Tim Frank Andersen
2019: Where’s my flying car?
And what else happened to my tech predictions for 2019?
According to Blade Runner, the future has finally arrived. The eighties sci-fi movie takes place in November 2019. But how well did they predict the future? And what about my own predictions that I published a year ago?
Well, while we are about to enter the Twenty twenties, let's take a look at the hits and misses. But first, a quick look at Blade Runner and what Ridley Scott predicted 2019 would be like — back in 1982 when the film was made.
Blade Runner: Pretty smart robots and a damaged planet
Besides the flying cars, that we are all still waiting for, Scott was quite pessimistic about how the world would look due to pollution. Let's not hope we end there, even though 11.000 scientists just warned us all about “untold sufferings” if we don't start to change our behavior.
He also thought we would have human-like robots by now, and we are definitely getting there even though we are still far from the Nexus-6. Regarding smart homes, he came pretty close, but he totally missed out on the Social Media Revolution. And his vision for a future hairdryer? Dyson still has some land to cover in order to get there.
All this just goes to show that predicting the future is hard but also a lot of fun. For the last 20 years or so, I have each year tried to compile a list of things to happen on the digital scene for the year to come. In January I did it again.
So, let's take a look at how well I did with my own predictions for 2019. And why not start with flying cars.
Finally: Commercial eVTOLs to launch in December
Admitted, it was a bit optimistic to predict that a commercial electric air taxi service would launch in 2019. But we just made it. In August, Ehang announced that they would launch Guangzhou as the first Citywide Urban Air Mobility Pilot City in the world after being picked by the Civil Aviation Administration of China as the country’s first and only company for passenger AAV (Autonomous Aerial Vehicle) development. They even managed to ship two batches of their Ehang 216 to customers during 2019 and do a European test flight in Austria where one of the mass-production facilities will take place. And in December, it happened.
Meanwhile, a lot of companies like Lilium, Volocopter, Kittyhawk, and Bell are working hard with cities around the world to compete in the race of being among the first to launch a fully commercial service. But when is it realistic to expect aerial ridesharing as a product? It depends a lot on who you ask. One serious bet comes from Uber Elevate. They will start initial testing in Dallas and LA next year and expect a commercial product in 2023. So, the big question is how hard the Chinese players will beat them and launch earlier. We will have to wait and follow the development in 2020.
Autonomous cars here, there and everywhere
Last year, I also predicted that we would see the next commercial robotaxi launch in China. And it has certainly been a busy year on that front:
- Didi Chuxing launched a commercial robotaxi service in Shanghai in November.
- Baidu, another Chinese company and one of the leading AI companies in the world has launched a service in Changsa, the capital of Hunan province through their dedicated robotaxi subsidiary, Apollo
- Weride has launched a robotaxi service in Guangzhou
- And a few other Chinese companies: Pony.ai (Botride) and AutoX has launched similar services in the US
But they are all quite limited roll-outs so far and they all still come with human safety drivers behind the wheel as a backup.
Waymo, Google’s 10 years old Autonomous driving arm, has been active for a year now with about 600 self-driving cars, and they started true driverless ride hails in late 2019 as the first in the world. So, they are still regarded as the frontrunners in this area.
In the meantime, Elon Musk promised to launch a level 5 (the most advanced level of autonomous driving) software upgrade in 2020, which would turn 1 million Tesla vehicles into robotaxis, and he even promised that Tesla owners could earn up to $30.000 pr. Year if they let their cars drive around while they were at work. Whether that happens or not we will have to wait another year to see. But the first truly driverless commercial taxis are now on the streets, and the race towards fully autonomous cars will definitely continue in the years to come!
China is taking the lead on 5G, among several areas
As predicted, technology development in China has just speeded up during the year. Almost 50% of the world’s patent applications in 2019 came from China. It is both impressive and scary at the same time.
As an example, all three of China's commercial Telco’s rolled out 5G in the major cities of China from November 1st — 2 months ahead of time. And by the end of the year, the 50 largest cities will be covered by 5G. This puts China in the lead of this critical technology deployment — in front of the US and the other 40 countries that today have smaller live 5G installations in place. Expect 5G roll-out to gain even more momentum in 2020, and the first commercial launch to happen in Denmark as well.
