz.

10. Exoskeletons for Paraplegics

Now everybody can be a normal being – walking again. Ekso Bionics (formerly Berkeley Bionics) is selling out its Ekso suit to rehab clinics to allow patients with spinal cord injuries to train with the device. Several models are at-home physical therapy are supposed to be out this year.

People talk about robots taking over, especially in factories, and taking away our jobs. But the way we see it is, if you can’t beat them, join them! – Eythor Bender, Ekso Bionic’s CEO

11. Fantastic 4G

Fantastic 4G proliferating elsewhere

Fantastic 4G proliferating elsewhere, img from Spectrum IEEE

Analog, then 2G, and now 3G and some are still lucky to have 4G with them. Hundreds of telecoms are investing in 4G LTE networks in 2012 and we are hopeful for the rapid deployment. Today’s LTE networks deliver data download rates about 10 times those of 3G while making more efficient use of the radio spectrum.

Although LTE and WiMax both qualify as 4G networks (because they each use an all-Internet protocol scheme to streamline their architectures and boost data rates), now LTE is now favored as 4G. In future, they will be capable of delivering data, including digitized voice, in packets, just like on the Internet. For now, LTE is capable of handling only data. Voice calls are handled on an operator’s 3G or 2G network or by applications that use a different layer of the network to deliver Voice over IP (VoIP) like Skype. But upgrades that will start this year and continue thru 2014 will pave the way for always handling voice exactly like data.

Even tho’ WiMax handles voice just as it does any other data, the carriers that tried it out are now switching to LTE. So, why is LTE emerging as the clear favorite? One reason is capacity – promised 100 Mb/s peak download rate and efficiency.

12. Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography

Moore’s Law needs a hero. This year, we’ll see if the chip business’s designated savior – extreme ultraviolet (EUV) Lithography- is really up to the task. With radiation wavelength of 13.5 nanometers, the semiconductor industry has turned to EUV lithography, requires a series of optical tricks to write features. Does this mean chips will be produced even more cheaper and in more scientific way, let’s wait for 2012. And in alternative to EUV Lithography we still have a couple of technologies like Double/triple/quadruple patterning, Multiple electron beam (E-Beam), nanoimprint and directed self-assembly to compete to.

Many chipmakers are facing a crucial decision this year about which technology will see them through to smaller features and pitch sizes, thereby keeping Moore’s Law marching along.

13. Grid-scale Batteries

Energy is the agenda for years now; a battery as big as the grid is being realized and 2012 could mark the arrival of utility-scale battery storage, writes Jean Kumagai in Spectrum. While there are dozens of battery-based energy-storage projects going on, 2012 maybe a turning point for the electricity industry – where up to now, adding new capacity has always meant building an expensive new power plant.

Using a bank of batteries allows utilities to even out the supply of renewable electricity.

14. Another Earth

Scientists have been in search of alien worlds, and this year a new exoplanet hunter will see first light. The possibilities are fiber to feed starlight into a new detector – the High Accuracy Radial velocity Plant Searcher-North (HARPS-N), an ultraprecise spectrograph that is being assembled nearby, not far from a field of grazing horses.

Italy’s Telescopio Nazionale Galileo on La Palma, one of the Canary Islands, will host a new planet-finding instrument.

Modified from a original article Top Tech 2012 as published in IEEE Spectrum, Jan 2012.