Coming soon: 2019 - the future of engineering and technology
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From augmented reality and cybercrime, to driverless cars and an ethical internet, what are the trends and breakthroughs we’re likely to see in the engineering and tech sector over the coming year? We asked some industry experts for their top predictions for 2019.
Smart tech take-up in manufacturing
Once the stuff of science fiction, smart technologies like augmented reality (AR) and 3D printing have moved out of the realms of conjecture and now firmly inhabit the real world, with examples of implementation across manufacturing, from assembly, maintenance and repair, to product design, monitoring and logistics.
Dave Grammer, vice-president UK Nordics at computer software company PTC, believes that 2019 is poised to be a year of new capabilities such as additive manufacturing, the digital twin, digital thread, enterprise system apps, and improved enterprise visualisation, allowing product design teams to work faster and smarter: “In the past few years, 3D printing technologies have surpassed the limits of prototype production and have achieved the quality and scalability needed for industrial use, called additive manufacturing. This technology shows tangible benefits in multiple use cases ranging from ultra-lightweight high-end parts for airplanes to cost-efficient mass customisation of consumer products.”
However, it’s in the digital transformation of the product engineering and manufacturing process that the true disruptive potential of additive manufacturing is revealed: “The terms ‘digital twin’ and ‘digital thread’ have been bandied around for a while, but in 2019 most engineers are going to see both concepts in action every day,” adds Grammer. By combining the digital definition of a product with the physical experience of the asset in the field, manufacturers will have a complete digital record of a product throughout its entire lifecycle that can be leveraged to improve the product design, ensure that all legal and security regulations and requirements are being met, and improve efficiency and serviceability.
Augmented reality (AR) is the next evolution of enterprise visualisation. AR can superimpose text, graphics, images and audio, onto a view of the real world, allowing users to see and interact with actual or virtual objects in front of their eyes. Add AR and you pull a product out of the screen, dropping it into the real world at the right scale, where you can walk around and through it, and gain a more authentic feel for that object’s true form, proportion and relationship to the environment. “Whether it is used for service procedures, manufacturing work instructions, product design and development, or by sales and marketing to promote new product options or additions to existing products, AR will make it easier than ever to bring products to life,” says Grammer.
Security: beware the hack-attack
If there’s one thing we can predict for certain for the year ahead, it’s that cyber criminals will continue to generate increasingly innovative ways to exploit gaps in security. With a steadily increasing number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices in their sights, their gaze is firmly set on the cloud for new opportunities to attack vulnerable applications. In response, cloud-based information security company Zscaler’s CISO Stan Lowe shares his predictions for the key security trends to watch out for in the next 12 months.
Lowe maintains that increasing numbers of state-employed white hat hackers will ‘moonlight’ with organised criminal elements: “Information security professionals are moonlighting as hackers-for-hire within criminal organisations all over the world. This trend is especially prevalent in Russia, where poorly paid government employees can earn extra income working for powerful and sophisticated criminal networks with ties to the government,” he said.
In addition, he sees a climate in which IoT system exploits and botnet recruitment will grow, with malware attacks like 2017’s Reaper IoT botnet becoming more commonplace: “As the number of IoT devices rises and we deploy 5G to connect everything, we’ll see a huge increase in the use of IoT devices for DDoS [denial of service] attacks, phishing, ransomware, and cryptomining.”
Lowe also predicts an increase in attacks targeting specific cloud applications: “As more enterprises shift workloads and data to applications like Office 365 and Workday, hackers will start to craft new attacks specific to those apps. Expect to see hackers use special exploits to gain access to the application itself, rather than just user data.” Stay frosty, people.
Data centres: it’s all about the edge
According to Rob Johnson, CEO of data centre equipment and services provider Vertiv, the edge of the network continues to be the epi-centre of innovation in the data centre space, with activity over the coming year focusing on increased intelligence designed to simplify operations, enable remote management and service, and to bridge a widening skills gap: “Today’s edge plays a critical role in data centre and network operation and in the delivery of important consumer services. This is a dramatic and fundamental change to the way we think about computing and data management,” he said.
Intelligent infrastructure systems with machine learning capabilities working in tandem with cloud-based analytics are fundamentally changing the way we think about edge computing and edge services. The result, according to Johnson, will be a more robust, efficient edge of the network with enhanced visibility and self-healing capabilities requiring limited active management.
In tandem, organisations will begin to change the way they hire and train data centre personnel, moving towards more agile, job-specific instruction in a bid to offset the staffing challenges posed by an aging population. In addition, he sees the rise of new battery alternatives as presenting opportunities for a broader adoption of UPS systems capable of more sophisticated interactions with the grid. Finally, a growing need for standardisation of equipment components and normalisation across data centre builds, will start to reduce equipment costs, shorten delivery and deployment timelines, and simplify service and maintenance.
5G spectrum: share nicely
According to Adam Leach, director of emerging technology at UK domain name registry Nominet, 2019 is set to represent a key juncture for 5G in the UK, with new radio spectrum coming to market that will form the backbone of 5G for many users. He says, “Amid the excitement among early adopters, I hope that we see a different approach to spectrum allocation than we’ve seen with previous generations of mobile connectivity. With 3G and 4G, auctioning off chunks of the mobile spectrum on an exclusive basis proved inefficient.” With only 48 per cent of the 4G mobile spectrum ever able to be utilised at any one time today, the same model and approach should be avoided with 5G if it’s to deliver on its promise to be the foundation for a new generation of connected devices and autonomous cars, factories and farms.
