While some went bigger than others when it comes to ground-breaking new technology (space race, we’re talking to you), each of the companies below made big waves in their field and helped set a global trend that others will follow in the year ahead, and well beyond. And hey, trends are sort of our thing. Follow us below as we take a look back at 10 companies that really blew us away this year.
As we look back years from now, space exploration may well be divided into two eras: The time before recyclable rockets, and the time after. That divide was solidified in 2015, so it’s no coincidence that two of the companies on our list were chosen due to major breakthroughs in reusable rockets.
On November 23, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin became the first to launch a rocket that reached past the edge of earth’s atmosphere and landed back on its own launch pad safely and soundly. Bezos celebrated the milestone achieved by his New Shephard rocket with his first tweet ever, while telling reporters “It was one of the greatest moments in my life …” The ability to reuse commercial rockets can’t be underestimated. The practice reduces the overall cost of a space mission by as much as a factor of 100, according to fellow space pioneer Elon Musk, and could not only make low-earth orbit space travel commonplace in the near future, but could also help to extend humanity’s footprint throughout the galaxy in the years to come.
Not to be outdone, Elon Musk’s more prominent commercial space company made its own breakthrough just before the end of the year, on December 21. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket arguably outdid its newfound space rival, soaring past the edge of space and delivering a payload of 11 satellites into orbit before touching down (near) dead center on its launch pad. The sterling success came after a few serious setbacks for Falcon 9, including an explosion after launch, and a hard landing that damaged both rocket and landing zone.
While Musk and Bezos have sparred on Twitter as to whose achievement was greater, there’s no doubt that thanks to the accomplishments of both SpaceX and Blue Origin we’re now in the midst of a new space race.
Not everyone can make a splash as grand as sending a rocket into space and retrieving it like a cosmic boomerang. That said, Bezos’ other baby, a little company called Amazon, had a pretty big year back on earth. Amazon unleashed some impressive new hardware in 2015, including the new 4K-compatible Fire TV streaming box (which outdoes the 4K-impaired Apple TV), along with the commercial release of the Echo smart speaker. Thanks to its voice assistant, Alexa, the Echo rises above ordinary wireless speakers to act as the hub of your smart home, with the ability to dim your lights, give you sports scores, help you shop online, and play your favorite tunes, all via simple voice commands. Late this year, the tech colossus also showed its determination to deliver products via its own fleet of flying robots, unveiling an all new design for its delivery drones.
Apart from hardware, Amazon also solidified its role as a major player in original content creation in 2015 as its Prime Instant Video service won multiple Emmys, and a it earned a Golden Globe for its original series Transparent — a first for an online series. The close of 2015 also means it has been at the forefront of the 4K Ultra HD streaming revolution for a year; In September Amazon jumped ahead of Netflix by introducing the first available streaming content in 4K Ultra HD with HDR. Finally, the service introduced new streaming bundles for Prime members with discounts to services like Showtime.
Google and Alphabet
After reorganizing under the umbrella company Alphabet, there was no shortage of innovations from the company formerly known as Google in 2015. From moonshot projects designed to create new medical procedures, to the unveiling of futuristic motion control products like the fabric-embedded Project Jacquard, Google’s overall brand had a monster year. However, one of the most exciting projects for the world at large is Project Loon, a new Google initiative that essentially employs weather balloons designed to bring Internet access to rural areas. With ⅔ of the planet’s population currently lacking viable Internet access, Project Loon could be integral to completely rewriting the world’s tech landscape.
Twitter and Periscope
While Meerkat was the first of its kind to garner major hype, Periscope arose as the premier platform for the new era of live video streaming en masse, following Twitter’s confirmed purchase of the platform in March. The user interface is buggy at best, but the revolutionary new platform allows virtually anyone to record the events of the world as they happen — a perfect addition to the social media site that has thrived on its ability to inform on a global scale in real time. With millions of smartphones littering the planet, Periscope has created a sprawling guerilla network of live broadcasters, transforming current events in ways that we’re just beginning to perceive.