Like the year before it, 2021 has been dominated by the global fight against coronavirus. But unlike 2020 when the pandemic first broke out, this year has seen a surge in innovations when it comes to battling COVID-19.
Governments and citizens have been largely pinning their hopes on the development of vaccines, which have been approved by health agencies and rolled out across the world this year.
While vaccines steal the limelight for 2021’s top innovations, we have seen many exciting developments in technology and science outside of the context of the pandemic. Here’s a look at the top innovations and inventions 2021 has brought us.
The speed with which coronavirus vaccines were developed, tested, and rolled out as the battle to contain coronavirus raged on has been hailed as one of the great scientific and social feats of the year.
The race to jab against COVID-19 saw mRNA vaccines approved for the first time in history, with Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines rolled out across much of the world.
MRNA vaccines work by introducing a messenger RNA molecule into the body, which causes cells to produce a protein that resembles one of the viral proteins in the virus it is intended to protect against.
Incredibly, perhaps the biggest vaccine development of 2021 had nothing to do with the coronavirus pandemic.
Scientists celebrated the historic approval of a vaccine for malaria, an illness that the World Health Organization (WHO) said had killed 627,000 people in 2020, and infected an estimated 241 million people.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the approval was "a historic moment". The jab is only around 30 percent effective, but scientists hailed the moment as a "huge step forward".
Needle-free COVID jab
Designed to ease the administration of COVID-19 vaccines, a needle-free inoculation is currently being tested in the UK.
The jab uses a jet of air that pushes the vaccine into the skin - which could provide an alternative for those with needle-phobia, the University of Southampton said.
The new coronavirus vaccine uses the University of Cambridge’s DIOSvax technology and could be scaled up and manufactured as a powder to boost global vaccination efforts if the trial proves successful.
COVID nasal spray
Another COVID-related innovation undergoing testing is a nasal spray designed to prevent COVID-19 infections.
"For the virus to enter the cell, it needs to undergo certain very specific chemical reactions," explained Rakesh Uppal, the chairman of Raphael Labs which is developing the spray.
"We've been able to find a way to manipulate that chemical reaction, and therefore stop the virus from entering, and it's fundamental to that virus," he said, adding that it appears effective no matter what strain of coronavirus it meets.
Bo.by incubator device for premature babies
The Bo.by device, developed at the Kunstuniversitat Linz university in Austria, helps premature babies have a sensory-rich bonding experience with their parents in situations when actual contact is not possible.
This could be due to their medical condition, hospital policy, or a pandemic or other issues.
Bo.by is a set of two wirelessly connected devices, one for the parent and the other a baby mattress inside the incubator.
Each device has sensors enabling collecting and sending data to the other, picking up touch, breast movement, vibration, heartbeat, body heat or smell. It means both parent and baby can experience indirect touch with the other.
Hands-free shoes are growing in popularity, with more companies developing footwear that allows people with certain disabilities - or anyone who doesn’t have their hands free - to slip them on without any trouble.
In 2021, Nike launched its GO FlyEase trainer, which has a hinge enabling it to open and close, allowing the user to put them on without the use of their hands.
Wind-powered street lamps
With the challenge of meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, our societies need to find ways to reduce our emissions in all facets of life.
One bright idea that’s been developed this year is a wind-powered street lamp.
Papilio is a lamp post with an integrated wind turbine that makes renewable energy and only lights up when needed.
This cuts not only emissions, but also light pollution. It has been tested at numerous locations in Berlin, and its creator says it easily produces enough renewable energy to light up.
Selfie stick camera that fits in your pocket
Travel may be disrupted for the foreseeable as the world deals with the Omicron COVID-19 variant, but for those that like taking selfies at home or abroad, the selfie stick had a modern update this year.
The IQUI offers 360-degree photos and videos with its four lenses, and a stand that lets you take pictures from all sorts of positions.
Three of the lenses shoot horizontally, and another points straight up, all on a thin 5.5 inch stick.
Mustang Micro guitar amp
One problem with playing the electric guitar is that in most cases a hefty amp is needed to be plugged in to create the required sound.
Now Fender has perhaps offered a way around lugging an amp to wherever you want to play, by producing one that could fit in a jacket pocket.
It simply plugs into the guitar, and with a pair of headphones you can jam away to 12 amp tones and 12 effects.