From human biology to humanoid robots, we take you on a visual journey back through the year, with innovation an overriding theme.
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo
Some of the big moments in tech this past year ranged from space to spacey, and human biology to humanoid robots. Here's a collection of images that represent 2013's big stories, with innovation an overriding theme.
We've chosen the images for their impact. Robots have advanced and become more animalistic or human-like. Private companies have rocketed into space. And some of the images are arty expressions of our world through sculpture and light.
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, for example, billed as the world's first commercial space plane, notched an important milestone by firing its rocket engine during flight on April 29. It was a test flight at Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
During the flight, the space-ready passenger space plane detached from its dual-hull mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, at an altitude of 47,000 feet while being piloted by Mark Stucky and Mike Alsbury of builder Scaled Composites.
Filmmaking at the atomic level? IBM netted a Guinness World Record with a short movie made with a scanning tunneling microscope in what is surely the first movie explicitly starring atoms.
Called "A Boy and His Atom," this animated film features a small boy having a good old time as he bounces around, plays catch, and dances. The film, produced by IBM, was shot at the atomic level and features 130 atoms that were painstakingly placed, atom by atom, as the researchers shot 250 individual frames.
This large, mysterious, structure, which is being built by Google, is a planned showroom for GoogleX projects. Located on a barge just off Treasure Island, between San Francisco and Oakland, CNET's Daniel Terdiman sifted through a long paper trail to link the barge to Google.
The stories are legendary. Startups with no real business model and few prospects of building real companies went public in the late 1990s. Investors obliged, generating millions of dollars for corporate insiders, and before long, Silicon Valley had no shortage of firms bulging with cash and armed with little more than a pipe dream. They were the bubble years.
Fast-forward to the present. Twitter's IPO in November got off to a stunningly successful start for the company and investors alike. The Nasdaq, meanwhile, is now at a 13-year high, and multibillion-dollar valuations are being accorded to startups like Pinterest and Snapchat.
Photo by: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images / Caption by:
Saturn's six-sided storm
In space, weather is big and weird. This is NASA's Cassini mission's highest-resolution view of a six-sided storm clustered around Saturn's north pole.
Spanning 20,000 miles and whipping up winds of 200 miles per hour, this massive six-sided storm clustered around Saturn's north pole captured by NASA's Cassini mission is a sight to behold.
Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute / Caption by:
Printable bionic ear
Earlier this year, using off-the-shelf 3D printing tools, silver nanoparticles, and cell culture, scientists at Princeton University in New Jersey created a 3D-printed cartilage ear with an antenna that extends hearing far beyond the normal human range.
Google CEO Larry Page spoke softly from the stage at the Moscone Center West at Google I/O in May, entertaining an audience while laying out a tech utopia.
"Imagine how self-driving cars will change our lives and the landscape," he said as he extolled the virtues of his company's own work on automated vehicles. There will be "more green space, fewer parking lots, greater mobility, fewer accidents, more freedom, [and] fewer hours wasted behind the wheel of the car," he said.
"Technology should do the hard work, so people can get on doing the things that make them happiest in life," Page said.
In this rare image, taken on July 19, 2013, the wide-angle camera on Cassini shows Saturn's rings with Earth visible as a tiny point of light in the background.
Photos like this are very rare, this is only the third time our planet has been photographed from the outer solar system. Cassini was able to take this image, NASA said, because the sun had temporarily moved behind Saturn from the spacecraft's point of view and most of its light had been blocked. Just like our eyes, the camera's extremely sensitive sensors can easily be damaged by looking directly toward the sun.
Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute / Caption by:
The multilegged robot, developed by Germany's Research Center for Artificial Intelligence and the University of Bremen, shows the advantages of actuated multi-point-contact feet, using a suite of sensors to monitor precise movements of the foot and ankle structures.
