Let’s face it, 2016 was an interesting year for a lot of us. From a controversial (to say the least) US Presidential election to losing far too many cultural icons, it was a bit rocky.
While the tech world had a few crises of its own last year, from funding challenges to the implosion of some high profile unicorns (we’re looking at you Theranos), for the most part it was business as usual – the high pace of technological breakthroughs continued. Highlights such as Deepmind’s AI victory over Go world champion Lee Sedol and SpaceX’s successful landing of a reusable rocket using a drone ship reflect on-going innovations and ingenuity in the sector.
From the obscure to the familiar, here’s a look at four of the biggest tech trends (many of which started making waves last year) that we imagine will be breaking out in 2017.
Over the past few years, synthetic foods have been slowly but surely gathering momentum among both consumers and producers.
With an increasingly populated world putting pressure on our natural resources and climate change becoming an urgent threat, the way we eat is increasingly coming under the spotlight and entering into the public consciousness.
As films such as Leonardo DiCaprio’s Before The Flood highlight the dangerous effects of the rising global demand for meat, numerous companies are attempting to woo the palettes of carnivores (and reduce their environmental impact) with a plethora of meat alternatives.
Startups such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are both working towards creating plant based meat alternatives, using ingredients such as pea protein and yeast extract, building their “meat” from the bottom up with the same building blocks, but sourced from different, plant-based places. The latter’s product hit headlines at the end of last year when their impressively realistic burgers went on sale at New York City restaurant Momofoku Nishi.
In the search for meat alternatives other companies such as Memphis Meats are going one step further by aiming to grow synthetic meat in the lab. While on the other end of the scale, complete meal replacement solutions such as Soylent are also becoming more popular.
This year, we expect to see an ever-growing selection of plant based meat alternatives gracing grocery shelves and restaurant menus alongside a wealth of innovative new approaches to producing synthetic foods for increasingly keen customers.
As a technology, self-driving vehicles have reached the tipping point. Until only recently the preserve of science fiction, self-driving cars are becoming a reality sooner than many anticipated.
With an estimated 33 tech and car firms racing to get involved, not to mention a significant influx of funding, the competition is heating up and helping to create real progress.
First launched in 2015, Tesla has continued to improve the autonomous capabilities of its electric cars and plans to include even more self-driving tech in its future models.
Meanwhile, Google has been working on its own autonomous vehicles in Mountain View for the last few years and has 2 million miles of testing under its belt (with mixed success).
Not to be deterred, Uber purchased self-driving hardware startup Otto last year and launched successful real world trials of self-driving trucks, as well as passenger carrying cars in Pittsburgh.
With Apple and BMW both reportedly testing their own tech as well, researchers making headway in real time object detection systems and algorithms, and places such as the UK opening up their roads for testing, expect to see significant progress this year.
VR and AR
2016 was the year that the highly anticipated new wave of virtual reality products filtered into our reality. The much-hyped Oculus Rift finally hit the market, alongside offerings from HTC and Sony, while Samsung introduced a smartphone based VR accessory.
Given that it’s now possible for consumers to actually buy and use VR tech, this year should see serious market growth as the public starts to test out some of the many potential uses.
VR entertainment looks to be one of the main growth areas this year. With significant investments in livecasting tech, expect to see VR streams of music and other entertainment available live and direct from venues around the world. Next stop: live VR sports and concerts.
Additionally, expect short immersive VR experiences to become available. One example is remote places such as “visiting” Mt. Everest or virutally experiencing thrill seeking experiences such as base jumping.
Alongside entertainment, VR therapy allows patients to comfortably and safely address issues such as phobias and addictions. This technology is even being harnessed by the likes of Mindmaze to help with Neurorehabilitation: creating virtual spaces to help stroke victims restore movement in their limbs.
With VR tech still difficult to access, public VR stations should also start to appear to help feed the demand and support the market. Following the breakout success of Pokémon Go last year, the general public got their first taste of alternative reality and were truly smitten, so expect to see a few more AR games and apps this year.
Full-blown AR products such as the much vaunted (and heavily funded) tech from Magic Leap should also see the light of day this year, paving the way for sophisticated AR experiences as well as a range of highly useful training apps.
One of the tech world’s most anticipated trends — sophisticated chat and business bots. Essentially, software that can run automated tasks. With the increasing sophistication of artificial intelligence, bots are currently evolving at a high pace and becoming more capable.
Already in operation on platforms such as Slack, expect a deluge of bots as companies and entrepreneurs find a growing range of different uses for them, as they should begin to have a real impact on the way some businesses operate.
Intelligent bots should begin popping up everywhere – from ones that help crowdsource designs from freelancers, to operation bots that oversee R&D and marketing bots that assist with customer acquisition and e-commerce. While still in their infancy, better functioning chat bots will also help serve customers, answer questions and deal with troubleshooting and support issues.
With a whole new breed of bots covering a range of different business uses, expect to see even leaner and more specialized startups emerging alongside the increasing automation of many businesses.
Do you agree with these predictions? We’d love to hear what you think will have a huge impact in Tech for 2017. Sound off in the comment section below!