2019 - The Tech Revolution continues

10 digital predictions for the year to come

By Tim Frank Andersen, Chief Digital Officer @ Charlie Tango

5G networks are set to debut. Foldable screens and augmented glasses will hit the market. Health care and smart homes are converging. And we might even see the world´s first commercial flying car taxi service. These are just a few of my predictions for the year to come. For tech, 2019 looks like it will be a very exciting year.

A classic quote says: “Change has never happened this fast before - and it will never be this slow again.”

This might very well be true for the times that we are living in. However, what will happen in 2019? Well, here are my suggestions for what we can expect for the year to come.

1. China’s technology lead will dawn on us all

Even though I have put this on the top of my list, it actually came to me more as an afterthought.

When I looked through the list of predictions, it surprised me how many of them are dominated by companies from China or from the rest of Asia. After having read the books The Big Tech Revolution by Christina Boutrup and AI Super Powers by Kai- Fu Lee, I am quite sure that 2019 will be the year when the global technology leadership shifts from West to East.

China already dominates tech areas like solar power, smartphones, drones, high-speed trains, mobile payments, and soon, even AI.

I think for 2019, it will become clear to all of us that to predict the future of technology, we should look less towards Silicon Valley and more towards Beijing.

2. The world's first smartphone with a foldable screen

This is hardly a prediction, but nevertheless pretty interesting, since we have been talking about flexible LED screens for more than a decade. Now, finally it looks like the first consumer product will hit the shelves in 2019. I am talking about Samsung´s upcoming phone with the Infinity Flex display. However, they will not be the only one launching a product in this new category. I expect that we will see a plethora of foldable models at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February from brands like LG, Huawei and maybe the upcoming Chinese manufacturer Oppo. Google has already announced that the new version of Android supports foldable screens that change dynamically in size.

While the foldable phone will surely be a hit amongst gadget lovers, I foresee it having very little impact for quite some time, partly because it is going to be really expensive. However, the underlying technology is very fascinating. It will lead to even more screens in unfamiliar places. We will begin to see new screen concepts that are rollable, foldable, or even stretchable. An interesting company to follow is Royale from China, which began mass production of flexible 0.01 mm screens in 2018. Think of a large screen on the back of your curtains. Or take a look at LG's 65-inch rollable OLED TV to imagine what this could mean for your future smartphone or TV.

3. 5G networks will debut

Now that we have all gotten used to 4G, it's time for an update. 5G has been in the making for quite a while, but 2019 will be the year in which we will see the first commercial rollouts, probably in Asia, where Huawei comes from. Right now, they are the undisputed world leader for 5G infrastructure technology and equipment. However, all the large network carriers in the US are equally committed to starting to roll out in 2019 as well.

The advantages of 5G are significant. Being approximately 100 times faster than 4G and with a promise to get rid of latency, this new network will be critical for self-driving cars. The IoT is another field that will benefit from a better and faster network since 5G supports up to 1,000 more devices per meter. However, it will be very expensive, so a global rollout will take a long time. And then there is the unknown health factor, since 5G needs way more antennas.

Fortunately for those of us in Scandinavia, Nokia and Ericsson are also among the world leaders in delivering network equipment. And with all the doubts about whether you can trust Huawei or not, maybe this could mean a comeback for the Scandinavian Telco sector.

4. Consumer IoT will finally begin to smarten our homes

For years now, Philips Hue has shown us what we can gain by substituting dumb objects in our homes with smarter ones connected to the net. Their lightbulbs turn on and off depending on who is in the house. The colour changes depending on your mood or the time of day, and if you are travelling, the lights will act as if you were at home.

Next up are door locks, security solutions, home appliances, and sensors, all linked to our insurance. We will get alerts if a pipe leaks or smoke is detected. More and more of our physical inventory will have a digital layer added, which paves the way for automatic actions like starting, stopping, and replenishment. The key to widespread IoT success is dependability, security, usability, and convenience. Since most new products tick these boxes, we are getting closer to functioning ecosystems that don't need someone with an engineering degree to make them work.

5. Autonomous car services will launch commercially

After years of trying and testing, 2019 will be the year when self-driving car services will become a real thing.

Actually, we’ve already seen the start of a commercial service. In December 2018, Waymo One was launched to a preliminary group of early riders in the Phoenix Metro area in the US. Over the next few years, Waymo plans to add up to 20,000 Jaguar I-PACE vehicles to its fleet, enough for about one million trips per day.

While Uber and Lyft are struggling hard to catch up, I predict that the next public commercial autonomous taxi service will be in China. The company Didi Chuxing is today the world's largest car hailing service with 30 million daily rides (twice Uber’s number), which gives them access to an obscene amount of data. They are already testing self-driving services in four cities, so I expect that they will launch commercially during the year.

6. Limited flying car taxi services will be available in the Middle East or Singapore

With the risk of a self-driving car hitting and killing pedestrians, there is another way to solve the global traffic congestion. And that is by taking to the sky. A long-lived dream of being able to transport yourself in the air is coming closer and closer to reality. In 2019, we might see the first commercial drone-based services for single person transportation.

Audi and Airbus are collaborating on a commercial flying robo-taxi service. The concept called Pop.Up.Next was demoed live in November 2018.

UK-based Vertical Aerospace is another contender.

There are lots of regulatory issues, so for this to happen, we have to look at countries where these can be solved easily, where there is a willingness to invest heavily in the necessary infrastructure, and where there is lots of rural space. That is exactly the case for several countries in the Middle East. Dubai has for a long time claimed that it will be the first to launch an air-taxi service based on the Ehang 184 from China. However, recent issues with that company mean that the market is now more open.

