As with any year ending, we often take the time to think about how far we’ve come and where we’re headed. At least the world isn’t ending, right? What we tend to forget is the fact that we already live in the future. We may not have flying cars (yet), but we have phones that talk to us and robots that mop our floors. Our science fiction utopia can’t be that far off, can it? We found four pieces of tech we’re confident we’ll be seeing more of in the next year or two.

Mecha

Mecha are the, shall we say, more fantastic side of robots, the kind of walking weapons you’d see in shows like Gundam and Robotech, and more recently in films like Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming Pacific Rim (if you haven’t seen it, watch the trailer). Just answer this question: If you could be inside a giant robot monster, wouldn’t you wreak wanton havoc upon your enemies? Of course you would. Hence their everlasting appeal.

While you probably won’t see the kind of mecha that stand at skyscraper height anytime soon, 2012 was a red-letter year for the mech genre thanks to a certain Kuratas. The 13-foot tall, $1.35 million mech warrior went on sale last month. It features all the requisite equipment: rocket launcher shoulder pads and machine gun arms. It can be piloted from inside and, naturally, via smartphone. This is only the beginning.

Cloaking devices

Cloaking devices and invisibility cloaks have a storied history in both science fiction and fantasy. The human mind thrills at the thought of moving around completely undetected, and we have countless stories that employ the device in a myriad of ways, from ancient Norse legend all the way down to Harry Potter.

Unfortunately, actual scientific inquiry into whether or not that sort of thing is even possible is very much in its infancy. But this year, scientists were able to effect actual invisibility by manipulating the electromagnetic spectrum around a small object. You had to be observing the object from a single direction, sure, but it’s something.

While this isn’t the sort of thing you’ll likely see (or not see?) on the street anytime soon, the next few years could see increased military interest that can really push the research.

Self-driving cars

While robotics of the stripe that envisions automata walking among us is a little further off than we’d prefer, the idea of self-driving cars has gotten incredible traction in the last several years. Google has already demonstrated that they can create a driverless car that can perform better on the road than one piloted by a human being.

Right now, driverless cars are street legal in California, Nevada, and Florida. However, there are still questions to be answered. Namely, how might law change to reflect our understanding of “driver” when the car itself is doing all the work? And if an accident does happen, in what ways is he or she liable? In the coming years, those questions will have to be addressed in earnest.

3D-printed human tissue

Actually growing human tissue in a lab is maybe one of the scarier ideas in modern medicine, but it’s also one that desperately needs further study. Growing tissue to treat injuries, repair and replace organs, and maybe someday even grow limbs, could be the breakthrough that can eventually treat victims of disease and war.

But imagine printing that tissue in a machine as opposed to growing it in a petri dish. While Makerbot hasn’t signed up quite yet, scientists are currently working on ways to 3D-print human tissue in the hope of one day manufacturing human organs on demand.

Scientists are currently developing the tools needed to tailor printed tissue for such applications as burn wounds or creating new blood vessels from scratch. But as we move beyond fixing the human body to improving upon it, what kind of ethical concerns might be raised?

Invisibility photo via PopSci