2016 technology year in review; what to watch out for in 2017

Pokemon Go heralding the rise of augmented reality, the continuous growth of the Internet of Things and related cyber-security threats, driverless cars and SpaceX rocket landings – what were the big themes in technology and engineering in 2016 and what to expect in 2017? We asked IET experts.

Sahar Danesh – Transport policy advisor at IET

What were the most significant developments we have seen in engineering and technology in 2016?

I would say autonomous technologies, definitely. Autonomous technologies have existed for a while, but it was in 2016 that the technology started to impact how we envisage travel and transport in the future. Autonomous vehicles were mentioned in the Queen’s speech and trials for truck platooning and testing of drones were carried out throughout the UK. We also saw the first fatality in an autonomous car. The technology is progressing rapidly. We now have to make sure that the regulations, standards and safety systems are being developed in conjunction.

What trends do you expect in 2017?

The way we use data and how we process Big Data will be the next shift in technology; especially in industries like transport. Every journey generates a huge amount of data and the more we gather and process this, the better we can be at making a transport system that is fit for purpose. In 2017, I envisage AI and Machine Learning methods from other industries (such as the gaming industry) being used to predict transport patterns and to help provide transport as and when it is needed.

 

William Webb – wireless technology expert, 2014/2015 IET president

In 2016 we have seen the Internet of Things (IoT) steadily transforming from hype to reality. Some key industry standards were developed that will enable cellular operators to deploy tailored IoT solutions, with Vodafone promising to roll these out in 2017. We also saw the first serious security threat when a denial of service (DoS) attack on websites was instigated from hacked personal video recorders and security cameras. Now these are not strictly IoT devices, but nevertheless, such an attack, while reprehensible, does show a sector mature enough to make it worth hackers targeting it.

Another interesting communications development was Google’s Project Fi. Offered only in the US at present, this allows you to sign up to Google as your mobile network operator. Google then direct your phone onto Wi-Fi wherever available using millions of partner Wi-Fi access points, falling back to a mobile operator otherwise. It’s an example of the ‘Wi-Fi first’ world we’re moving into where Wi-Fi becomes our primary communication mechanism and cellular is there for when Wi-Fi doesn’t work. This could herald a major shake-up in the structure of our mobile communications industry.

More frivolously, 2016 also saw the emergence of Pokemon Go. While the craze now seems to be dying down, it was the first mass-market example of augmented reality (AR) when virtual information is superimposed on the real world. Whether this heralds a whole new set of augmented reality applications remains to be seen.

In 2017, all of the above items will likely continue to evolve. In particular, IoT will become reality, although mostly in industrial applications such as agriculture, smart city management and asset tracking.

2017 might also be the year when we make a major shift towards a cashless society as contactless payment and simple bank transfers become more prevalent. Eventually, there comes a tipping point where some shops refuse cash because of the cost of handling it, which will more rapidly spur the transition. It’s somewhat ironic this is happening just as the new £5 note is launched.

Voice recognition devices are being launched and revised, such as Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home. These are becoming increasingly intelligent but we still seem to be trying to work out what they are for. Just like smart watches, I predict they’ll stay as the plaything of the hi-tech junkie rather than become mainstream in every home.

Virtual reality (VR) is often discussed as a forthcoming development. But like the IoT it may find its first deployment in industry. There are myriad applications such as training staff prior to working in dangerous environments or visualising how new products or services might work which will develop during 2017.

Another related development is face-recognition. This has come along rapidly in recent years with, for example, widespread deployment of automated passport readers in airports. This technology could extend to allowing staff into offices and perhaps even as a payment mechanism in future.

My final, perhaps longer-term trend, is automated medical diagnosis. It is still many, many years, if not decades, before computers can come close to replacing doctors, but as a way of helping us understand whether we need to go and see the doctor, and to provide a helpful cross-check on a ‘real’ medical diagnosis we might be prepared to let Google that bit further into our lives during 2017.

 

Naomi Climer – chair of the International Broadcasting Convention Council, 2015/2016 IET president

In 2016, I was impressed by the progress of SpaceX and their rocket landing technology. The vertical landing on a ship they performed in April was an amazing leap forward showing that rockets can be reused in future.

We saw voice control systems step up a gear with the introduction of voice recognition-based consumer devices from Siri to Alexa to Google’s offering. I now have a number of friends (early adopters) who are using voice for their machine interface activities at work and at home. I think this is going to grow and become more common in industry too. Not only is it great for consumers generally, it has applications for enhancing the lives of people with disabilities.

Augmented reality got a boost with the massive take-up of Pokemon Go – the game that includes AR elements. AR is set to appear throughout all aspects of our lives.

Artificial intelligence passed the milestone of beating the world champion at the game ‘GO’. It had been thought that this would be a very difficult challenge and the milestone was passed earlier than expected.

Streaming services became more mainstream with Netflix growing audiences worldwide and focusing on delivering an excellent streaming experience. Viewing patterns have shifted with younger demographics consuming far more content on a mobile/streaming basis than their older counterparts.

