Talk about self-driving cars has been around so long that it’s almost mundane. No one seemed to care that Waymo officially abandoned test drivers behind the wheels of its self-driving cars in Arizona back in November. That’s a huge deal. Waymo is launching a self-driving taxi service in the suburbs of Phoenix. For real!
The promise of self-driving cars means more efficient commutes, more free time, fewer traffic accidents, big leaps in AI, and all sorts of other game-changing advancements.
As far as getting these things out to the public goes, Tesla insists that its auto-pilot feature that offers limited self-driving capabilities will be ready to drive itself from California to New York very soon. That means Tesla owners would already have a self-driving car because the company just to push out a software update.
Don’t get too excited: This is a scary economic shift. A lot of people are going to lose their jobs. That’s a big factor in the dampened excitement. Also, with all that extra free time in the commute, demanding bosses are just going to expect more productivity.
Nintendo is good. We started the year with the gloomy death of the Wii U, an excellent console that never took off, and lots of talk about Nintendo’s shift to unimpressive mobile games. It’s hard to stress enough how much it seemed like the house that Mario built might go the way of Sega. Then the Switch happened.
The Switch did what Nintendo does best—it wasn’t too expensive, it offered a single gimmick, and it has some great games. It’s signature feature—going seamlessly from console play on the TV to mobile play—was useful and instantly made sense to millions of gamers. But what was most important is that software developers liked it. Ports of older games like Skyrim and Doom are actually fresh takes because they’re now mobile games that are almost as good as their counterparts on other consoles and PC. Indie developers are flooding the system with excellent games like Stardew Valley and SteamWorld Dig 2. And the games made by Nintendo, like Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, exceeded the usual high-quality to be the best reviewed of the year.
It hasn’t even been on the market for a year and the Switch has almost sold as many units as the Wii U. The SNES Classic beat out all the other consoles on the market in sales for two months straight. And the new 2DS XL kept its huge library of games going for the foreseeable future.
While the PS4 and Xbox One are fine systems, their new iterations a virtually identical. This year they put out 4K upgrades that are powerful but don’t inspire very much excitement. Nintendo is different and we need it to keep giving the others some competition and continue being weird.
Don’t get too excited: Fuck it, be excited. Nintendo is good.
Augmented Reality/Mixed Reality
Virtual reality hasn’t really taken off in 2017 the way some had hoped. It’s far from dead, and Oculus is hoping to turn more people on to VR with a standalone headset that costs $200 next year. Still, its isolation, lack of eye-tracking, and tendency to induce nausea, are big hurdles to clear. Mixed reality is so much more interesting in that it wants to incorporate virtual objects and experiences with the real world, solving a lot of VR’s problems and offering different possibilities. 2017 brought us further progress in the field.
In the most modest development, Apple went all in on augmented reality with its new iPhones and ARkit for developers. The iPhone’s capabilities with AR aren’t going to go much further than Pokemon Go-style overlays on real-world environments for a while, but Apple’s slowly adding sensors that will improve the phones capabilities and the most important part is that developers are putting together applications. For now, we can only expect to see some rudimentary redecorating apps and small but useful tools like the AR measuring tape. But remember, the first million or so iPhone apps were just fart simulators. There are also those reports that Apple is planning to drop its AR headset in 2019.
Microsoft has continued to quietly plug away with work on HoloLens, its mixed reality headset. Developers have had their hands on the early prototypes for quite some time, and they sporadically showed off cool demos that were inspired by Super Mario, Lemmings, and Portal. Microsoft also made some baby steps with a line of inexpensive but impressive VR headsets in partnership with other companies that simulate how mixed reality might work.
And finally, Magic Leap showed off its long-delayed mixed-reality headset and promised its coming to developers in 2018. It’s not as bulky as we feared and based on reports it appears that virtual objects will have a sense of permanence and presence we’ve never encountered before.
Mixed reality wants you to blow holes in the walls of your living room with a laser gun, have a pet cartoon dog that permanently roams around your house, build virtual sculptures on the coffee table, fill your surroundings with as many monitors as you can ask for, and allow you to walk down the street in the real world alongside avatars of people who are sitting in their living rooms.
Don’t get too excited: Mixed reality has a long way to go, so don’t expect to be walking down the street with the Iron Giant anytime soon. And let’s face it, the world promised in Ready Player One sounds pretty awful, so the longer we have to think about this the better.