Technology Hits of 2016
Written by Steve Smith, 4 January 2017
2016 is now behind us and as New Year’s resolutions lie around us in tatters, this seems like a good time for a look back at a huge year in technology….
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Real life now has competition. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality were both huge in 2016. We’ll look at Virtual today, as it looks like AR will certainly enjoy an even bigger 2017, thanks to the likes of Magic Leap. VR was well represented with Playstation VR taking gaming to a whole new level late in the year. The arrival of the Oculus Rift was met with huge fanfare and the HTC Vive seems to have been the surprise hit of the genre. There are still limitations to the tech, tethering to a device being an example, but for a first toe in the water, the Oculus and Vive particularly have put a pretty impressive stake in the ground.
Gaming now takes on new possibilities, but tours of museums, cities, mountain ranges, etc can now happen without a passport. Commercial and practical training can be done in one’s home or office and the experience will be flawless. Sporting events, concerts and movies will be a much more intimate experience for viewers. The possibilities appear endless. You’ll still look a bit daft wearing one though….
Still using Messenger and text messages? Shame on you. You’re missing out on the messaging app on steroids – Slack. It’s only been on the go for a couple of years, but already it’s the chosen communication method for the teams at eBay, Sony, Yelp, amongst others. Considering the founder of the app also brought us Flickr previously, there’s a demonstrable track record of success that Slack has easily continued.
Containing all your communication in one place, it’s started to be called The Email Killer, due to the massive reduction in internal emails sent by companies who use the app. There are some out there who no longer send internal email – imagine the time savings! Having everything from your mail client, social media, CRM, ERP all in one place, fully searchable and available everywhere can only be a good thing. Right?
It’s been a long journey for a young lad from Pretoria, who’s first business deal was selling the code for a Commodore Vic20 game called Blastar for £500, to one of the most influential people in tech today. There are several things Elon Musk could have made it onto this list for, but my personal favourite is the project that he influenced through his SpaceX company and has just started testing in the desert North of Las Vegas. Hyperloop One could change how we travel and specifically, how fast we do it.
Described as a pod that travels through a near vacuum tube, Hyperloop claims speeds of up to 746mph, transporting people and cargo from A to B in slightly longer than the blink of an eye. Earlier this year, Musk joined Seikh Mohammed at the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai to announce a deal that could mean the first route being opened between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. This journey takes over 2 hours in one of Musk’s Tesla cars, but would be reduced to 12 minutes in Hyperloop. It looks like the GCC will be the future testing ground of this tech due to the vast open spaces it can cover, so keep an eye out over there for what’s next. Hopefully very few bends in the tube.
The Road To Somewhere
For the past couple of years, Pittsburgh PA has been the home of the Advanced Technologies Centre (ATC) of Uber and they’ve been busy little bees. Not happy just with convincing us all that paying to get a lift from a random stranger is a good idea, they’ve decided to remove the stranger. The ATC have had driverless Ubers on the streets of the Steel City for a few months now and it’s been pretty incident free. As a wee precaution, Uber have put a driver into each car, just in case human intervention is needed. Reports so far suggest this was apposite as there have been teething problems. An example being the cars not always recognising cycle lanes.
Working with Volvo on the car side and the recent acquisition of Otto to offer driverless cargo deliveries shows how serious Uber are about this cause. And if you think a driverless Volvo is scary, go to the Otto website to see the driverless Budweiser delivery lorry. That apart, driverless vehicles will improve road safety by huge amounts and will also lead to work opportunities as these 24 hour a day vehicles will need to be built smarter and maintained better than our present cars. A drive for perfection if there ever was one.
Self Build or Self Print?
Your author was lazing at the side of the pool on the roof of a hotel in Dubai in April when a headline in the Khaleej Times grabbed my eye – “20% of vehicles to be driverless in the UAE by 2020”. An interesting story certainly, but the final line of the story was what interested me. It was along the lines of “Also, permission has been granted for the project to build the first 3D printed building in Dubai”. A sentence that makes little sense at first glance, but it really did make sense three weeks later when, in the grounds of the Emirates Towers in Dubai, the first 3D printed office building opened.
The 2,700 square foot building is printed in layers with a special mixture, still involving concrete and it took 17 days from start to finish. One person was needed to monitor the printer, another 17 to provide the electrics, engineering, etc, offering a labour cost saving of over 50%. For a city that guzzles fuel like water, the building is extremely green and energy efficient, leading many to call it the future of architecture and energy efficiency. Building for the future indeed.
Stop staring at that screen – get some fresh air!
Who knew that the big tech hit of the year would be the reincarnation of a late nineties Japanese cartoon character? After its launch in July, the Pokemon Go app grew stupendously quickly and now basks in the glory of over 500 million downloads and being the fastest game to reach $500m revenue. This Augmented Reality app allowed young and old alike to chase around their neighbourhoods, trying to catch cartoon characters. All pretty basic so far, but there was a huge amount going on under the hood, with the users mobile device GPS, Camera and gyroscope all getting a damned good workout in their search.
Not only were their devices enjoying a workout, but their bodies were too. So many people were out and about in their locale that some countries had to pass legislation, regulating who could use the app and when they could do it. YouTube videos of crowds crossing motorways, holding up traffic, searching for Pokemon characters, were everywhere. And then, almost as quick as it had grown, a couple of months after launch, it had lost 79% of its’ players. Saying that, an app that at it’s peak had a daily usage above SnapChat, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook has to be seen as a massive success.
So, what’s next?
2017 promises to be even more exciting than 2016. As previously stated, the worlds of VR and AR haven’t yet been fully developed and we can only assume that this will continue to astonish in the next 12 months. IoT and smart devices have started to creep into our homes and businesses, with Nest Thermostat, Apple Home and Amazon Echo starting to show practical uses for consumer IoT. Staying on the consumer side, expect the usual raft of new tech from Samsung, Google and Apple. It’s the tenth anniversary of the iPhone in 2017, so expect Apple to go big on the iPhone 8. Rumours abound that Samsung are working on a bendable screen for one of their new devices.
On the commercial side, fintech will again dominate, with automated banking replacing up to 30% of bank jobs in the coming decade according to Citigroup. Big Data algorithms that can make split second decisions will continue to replace human financial advisors and analysts. Who wants to take risks with money and human error when a machine can make such well informed choices? Finally, the legalisation of Marijuana in many US states means an industry that will hit $20b revenue by 2020, has a lot riding on it. Tech firms are falling over themselves to get a chunk of this market by investigating automated growth operations, calibrated lighting and growth software to allow for the production of safe medical marijuana. Might be worthwhile investing in Mars or Hershey shares for when the inevitable munchies hit….
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