About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

A year on from the publication of our 2014 predictions series, what progress have we seen in the extreme volunteering landscape or impending robot takeover? Here are a few highlights from last year’s forecasts.

Tricorder diagnostic device

While we haven’t seen a diagnostic device worthy of the Star Trek tricorder materialise just yet, some promising technology is emerging from the $10m X Prize. In September 2014, ten finalists were selected to demonstrate their devices (which included handheld scanners and wristbands) on humans within the next year. Of course, Nesta entered the diagnostics arena too with the launch of the Longitude Prize 2014. The £10million prize is on the hunt for a cost-effective, accurate, rapid and easy-to-use test for bacterial infections to aid in the fight against antimicrobial resistance.

Extreme volunteering

Our most popular prediction of 2014 suggested that volunteering would move away from the soup kitchen and become an integral part of how our communities operate. We saw some fantastic progress in the volunteering sector in 2014. A few noteworthy examples include the Kings College Hospital model of volunteering, which expanded into six new hospitals, an additional 200 carers signed up to adult care network SharedLivesPlus and the youth volunteering programme City Year doubled its membership.

Virtual reality

We came so close to finally realising the long-awaited promise of virtual reality in 2014. Unfortunately the consumer version of the Oculus Rift headset failed to launch. But even though VR didn’t quite reach mainstream penetration, there’s still plenty of momentum behind the sector and we’re pretty confident we weren’t too far off the mark. Facebook acquired Oculus for $2 billion in March (raising a few eyebrows from the Kickstarter community who raised $2.4million in equity-free contributions to develop the headset). The Gear VR headset, an Oculus/Samsung partnership, launched just in time for Christmas and there’s plenty more VR hardware in the pipeline. Sony is working on its own system, Project Morpheus, while Google has developed Google Cardboard, an open source printable headset.

Robots get real

Last year we suggested that 2014 would be the year the general public started to notice the robots walking among us – or more specifically, the robots looking to make us redundant – and the debate on automation would heat up. We certainly saw the discussion on human vs robot workforces play out.

In May, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos announced that the number of robots used in the online retailer’s warehouses would jump from 1,000 to 10,000 by the end of the year. A report by Pew Research revealed a 50:50 split between AI experts on whether they were optimistic or worried about the impact of automation on the workforce. Our own research suggests UK jobs are far less at risk from automation than those in the US. For more thoughts on the future of the robot economy, check out our book Our Work Here is Done.

Read all of our 2014 predictions, and browse our new list of the 10 social trends and tech breakthroughs set to shape our lives in 2015.