One step closer to Artificial General Intelligence: Open AI five took the Dota 2 victory in 2019
Another important battleground is AI. And boy, it has been an exciting year within this area!
Last year I wrote about the battle between the Open AI 5 algorithm and the world’s best Dota 2 team: OG - the two-time winners of the largest e-sports tournament in the World: The International. I predicted that in 2019 the algorithm would go ahead and win. And on April 13, it happened. The Open AI five algorithm won two games in a row. It's quite an achievement since it acquired both teamwork and complex collaboration. By the way, in October OpenAI trained a neural network and a robot hand to solve Rubiks Cube using the same training methodology as used with OpenAI Five.
The foldable phone came — and crashed gloriously
Talk about failing fast! Just a few weeks after the huge release of the foldable Samsung phone, they had to withdraw everything and head back to the lab. Other brands launched similar products more successfully during the year. But most surprising was a mobile comeback from Microsoft with the Surface Duo. However, their product will first be available in 2020. In the meantime, Samsung has rebooted the Galaxy Fold, and it's back in the market, in a new and improved version — still humongously expensive. Will this form factor be a success? Probably not, as I also predicted a year ago. But keep a look-out for new and interesting usages of flexible LED displays.
Fewer breakthroughs in Wearable Health, Consumer IoT and Augmented Reality than expected
Niantics huge AR game: Harry Potter Wizards Unite didn't become the hit that we all expected, Pokemon Go remains the most used AR title worldwide. I still haven't been able to try HoloLens 2.0, Microsoft keeps them very close. And to get a pair of North Focals, you still need to take a week’s vacation and travel to Brooklyn for a custom sizing appointment and subsequently adjustment.
However, all three areas will continue to grow in importance. And breakthroughs will arrive. Within Wearable Health, I am looking out for the product Vitaliti from CloudX and of course the consequences of Google acquiring Fitbit recently.
In the area of Augmented Reality, there are consistent rumors that Apple will be releasing its version of AR glasses. When that happens, things typically speed up. Just think about what happened within watches and music players.
VR saw a breakthrough with the launch of Oculus Quest
As predicted, The Oculus Quest headset arrived in 2019 and created the initial VR breakthrough, we have been waiting for. Apparently, 400.000 headsets have been sold and more than 100 titles are now available. It is just as fantastic a product as we hoped for. If you haven't tried playing Beat Saber with a pair of Quests on, you should!
At Facebook’s Connect 6 event in September, Zuckerberg went on stage to tell that at the beginning of 2020, they will release a software update, that makes it possible to control games with your bare hands, so no need for two controllers anymore. Another interesting new headset released in 2019 is HTCs Vive Cosmos. It still requires a PC but that also means an even more powerful experience. Now we just have to wait until the Tesla Suit becomes commercially available.
The biggest disappointment: Speech interfaces and digital assistants didn't really evolve
Let's be honest: after the launch of Amazon Alexa five years ago and the 2018 Google Duplex demo of an AI algorithm calling to make a hairdresser appointment, not a lot has happened within speech interfaces.
I personally thought that 2019 would be a breakthrough year for these technologies with huge leaps forward. But most Alexa owners still use it for setting an alarm, getting sports results or weather reports.
Google spent 2019 rolling out Duplex across the US, so the service is now available in 48 states. And in 2020, they will begin launching internationally, starting in New Zealand. So maybe by the end of next year, we should be able to ask Google assistant to make our restaurant reservations or movie ticket purchases.
In conclusion: a pretty high hit rate this year
Looking back, I think it is fair to say, that I came quite close last year, predicting what would happen in 2019. But as we all know, this is no guarantee, that next year´s prediction will come just as close. So, what can we then expect in 2020? I will let you know as soon as I am done compiling my top 10 tech predictions for 2020. So, stay tuned for my next article about the 10 most interesting digital predictions for the year to come.