10 key technology trends for 2014
From driverless cars to smart wallets and self-assembly robots, a host of new technologies could reshape the business landscape, offering new opportunities as well as potential for disruption.
The ‘internet of things’ offers potential to improve efficiency, cut costs and to make better decisions through improved information.
Here are ten trends to look out for:
1. The internet of things
Embedding sensors into machines and connecting them to the internet allows manufacturing processes to be monitored and controlled remotely. In fact almost anything can be linked to the internet – sensors in roadways can check the number of passing cars, while sensors in fuel tanks can alert operators when levels are low without the need for physical inspections. The ‘internet of things’ offers potential to improve efficiency, cut costs and to make better decisions through improved information. It will also allow companies greater access to customer information and, through the ability to monitor usage, will allow dynamic pricing models such as pay-per-use rather than per item.
2. Wearable technology
Why carry your tablet around when you could wear it instead? A whole range of wearable devices will allow us to integrate technology more seamlessly into everyday life. Now there are smart watches, which monitor your heart rate and track your movements, headbands which record your running performance and even smart jewellery which monitors your exposure to ultraviolet light. Google Glass, currently under development, is part of this trend. It uses spectacles, which place information before your eyes and allow you to send messages or take photographs simply by voice control.
3. New ways to pay
According to recent research, one in five consumers in America no longer carries cash and that number is likely to increase. An array of new payment technologies offer a replacement for coins and notes – from contactless cards to systems which rely on mobile phones, and ‘smart wallets’ which hold details of multiple credit cards and allow you to buy goods simply by speaking your name. Some of these systems offer improved security over current payment methods and could well encourage greater uptake of e-commerce.
4. Additive manufacturing
Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing as it is also known, is set to disrupt supply chains in many industries. Products can be printed out from software designs available on the internet or existing objects can be scanned and replicated. Additive manufacturing will encourage a move to more local production so auto parts could be printed out by a local supplier rather than shipped from a distant plant. 3D printing offers scope for improved products, for example medical devices, and offer greater scope for customisation. However it will make it harder to safeguard intellectual property and many manufacturers and retailers will be forced to rethink their strategy.
5. Deep learning
Computer pioneers in the 1950s thought that artificial intelligence was just around the corner, until they began to recognise the complexities involved in everyday tasks such as understanding speech, or the ability to pick out a human face from other assorted patterns. Now scientists are making greater strides towards true artificial intelligence through the use of deep learning – which uses algorithms to enable machines to see objects and understand what they are. From speech recognition to automatic translation, deep learning could give machines the capacity to think and act more like humans.
6. Self-assembly robots
Robots, which can form themselves into different shapes could one day be used to make temporary repairs to buildings or bridges. Known as M-Blocks, they consist of cubes that can flip and jump, powered by an internal flywheel mechanism, and can stick together using magnets. M-Blocks were designed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), which now aims to create miniature versions. The cubes could then self-assemble like the liquid steel androids in Terminator II, and go into hostile environments, for example to carry out emergency repairs.
7. Advanced materials
Many industries stand to benefit from advances in materials technology. Self-healing materials which can repair damage caused by mechanical use could be used in mobile phone screens, in the aerospace industry, or on oil platforms where it may be difficult to carry out repairs. Graphene, which is made from a single layer of carbon atoms, is the thinnest material known to man and one of the strongest and most conductive. Both graphene and carbon nanotubes – hollow cylinders composed of a single sheet of carbon atoms – could potentially replace silicon chips, which are reaching their physical limits. Other advances include self-cleaning materials and crystals that convert pressure into energy.
8. Energy storage
Improvements in batteries and energy storage technology could make electric vehicles a more practical and cost-effective option. Lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells are already in use and costs are reducing. Advanced battery storage systems could encourage greater use of solar and wind power, and ensure people in developing countries have access to a reliable supply of power.
9. Driverless cars
Major car manufacturers including BMW and Audi are already unveiling prototypes for driverless cars, although commercial versions may be seven to 10 years away. Initial versions will not be completely autonomous but will have systems to aid the driver in parking, braking or avoiding collisions. However in the long term, manufacturers believe autonomous vehicles could create a revolution in transport and lead to safer roads.
10. Advances in genomics
Advances in DNA sequencing and computing power will lead to more accurate diagnosis and more effective treatment. Following the Human Genome Project, it now costs just a few thousand dollars to sequence a human genome. The benefits are already evident in the field of cancer care where doctors can now sequence a tumor to identify the best treatment. DNA sequencing is also helping doctors understand the genetic basis for diseases and there is potential to create custom-made organisms. The developments will not only have an impact in the field of medicine, but also in agriculture and biofuels.