In 2017, I expect augmented reality to become a big feature of our lives, both for entertainment, work and daily chores.

Video will continue to be a huge part of our lives and mobility will become an increasing part of how we consume and share video.

Smart homes and voice-based machine interfaces will continue to evolve although I’m not expecting a big bang here.

Internet of Things applications will continue to emerge, both industrial and consumer. I don’t expect any big bangs, but I’m certain that if we look back in five years, things will be really different. Smart thermostats, smart travel planners/aggregators, sensors used to proactively reduce the maintenance bill by understanding more about the condition of systems, sensors to monitor human wellbeing and others will become a part of everyday life.

I’m expecting renewable energy to continue making progress with step-changes in the efficiency. We’ve seen continued progress in home batteries, solar cells on cars and most recently cryogenic energy storage. I’m expecting some step-change improvements in 2017.

 

Jeremy Watson – Professor of Engineering Systems at University College London, IET president

From what we have seen in 2016, I would highlight the achievements of Space X, particularly the recovery of launch boost vehicles, and the first touchdown on a marine barge.

I would also cite the massive steps made towards practical autonomous cars.

In 2017, it is likely to be more of the same, moving towards ‘autonomous everything’, in particular commercial cars and lorries.

The Internet of Things (IoT) will progressively become a key platform technology, enabling and supporting high-tech service business offerings like predictive maintenance for buildings and infrastructure, in other words, ‘Smart Faculties Management’. In the built environment sectors, we are likely to see commercial large-scale additive manufacture combining with off-site manufacturing and the beginnings of robotic assembly.

 

Naomi Mitchinson – Hardware engineer at Leonardo and IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year 2014

I think the key trend in electronics is the growth of the maker movement, which began a few years ago but has now established itself as an important force. We see large companies trying to leverage the enthusiasm and flexibility of the maker movement to create more dynamic research teams, bring concepts through to demonstrator stage more quickly and build more flexibility into their platforms. Increasingly, the movement is recognised both as a sector of the market and a force driving a shake-up in the way electronics is designed, built and used.

 

Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal – Director at DH FUTURE SYSTEMS

In 2016, the developments in the aerospace sector that struck me are the increasing imaginative uses of small drones and continuing advancements in their technical capability, advances in Air Traffic Control systems to manage the increasing numbers of aircraft movements and the developments in reusable space vehicles.

Looking forward, continuing advances in drone development and, maybe, some expansion of their permissible operating envelope and further steps towards the ‘more electric and, at some scale, fully electric aircraft’. The challenges of emission controls and operating costs will continue to drive research and development into new materials, manufacturing processes, performance improvements and operating efficiencies.

 

Chris Cartwright – Infosys consulting associate partner, IET Information and Communications Sector chair

In 2016, Pokemon Go has brought augmented reality into the mainstream and raised public interest for its possibilities.

In parallel IoT has been growing fast with the increasing adoption over the last couple of years of connected devices like health wearables and the increased adoption of smart home technology (e.g. Amazon Alexa). IoT is also offering businesses huge cost-saving opportunities in asset maintenance as sensors and artificial intelligence are being used to track the state of components and predict failure.

There are fundamental challenges coming hand in hand with all the new possibilities. The first and foremost is security and use of the data being gathered from these billions of connected devices.

In 2017, I expect artificial intelligence coupled with IoT to start opening huge opportunities to increase human performance and improve the user experience.

Augmented reality in particular is expected to grow dramatically in 2017.

Virtual reality is a buzz word at the moment but will still be tailing for another couple of years as both technology and content need to mature and expand.

Finally, the increasing pace of change and the threat of disruption is driving companies to adopt bimodal IT as a way to test and fail fast but this comes with the challenge to integrate successful Proof of Concepts within the legacy IT landscape with significant costs. The increasing outsourcing of IT infrastructures – using cloud or SaaS solutions – is used as a way to simplify IT landscape and will continue in 2017.

 

Mike Short - vice president at Telefonica Europe, member of IET Communications Policy Panel

In 2016 we have seen many significant developments. One of them is the start of driverless car trials in the UK.

The European Union made a decision about spectrum for the future 5G network, which marks the start of a processes of establishing standards and assigning part of the spectrum.

Mobile data traffic has grown. Mobile video has been on the rise as well as mobile internet viewing.

We have also seen an ongoing rise of apps and wearable technologies. Some once influential brands such as Sharp, Blackberry and Sony in mobile have experienced a relative demise while some Chinese and Indian device vendors emerged from their home markets onto the global scene.

The Brexit referendum outcome sent shockwaves through the technology sector. There are many concerns now about the future including the loss of access to skilled professionals, the risk of digital innovation going elsewhere and the decline of investment capital. We may also face new trade barriers to be erected in future in Europe.

In 2017, I expect the growth in mobile data traffic to continue. I expect the use of video widening.

Internet of Things will likely become more widespread in the home and in the car. Smart city hype will continue but only small scale deployment in 2017 will likely be seen.

Emergency services will experience challenges with functionality and probably delays. E-commerce will continue to grow putting pressure on high street retail to know their customers better and add more value and services.

 

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