Automatization at kitchen. AI technology preparing sweet cupcake with fresh cherry, blue background ...

HORIZONS

Space junk, robot chefs, Star Wars clones: The 6 best innovation stories of 2022

Our favorite futuristic reads from this year.

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This past year, long-form Horizons stories delved into the technologies that could dictate our future, including everything from cancer-destroying bacteria to a satellite-flinging launch station. Inverse’s in-depth reporting spanned forward-looking fields like artificial intelligence, renewable energy, robotics, and private space travel.

As 2022 comes to a close, a few stories stand out as the wildest, most inspiring breakthroughs. Here’s our list of the best Horizons stories of the year.

Space companies finally reckoned with their junk

Rocket Lab is developing reusable rockets to cut down on space waste.Rocket Lab

As the private space race heats up, entrepreneurs are beginning to tackle the elephant in the room: the massive amounts of waste they leave behind in the final frontier. In recent years, space magnates have decided to incorporate reusable components into their rockets, though it isn’t entirely out of environmental concern — they also want to reduce operating costs. Here’s how space companies are going green-ish.

A glimpse of the 21st-century gold rush

The Salton Sea in California could provide lithium to fuel the electric vehicle revolution.Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

As global demand for electric vehicles surges, it has become clear that we’re going to need tons of lithium for lithium-ion batteries. The sought-after metal is usually sourced from mines in Latin America, Australia, and China, but the world’s supply is limited — hence the recent sky-high lithium prices that are driving up the cost of EVs. But a solution to this dilemma could lie in a salt lake in California’s desert, where the lithium leftovers from geothermal plants may help satiate our appetite for EVs. Read the story here.

This classic sci-fi franchise is using AI to resurrect dead characters

A Ukrainian tech company is de-aging Mark Hamill with the help of AI.Rich Fury/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Star Wars fans may have noticed that the resurrected young Luke Skywalker sounded a bit strange in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. While some media outlets claimed that the CGI character had a completely synthesized voice, the production process wasn’t quite so simple. It was, in fact, based on Mark Hamill’s voice: A Ukrainian tech company fed an AI old audio recordings. This type of technology could change the film industry forever.

Getting to know 2022’s meme king

Boris Dayma helped bring a seemingly limitless AI tool to the masses, who can now create bizarre images like the ones above.Craiyon

If you spent any time on Twitter over the past year, you likely encountered mind-bending memes that feel like screenshots from a fever dream — take, for example, images of Yoda robbing a liquor store, Guy Fieri giving a TED talk, or an octopus assembling Ikea furniture. We can thank machine-learning engineer Boris Dayma for democratizing the meme-making AI platform, DALL-E Mini. Here’s how (and why) he did it.

Robots could rival human chefs

Scientists may have figured out how to give robots an important culinary skill. ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images

Automatons have gotten pretty good at preparing food, whether it be flipping burgers or assembling pizzas. But scientists have long struggled to give them a crucial culinary ability: taste. This past spring, a team from the University of Cambridge laid out a technique to help bots assess a key dish characteristic. But can human chefs ever really be replaced? Dig in here.

When we’ll get headache-free EV road trips

Greener yet easier road trips may be on the horizon.Viaframe/Corbis/Getty Images

Thanks to today’s wide selection of electric vehicles, cross-country road trips need no longer entail carbon-spewing cars. But treks in a Tesla or Nissan Leaf still aren’t as convenient as voyages done in gas-powered vehicles. EV chargers aren’t as ubiquitous as gas pumps, and it still takes a while to juice up an electric car. But the eco-friendly driving experience could eventually get a lot easier. Here’s when to expect an easier ride.

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