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Here's our most uplifting tech moments of 2014

We all know how great it is to get our hands on the latest gadgets, but it's easy to forget how technology can be used to help people in profound and life-changing ways.

The rate of innovation in the tech industry means that people are finding more amazing and innovative ways to improve people's lives, which is something that should definitely not be overlooked.

So, we decided to get the team together and each tried to pick our most uplifting tech moment from 2014.

Exo-skeleton allows Londoner to stand up and give speech at daughters wedding - Barclay Ballard

With the sheer number of smartphones and other gadgets striving to make our lives more convenient, it is easy to forget that technology can also offer life-changing improvements for those who need help the most.

Irving Caplan from west London lost the use of his arms and legs following a cycling accident in 2012 and thought he would never be able to stand again. However, with the use of a Rex Bionics exoskeleton, Mr Caplan was able to deliver his speech at his daughter’s wedding standing up.

Mr Caplan, who used to cycle up to 200 miles a week, explained how the exoskeleton allowed him to feel “normal again,” bringing him some relief from the frustration of being bound to his wheelchair.

Mr Caplan’s story may have caught the eye this year, but exoskeleton technology is already offering benefits to numerous people with disabilities, providing them with a sense of independence and supporting physiotherapy exercises and other methods of rehabilitation.

Higher resolution screens and wearable gadgets all bring improvements to our quality of life in their own way, but the Rex Bionics exoskeleton shows what a profound impact technology can have when applied in the right way.


Facebook's incredible £16 million donation to the Ebola Crisis - Darren Allen

For me, the most uplifting moment of this year was Facebook’s response to the Ebola crisis (and for that matter, the response of the tech industry in general).

The Ebola epidemic began in March of this year, hitting West Africa and spiralling into a truly terrible number of deaths, with that number now standing at around the 7,000 mark (with far more having been infected by the disease, of course).

When the virus took hold and media reports brought it to the attention of the world at large, big tech responded on numerous fronts.

Microsoft pledged to provide free cloud computing resources and Microsoft research tools to aid in the quest for a cure to the virus. IBM joined the battle against the disease, using its data crunching supercomputers to help track the spread of Ebola.

And then in November, Facebook stepped forward with a raft of schemes to help out, led by a highly visible Donate feature which allowed denizens of the social network to give money to three non-profits working in West Africa (International Medical Corps, Red Cross and Save the Children).

Facebook also partnered with UNICEF to highlight accurate health information regarding the spread of the virus, and was also part of a scheme to help with communication for aid workers in the affected areas. CEO Zuckerberg also donated $25 million (£16 million) to fight the disease.

Facebook gets a lot of flak, primarily for being a user-snooping, data-peddling monster - which it certainly is - but it’s easy to forget the good that the social network can, and often does, also do.

A personal reminder for us was also when a friend’s dog was lost a couple of weeks ago, and then found again – via a Facebook post and picture. Before the days of social media or indeed the internet, this sort of thing was a harder, much more convoluted process.

There are definitely some prominent positive facets to Facebook, and its response to the Ebola crisis made them shine brightly.


Philae landing - Fadil Pašić

There have been a lot of great achievements this year, including the sense of touch that’s been successfully restored to an amputee. Wow!

But when it comes to science and technology, the most uplifting moment of 2014 for me has to be the Philae probe landing.

It's such a great achievement: A trophy for ten years of hard work and dedication, and as close as we will ever get to recreating the movie Armageddon.

The day the probe was to land, I had Aerosmith’s "I don’t Want to Miss a Thing" YouTube video on repeat, and while mad men kept killing each other in Ukraine, Syria, The Gaza Strip, Libya, a small group of people quietly worked on one of humans’ greatest achievements so far.

Talk about restoring faith in humanity.

Sending a satellite into space is big of a task in its own right, but attaching a probe on it, then flying it through space for ten years, aligning it with a speeding comet going 135,000 kilometres per hour, then detaching the probe and landing it onto something that has no gravity of its own, so the entire human race could benefit from the information gathered, it’s just so overwhelming.

And here I am, trying (and failing) to successfully land my drone on a parked car.

Philae probe

Using tech to track and control the Ebola outbreak -  Jamie Hinks

Technology companies were some of the most active in taking the fight to the Ebola virus that is having a profound impact on three countries in West Africa. Some of the planets largest technology firms are using everything from mobile phone capabilities to big data and cloud analytics systems to discover vaccines that are able to prevent the disease spreading.

One of the first solutions was the Trilogy Emergency Relief Application [Tera] that enables the Red Cross and Red Crescent to send SMS messages to all handsets in a certain area to warn citizens of the dangers of Ebola.

Sierra Leone, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia and Burkina Faso are all on track to benefit from its roll out.

IBM, focusing on Sierra Leone, rolled out a mobile phone based system that is able to track the disease on a case-by-case basis by using reports sent by SMS or voice calls from citizens in the country. Big Blue then chucked this information into its supercomputers to find patterns or correlations, and it has already led to results in some parts of the country.

Microsoft, meanwhile, chose to allow vaccine discovery researchers to use its Azure cloud computing service free of charge in order to try and find a way to stem the disease.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also pledged some $25 million to the effort and all in all the fight against Ebola has been made that little bit easier by technology lending a helping hand.


A way to clean the world's oceans proved viable - Nathan Chai

2014 was an amazing year for tech, with a huge number of social enterprises utilising technology to help better the world.

However I had to choose just one, and that’s Boyan Slat’s ocean clean-up program. Basically the Ocean Cleanup team have created a filter-like device that makes the world’s oceans clean themselves of all the rubbish that we’ve dumped into it over the years.

Although the program was first publicised two years ago at TEDx, there were a number of sceptics that highlighted a number of possible flaws or aspects of the plan. Instead of charging on regardless, Boyan and his team have actually addressed all the issues bought forward by the critics and found that their plan (and machine) is viable!

The project has already raised over $2 million dollars (£1.3 million) the project will take the tonnes of plastic collected by the filter and recycle it, turning it back into oil, clothing and a variety of other stuffs.

ocean clean up

Heart surgery on an infant enabled by 3D printing - Sam Pudwell

This was quite and easy choice for me and comes from across the pond in New York City.

Surgeons at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital successfully completed heart surgery on a two-week old baby, thanks to the role of 3D-printing.

Using data from MRI scans, surgeons printed a 3D model of the child’s heart which allowed them to study the organ before the operation and devise a detailed strategy.

Dr. Emile Bacha, who performed the surgery, said: “In the past we had to stop the heart and look inside to decide what to do. With this technique, it was like we had a road map to guide us. We were able to repair the baby’s heart with one operation.”

3D printing has improved dramatically in recent times, especially after become commercially available, but this really is an incredible example of how technology can be used to save people's lives in ways that you might not have even considered.


Do you agree with our choices? Let us know in the comments section.