The result is an advanced balance and locomotion system inspired by physiology, which gives the machine unusually natural movement. The robot can walk forward, backward, sideways, and diagonally, with smooth transitions.
DARPA this year unveiled its new Terminator-like Atlas robot, a frightening vision of the future. Atlas is designed to not only walk and carry things but can travel through rough terrain outdoors and climb using its hands and feet.
"Articulated, sensate hands will enable Atlas to use tools designed for human use," Boston Dynamics says. "Atlas includes 28 hydraulically actuated degrees of freedom, two hands, arms, legs, feet, and a torso."
"It's not an in-apt analogy to compare this to lightsabers," Harvard physics professor Mikhail Lukin said in a news release. "When these photons interact with each other, they're pushing against and deflect each other. The physics of what's happening in these molecules is similar to what we see in the movies."
In 2013, just about everything can be made into a robot. Harvard University researchers this year conducted the first controlled flight of so-called "RoboBees," which weigh less than a tenth of a gram.
Photo by: Kevin Ma and Pakpong Chirarattananon / Caption by:
By late August, millions of acres had gone up in smoke in the US, and as usual, California was one of the most active regions for wildfires. One of the largest fires of the year was near Yosemite National Park, where more than 2,000 firefighters were deployed to fight the fire, which grew to more than 255,000 acres. This image was taken by NASA's Aqua satellite on August 22.
Petri dishes have hosted all sorts of experiments, such as cultivating mold or breeding amoeba. But now, truly futuristic events are happening in these circular glass plates -- most notably, growing brains.
The roughly 10,000 Glass owners who began testing the device earlier this year were then allowed to invite up to three people to buy the device. The early Glass users are primarily computer programmers and winners of an online contest conducted earlier this year.
The recipients of the invitations each paid $1,500 apiece for Glass, which works like a smartphone except that it's worn on the head like a pair of spectacles. The device includes a speaker, a hand-free camera and a thumbnail-sized display screen attached to the frame above the right eye.
When real, everyday people get a hold of Google Glass, they might be fascinated. But if it's in the context of a naked Robert Scoble in the shower, you might just get really freaked out, like we did. This image is one memory from 2013 that is regrettably seared into our brains.
The heads-up display augmented reality is so awkward, many just laugh when first confronted with someone wearing Glass. It might just be strange enough to make nerds nerdy again.
2013 was certainly a coming-of-age year for online music. Apple, with the launch of iRadio this year, might seem late to the streaming-music world, but really the digital music revolution is just getting going.
The current king of Internet radio, Pandora, let us know how big it was when iRadio launched. Pandora, then, boasted 200 million registered users, 70 million of whom are regular listeners, and 5 billion stations created. Even Nokia -- that's right, Nokia -- trotted out a VP who suggested Apple was playing catch up, proclaiming, "We launched our streaming radio service in 2011."
Spotify also has cut deals with automakers Ford and Volvo, ensuring the music-streaming service is available with some new vehicles. The company also is seeking partnerships with Internet providers and wireless companies to find ways to bundle its service, which has played a key role in some of its success in European markets.
After taking off from the Bush, the Navy said, the X-47B made several planned low approaches to the carrier (under the control of an operator aboard the ship) off the coast of Virginia and then flew across Chesapeake Bay to land at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., after an approximately 65-minute flight.
But the X-47B wasn't done carving out notches in naval history. Two months later, on July 10, it made its first arrested landing, no easy feat, also on the Bush -- that is, like piloted planes that land on a carrier, it used a hook on the underside of its fuselage to catch a cable stretched across the flight deck.
According to reports in The Washington Post and The Guardian, the NSA has been tracking online information from Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others. The program specifically grants "intelligence services direct access to the companies' servers" and that "from inside a company's data stream the NSA is capable of pulling out anything it likes."
Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, Expedition 34 flight engineer and David Bowie cover artist, watches a water bubble float freely between him and the camera, showing his image refracted, in the Unity node of the International Space Station, on January 21.