Six tech trends that are are going to change our lives in 2016
By Bob Finlayson, Managing Director, Cognito-Tech
This year’s Consumer Electronics Show – the largest tech confab in the world – was greeted by many with a yawn, owing to its lack of dramatic, new technological developments. As one highly respected tech writer – Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times – explained, many of the technologies showcased at CES 2016 seemed to be in an awkward, teenage stage, i.e., not ready for mass adoption.
There is certainly truth in that assessment. From my perspective, 2016 will not be a year of fresh technological advancements, but one in which we continue to see the merging of technologies from multiple fields and the dramatic expansion of existing technologies so as to create evermore impactful products and services.
With that in mind, here is my list of six tech trends that will change our lives in the year ahead and beyond.
1. Virtual reality goes mainstream
Virtual Reality (VR) goggles are certainly not new. Google Glass, for example, came out in 2013, after nearly a year of hype. But what is new is the rapid cost reduction. Glass runs around $1,500, while the newest VR goggles – Merge VR, for example – are under $100. Merge and others accomplish this by leveraging advanced technology most of us already have in our pockets – a smart phone. The low cost, quality experience and comfort of these VR goggles can be expected to drive further development of VR content for smart phones, creating a virtuous cycle that will push mass adoption. Look for applications as diverse as games, virtual tours of major cultural attractions, virtual classrooms for distance learning, and VR concerts and sports events. There’s even a startup developing a VR platform for long distance relationships.
2. On-demand mobility drives down personal car ownership, accelerates driverless vehicle adoption
The on-demand economy is up ending long-standing business models in several major verticals, including the taxi and hospitality industries, among others. It is also driving a significant change in the labor market, creating new opportunities and new challenges. But even more consequential changes are coming, particularly for the auto industry – propelled by the rise in on-demand mobility services.
Companies such Uber, Lyft and Zipcar are disrupting the need for personal vehicle ownership. A recent study found a decline in the number of people in the U.S. with driver’s licenses. It appears Millennials are eschewing this right of passage in favor of ride-sharing services, which, for urban dwellers, can be far cheaper than the cost of owning a car.
On-demand mobility companies are also bringing significant, economic pressure to bear on the development of autonomous vehicles. Uber’s CEO has offered to buy 500,000 self-driving vehicles from Tesla, as soon as they are available. General Motors recently invested $500 million in Lyft as a means of ensuring GM has a significant role in the future of personal transportation. Why do on-demand mobility companies want driverless vehicles? It eliminates their biggest expense line – drivers – and it (potentially) improves safety and efficiency.
The push for driverless vehicle is also propelling us towards a significant expansion in the number of electric vehicles. This is because while most personal vehicles spend 90 percent of their lives parked (at work or at home), vehicles used in the on-demand economy, for ride-sharing or car-sharing, will be on the road nearly all of the time. When you consider that electric vehicles require far less maintenance and are far more dependable than vehicles based upon internal combustion engines, it’s easy to see why on-demand companies prefer them.
But the root cause behind the tremendous expansion of the on-demand economy is the merging of several, existing technologies – powerful smart phones, high-bandwidth mobile connections, big data processing software systems and increasingly sophisticated mobile apps – which provide consumers with easy, fast access to evermore mobility options.
3. Cheap bio-medical tests reshapes healthcare, cut costs
Healthcare costs as a percentage of GDP are rising rapidly in nearly every developed nation as their populations’ age and require more healthcare services. This trend is creating strong economic incentives among developed nations to find ways to control these costs, fueling a wide range of biotech startups. One area that looks particularly promising is bio-medical testing.
If you’ve had a blood test recently you know how expensive such tests can be, running into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars. This is because current equipment to perform such tests is expensive and labor intensive to operate. But several technologies that are expected to come to market soon will change this paradigm. “Lab on a chip” is one of them.
Half-a-dozen companies, including Graphene Frontiers, are developing dime-sized chips that can perform a hundred different blood tests at a fraction of the cost of today’s test equipment. The testing device into which these chips fit is an inexpensive dongle that plugs into the smart phone most doctors and nurses already have in the pocket of their lab coats. Such a tool means health care professionals can conduct an in-office blood test and instantly determine if the patient has an infection, cancer or HIV, to name a few of the possibilities. Such a capability not only lowers costs, but also facilitates a higher quality of care.
This is just one example of near-term and dramatic advances in biotech that will improve our lives and cut healthcare costs.