First up could be New Zealand, where the start-up funded by Larry Page (Google) Kitty Hawk has made an agreement with the local government to launch a service as soon as possible (cora.aero). It is already doing test flights.

Another bet is Singapore, where trials for air taxis will take off in 2019, based on the German company Volocopter.

It might be a bit too optimistic, but with the competition heating up, I still predict that we will see the launch of the first limited commercial air-taxi service in 2019.

7. AI will beat the best teams in e-sport

AI was the big buzz word of 2018 and will continue to be so in the years to come.

The technology is already playing quite a role in several areas, sports being one of them. AI helps golf players to perfect their swing. It can predict if a soccer player is at risk of injury and it can even forecast the results of a game based on how it is being played.

Most of us are aware of how AI has beaten the best chess and go players. However, playing a strategic board game, even one as complex as go, is still very different from interacting in a real-world situation. So how do we get closer to artificial general intelligence?

One bet comes from a non-profit AI research company called OpenAI. They are working hard on beating the best teams in the most popular multi-player e-sports game, Dota 2. They were very close in the biggest tournament last year, where the prize pool was more than $25 million.

To get to this point, they trained five different AI’s to work together as a team, using a system running on 256 GPUs and 128,000 CPU cores. It played 180 years’ worth of games against itself, every day!

Whereas each move in go can be described by 400 data points, the game play in Dota 2 is made up of 20,000 data points, each of which is updated 30 times per second. So, it is much closer to a real-life situation. With the speed of development within AI, I predict that OpenAI Five will overcome the challenge and become Dota 2 world champions in 2019.

8. AR glasses of unknown quality and first-generation VR coming of age

While augmented reality (AR) for most of us still means Snapchat and Instagram face filters or playing Pokémon Go, there is a lot happening behind the scenes that will drive the development forward in 2019.

Standard platforms from both Apple (ARKit) and Android (ARCore) are now in place. Several new products and solutions will hit the market and their success will give a strong indication of how fast we will be moving towards a world where AR will be much more integrated in our daily lives.

One event that is bound to have an impact is the US military’s AR contract worth $480 million, which was won by Microsoft. This will undoubtedly boost the development of professional AR solutions, and I expect that we will see a strong launch of HoloLens 2 during 2019.

However, HoloLens is still a pretty bulky headset and it makes you look like something from a space movie. Much more consumer friendly are the AR glasses that are set to debut in 2019 from North. They actually look like real glasses that I wouldn't have a problem wearing every day. Several other companies, like Vuzix and Waveoptics, are working in the same direction, while companies like Vario and LetinARare focusing on the lenses. So, there is a lot of innovation in this area and several products are ready for commercialization.

On the software side, I very much look forward to Niantic’s new AR game made in cooperation with Warner Brothers and based on the Harry Potter saga. If it becomes as popular as Niantic’s former success with Pokémon Go, it will further drive the usage and understanding of AR.

When it comes to VR, I am quite excited to see how the next wave of wireless headsets, like the Oculus Quest and Pico Neo, deliver six degrees of freedom and the ability to move freely around without being attached to cables.

AR and VR may not get the big commercial breakthrough in 2019, but the moment is certainly getting much closer.

9. Speech interfaces will be much more common and intelligent digital agents will continue to rise in popularity

The tremendous success of smart speakers is paving the way for a broader acceptance of speech interfaces. The installed base hit 150+ million by the end of 2018, with Amazon Echo and Google Home as the two main contenders and Samsung Bixby and Apple Homepod/Siri as the challengers. Support for more native languages will further widen the field during the coming year, while large companies are working hard on speech-enabling their services and finding the killer app that will drive adoption and usage.

At the same time, in 2019 we will get even more used to interacting with digital agents and AI-powered chatbots via our smartphones, as these services mature and become more valuable and engrained in our daily lives. I expect at least one solution to become a global hit during this year, showing the potential of this way of interacting with services and companies.

10. Wearable health tools come out of the laboratory

In 2017, a family team (Basil Leaf Technologies) won the Star Trek inspired Tricorder XPRIZE of $4.7 million by developing a single product called DXter that could detect 13 health conditions accurately and capture five vital health signs in real time through a nice user experience. The product, however, is still in the lab.

However, when Apple launched Watch 4.0, it demonstrated that the device could measure a pretty accurate electrocardiogram (ECG). It got FDA approval, and the device is now cleared for commercial use in the US. There are different regulations in other countries, so it might be a while before it will be allowed here in Scandinavia. My prediction, however, is that it will be publicly available during 2019 in several countries. And it won´t be the only product coming out this year that will measure things like pulse, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, blood pressure and blood sugar (glucose) levels.

The FDA-approved Sleeptuner from Beddr is like having a small sleep lab attached to your forehead. It measures all the relevant sleep-related data and helps you improve oxygenation and night-time breathing with hospital-grade accuracy while detecting if you are at risk of developing sleep apnoea.

A competitive product is the Oura ring that your wear on your finger, which also tracks your activity.

Another example is DFree. It helps elderly people to predict when they have to go to the toilet, before it’s too late.

Samsung are working with the company Insulet to launch a mobile phone-controlled insulin delivery system.

Airesone are working on a mobile phone-enabled device for parents with kids having asthma. It measures the child’s heart rate, respiratory rate and sleep quality.

There is a long list of new and helpful health-related products that will be released in the years to come. We will become more and more used to measuring ourselves. We will get increased control over our own health and transform health care into home care.

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