“While the current model gives mobile operators fenced ownership, a sharing model supported by a database would allow providers access to the full breadth of the spectrum, allowing full network utilisation and much improved capacity,” he adds.
Driverless cars: the road ahead
Following UK government investment and the development of trials this year, Bryan Marshall, Nominet’s head of IoT and autonomous vehicle technology, believes 2019 will be the year of the driverless car as they become more visible on British roads. Thanks to activity like Oxford Robotics Institute’s Driven project, a fleet of fully autonomous vehicles will be deployed in urban areas and on motorways, culminating in an end-to-end journey from London to Oxford. “The Driven vehicles will be demonstrating Level 4 autonomous driving, travelling through varied urban and motorway road environments. Projects like this will ensure the UK remains at the forefront of innovation in this area,” explains Marshall.
Less visible, though, will be the rapidly increasing capabilities and investment in the digital infrastructure needed to support the roll-out of driverless cars. Off the back of the flow of data from the sensors on driverless cars, new business models and services for organisations such as energy companies, insurers and local authorities will start to mature.
“Alongside these technical strides forward, regulation on driverless car data will become an increasingly discussed topic as our collective understanding of the potential conditions that these vehicles will operate in increases. Considering some autonomous vehicles can generate 1TB of data per hour it’s clear that any final regulations will have deep practical and commercial implications. Next year I expect to see continued debate over the role of regulation in the autonomous world, which should help us to fully reap the benefits this technology can bring,” he adds.
Workplace diversity: here come the girls
2018 was an eventful year for women in STEM, what with the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 coming into force with some 10,014 companies and public-sector organisations in the UK publishing their gender pay gap information in all its lopsided glory; and Engineering UK’s 2018 State of Engineering report suggesting that the UK has an unmet demand for some 124,000 engineers and technicians with core engineering skills each year.
However, Nominet’s COO Eleanor Bradley believes that 2019 might be the year to start tipping the balance: “My hope for 2019 is that we can significantly encourage a more even gender balance in tech career paths. The tech industry is growing 2.6 times faster than the UK economy, with jobs increasing accordingly, but our gender ratio remains poor.”
According to the Tech Nation Report 2018, only 19 per cent of the digital tech workforce is female, compared to 49 per cent across all UK jobs. “With the future success of the UK’s digital economy in mind, we must push beyond STEM stereotypes and encourage girls to consider the huge range of technology-based career paths available to them. There were promising developments in 2018, such as the fact that this year’s A Level results showed females received higher grades in physics, biology and design and technology on average, despite being outnumbered in class. We need to make sure that more girls are encouraged to explore these subjects further, so that the tech sector has the diversity it needs to thrive in the years and decades ahead,” she adds.
Mobile working: anytime, anywhere
Our lives already revolve around mobile devices like tablets, smartphones and laptops; from booking holiday destinations to catching up with friends halfway around the world, mobile devices have become the one-stop shop for all our modern-day needs. In a bid to boost productivity while staying mobile, many of us carry at least three devices to stay connected.
Marcus Harvey, sales director EMEA at mobile computing and photography accessories manufacturer Targus, believes that in the coming months and years, we will see this changing: “Forget cumbersome desktop PCs and fixed desks, the only device you will need for the future of work, be it in the office or otherwise, will be your handy smartphone. 2019 will see businesses begin to embrace smartphones as the de facto workplace device,” he says.
According to stats adapted from the IDC Futurescape: Worldwide Connected Devices and AR/VR 2018 Predictions report, by 2021, 60 per cent of enterprise organisations will be testing smartphones as their company’s singular IT-supported 3-in-1 device.
“In 2019, universal connectivity compatibility will become ever more important as businesses look to support a variety of devices and brands while keeping their workforce productive wherever they choose to work from. Universal docking systems at the office and at home will allow people to work comfortably and productively, seamlessly connecting small screen devices to larger, multiple screens, a keyboard and even automatically connecting to the Wi-Fi. 2019 will be an exciting time for the workforce, truly embracing the ‘work from anywhere’ culture,” adds Harvey.
More sociable social media: the ethical internet
As a growing tide of experts, critics, brands and even tech leaders call for a rethink of today’s big tech behaviour, Future 100, the latest annual trend report from creative think-tank JWT Innovation, calls for a more proactive approach to scenario-planning the calamitous, or damaging, impact of new innovations.
With increasing numbers of tech companies coming to realise the impact of their products on societal issues like mental health, isolation, cyber-bullying and suicide, the report, authored by JWT’s director, Lucie Green, highlights the growing clamour around the proposal for a digital code of ethics, set to gain significant ground in 2019.
Tim Berners-Lee, too, has proposed a new vision for an alternative decentralised, fairer internet. Writing in a blog post on online publishing platform Medium, the inventor of the World Wide Web said: “For all the good we’ve achieved, the web has evolved into an engine of inequity and division; swayed by powerful forces who use it for their own agendas. Today, I believe we’ve reached a critical tipping point, and that powerful change for the better is possible, and necessary.” Roll-on 2019.
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