4. Exponential expansion of IoT drives new levels of interconnectedness
The Internet of Things (IoT) has been a topic of discussion at tech conferences for many years, but a convergence of technologies will speed up and expand the impact of IoT on our daily lives over the next few years.
We are already seeing a meshing of devices, many of which previously operated in silos. TVs, sounds systems, cameras, light switches, lights, thermostats, irrigation systems, burglar alarms and door locks now can all be controlled and monitored from multiple devices, with automatic alerts via text and email. A wide range of wareables are already in market or will be soon, with smart watches and fitness bands in the lead.
As a result, you can now, for example, use your Apple watch to monitor your heart rate, level of exercise, quality of sleep, etc., then send reports to all of your devices or even to your doctor. You can purchase a IoT security camera from Canary or others that will monitor your home and send you a text if it detects motion in front of the camera while you are out, which you can pick up on your smart watch.
That’s just the beginning of the device-mesh trend. Over the next several years, more and more of these IoT devices will work together, creating seamless entertainment, security and health monitoring experiences as you travel from home, to car to work and back.
The Internet of Things is also impacting our communities. Waze, for example, ties together smart phones on a citywide basis to create a real-time, interactive traffic map that helps commuters shorten travel times. But this is just the beginning. A company called Zendrive, which makes a smartphone app that can track driver behavior, is being use by on-demand fleets to improve fleet safety. Organizations such as Vision Zero, which is pushing cities to dramatically reduce traffic fatalities, sees apps such as Zendrive as a means to accomplish this goal, while city governments see it as a way to improve the safety of their own fleets and even help traffic engineers redesign roads to reduce accidents and eliminate dangerous accident hot spots.
Look for 2016 to be the year when IoT finally begins to live up to its hype.
5. The shift to digital media accelerates
The shift to digital media has been underway for years, but 2016 will hold significant implications for print newspapers and “broadcast” television. Here again, the mash up of ubiquitous digital devices, big data driven advertising and high-speed connections at home and on the go are indelibly altering our viewing habits. When was the last time you saw someone from the post-millennial generation or even the millennial generation watching regular TV?
Consider: Unlike prior generations, which get their political news primarily from television and print newspapers, nearly 60% of Millennials get their political news from a combination of YouTube and Google News, according to a Pew Research Center survey released in June.
Cord cutters – those that don’t watch traditional television – are also causing advertisers to rethink their television advertising strategy. And big data is helping them better target ads on digital media. Ad tech firms such as Strike Social, for example, use sophisticated algorithms and machine learning to analyze millions of YouTube video views, likes, shares and comments. This analysis helps advertisers understand which videos are most likely to go viral. Using this data, advertisers can plan their ad spend and fashion content so as to engage with their target audience and drive sales.
Both trends are driving a shift to digital media as brands increasingly see traditional video advertising – television – become less effective. They know that DVRs and cord cutters mean a declining number of people in the brand-formative years are watching their ads on TV. Meanwhile, digital media provides more data on audience engagement and a direct connection to sales.
In 2016 we can expect to see this trend accelerate, with media outlets such as Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and Facebook dominating the digital media landscape. Even the major American networks are increasingly testing digital media as an alterative to traditional television. Consider CBS’ announcement in November that the new Star Trek series will run not on the CBS television network, but on CBS’ digital media service, CBS All Access.
6. New search platforms take us beyond key words
Search is part of everyone’s daily life, at home and at work. You type a few key words into Google and you can find a local dry cleaner, movies playing in town, a new car and a million other things. But current search technology – key words and pages ranked by links – was built before the era of big data and billions of pages of information available on the web. The next generation of search firms are working to help workers in fields as diverse as law enforcement and medical research keep current with today’s information overload and even find new insights and connections they didn’t know existed.
Omnity, which just launched at CES, is on the leading edge of next gen search. Available at Omnity.io, this platform allows users to pull entire documents into their search tool and, through semantic mapping, create in milliseconds a series of graphical visualizations that unmask hidden patterns of interconnectedness between the searched document and all other related documents. For example, a product manager at a consumer electronics company could drag into Omnity a concept document outlining a new product. Omnity would then show the product manager patents connected with or relevant to the new product concept, research papers related to the technology that would be required to create the product, potential collaborators, partners and competitors, news articles related to the new product, etc.
These new search tools are intended to speed up innovation, which may well drive the next wave of tech trends.
2016 may not be a year of brand-spanking new tech innovations, but it will definitely be a year during which we witness how the meshing of technologies will continue to drive profound changes in our lives.
Bob Finlayson is Managing Director of Cognito-Tech and is based in Los Angeles.