Last week, Apple launched its widely expected Apple Watch in 9 countries, making us one step closer to discover: are smart watches just a hype or will users find new meaning and applications for them, making them mass consumer products such as the iPod and the iPhone?
This reflection is particularly relevant in our current tech landscape, marked by technology hypes: some new technologies are received with laud and exaggerated enthusiasm, but will they really be “the next big thing”?
The past teaches us numerous lessons about heavily promoted technologies that did not live up to the hype surrounding them. The Apple Newton, Sony Betamax, Electric Vehicles, QR Codes and the Segway, all failed to meet the expectations that were imposed upon them.
In this article, we cover some of the most overhyped technologies nowadays. Will they live up to their promised potential?
Wearable technology is on the agenda today, with the release of Apple Watch last April, 24. However, the history of modern wearables dates back to the 1960’s and 70’s, when inventors first started building wearables to…cheat casinos. Counting cards and improving gambler’s odds at the roulette table were some of the applications of these wearables. As for the smart watch, in 1975 Pulsar brand had already released a calculator watch that was quite popular among science geeks.
But after some lull, and with the contribution of strong developments in sensor technology, wearables are back on the agenda, forming a market that was estimated by Statista to be worth 12.6B$ by 2018. While fitness and health trackers were some of the first wearables to succeed (e.g. FitBit, Jawbone), their impact goes well beyond and reaches, for example, the workplace. In fact, wearables have the potential to make work safer and more productive, as proves, for example, the smart glove for automotive manufacturing workers developed by German startup ProGlove.
Consumer adoption will determine exactly how far the wearable technology will go, being sure that it must address some issues, including its current short battery life and the privacy concerns related to storing electronically our entire life.
If you have being reading the news lately, you’ve been flooded by information about new companies in the intelligent drone sector. They present a vision where the future will be marked by thousands or even millions of flying drones accomplishing tasks such as product delivery, agricultural and public space surveillance, wireless internet distribution or image collection for entertainment and advertising purposes.
The buzz started in 2013 with Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, presenting on “60 minutes” program the “Prime Air”, a futuristic device to deliver the company’s products. In 2014, the popularity skyrocketed, with drone startups receiving 108M$ of venture funding, more than double the previous year.
But while the technology for drones is getting cheaper, there are still some drawbacks that need to be overcome, among them the fact that current technology does not allow total control of drones, the vulnerability of drones to hacking and, most importantly, the need to regulate the deployment of drones as well as the traffic challenges posed by their frequent use.
Oculus riftVirtual Reality
The Man has long dreamed of a world where virtual reality is possible, with several computer scientists and science fiction writers exploring such idea. However, the first efforts to produce credible virtual reality gadgets, developed in the 1990’s, were quite disappointing.
Currently, with the development of equipment such as processors, screens and accelerometers, a new wave of companies is starting to bet again on virtual reality. The idea is to create immersive experiences that trick your brain into believing that reality is in front of you without needing to leave your living room.
Facebook, Google and Microsoft are some of the companies competing in this space, backing startups such as Oculus (acquired for 2B$ by Facebook in July 2014), Magic Leap (which has raised more than 540M$ venture funding from a group of companies, including Google, by October 2014) and Microsoft’s HoloLens, an augmented reality headset that overlays 3D images with real ones, by using a tiny projector that sheds light directly onto the user’s retina.
3D printing, a process that creates objects by layering plastics, metals and other materials with the aid of computer models, has entered mainstream in the past years. It is a technology that has the potential to revolutionize our everyday life, since it can be used in a wide range of fields, including the industrial, biomedical and consumer ones.
To produce cheaper buildings, to download and print useful products at home or to fabricate human organs on-demand – these are some of the applications that 3D printing is aiming at. In particular, considering home printing, 3D printing could allow the democratization of manufacturing in a way never seen, by allowing individuals to print their own furniture, food, clothes, musical instruments, etc.
Currently, two companies dominate the 3D printing market, both from the USA and both founded in the 1980’s: 3D Systems and Stratasys. According to Gartner’s market research firm, this year approximately 217,000 3D printers will be shipped worldwide. But while 3D printing is becoming more accessible it still has to improve its performance with regards to speed, surface quality and running costs, in order to be able to reach larger audiences
Discovered in 2004, Graphene ensured the 2010 Nobel Prize of Physics to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov from the University of Manchester. This one-atom thick material, made from pure carbon, is the strongest material ever created and has excellent electrical conductivity.
Since it was isolated, many application ideas were proposed, in the fields of electronics, biological engineering, filtration, composite materials, photovoltaics and energy storage. The research community praised its potential and distinguished studies in the graphene field.
However, so far graphene is not used in commercial applications, mostly because of its high manufacturing cost. According to experts, the creation of easy-to-use products (and consequent production scale-up) might be the secret to unlock graphene’s market, but for that graphene must identify applications where it has first mover advantage.
Imagine that you could re-engineer organisms the same way you program computer software. This is not science fiction; it is the task of synthetic biology, a hybrid discipline of biology and genetics engineering that allows the production of artificial biological systems and devices.
It writes genetic code and inserts it into simple organisms to change their function, for example making them more efficient in the production of a certain end product or reducing the toxic outputs of the process. Synthetic biology can revolutionize the way we produce fuel, clean up hazardous waste, produce affordable drugs, create products with improved nutritional properties or detect pathogens effectively – just to quote some examples.
While it is still a nascent field, with barriers concerning its time-consumption and laborious process, it has a wide potential, with the industry being expected to reach 5.6B$ by 2018 (ReportsnReports.com). Companies like Intrexon, Fermentone and Gingko are hurrying to get a slice of this market, but many future developments are certainly yet to come.