Wearables & Robots: How 2015 is shaping up to be an epic year in emerging technology and innovation

Anyone involved in the world of technology (and that covers most of you reading this) will likely agree that we’re seeing unheard of and unprecedented rates of growth. The industry is moving at lightning speed with more innovations and disruptive changes than ever witnessed before in such a short period of time. Put into historical context, we’re merely seeing the outgrowth of forces launched over 50 years ago with the invention of the transistor. The realization of Moore’s Law and the development of the microprocessor in the 1970s spawned the beginnings of the digital revolution, and a series of epic-making decades to follow: the commoditization of the PC in the 1980s, the appearance of the internet in the 1990s, the age of social media in the 2000s, and the mobile revolution in the 2010s. What was considered science fiction a few years ago is fast becoming present day reality. Smartwatches, robotic warehouses, virtual assistants that can understand your speech . . . who would’ve thought? And now we’re on the verge of driverless cars, which Nissan announced it will have on the roads by 2020.

That’s a lot to absorb in one paragraph but the point here is that 2015 is gearing up to be another dizzying year in the world of emerging and disruptive technologies. To get some perspective on all of this rapid change, let’s take a glance at several major forces that entrepreneurs and businesses should be paying close attention to. While space prevents a fuller expansion, these are the major trend-setters right now that will continue to shape and influence innovation strategies in the months and years to come.

Smartwatches & Wearables: The exciting news on the street right now is the pending release of the Apple Watch, announced in September. The smartwatch is a potentially epic device and if there’s one company that can make it a commodity item, it’s Apple. Based on Moore’s Law mentioned above, we know that the PC has been steadily shrinking over the past 30+years. Now with release of the Apple Watch we may just be seeing another iteration of this trend, bringing us back full circle to where Steve Jobs launched the whole PC movement in 1977.  Imagine that possibility. From a computer in every home to a computer on every wrist!

Internet of Things: This past summer Gartner announced that IoT, or the linking of everyday physical objects to the Internet, has officially surpassed Big Data as the most hyped technology. But don’t make the mistake of thinking this is all market buzz. No less a tech giant than Cisco predicts IoT will have 5 to 10 times the impact on society as the Internet itself, and estimates its total worth at $19 trillion dollars (that’s right, trillion!) in the next decade.

3-D Printing: This emerging technology has been called the next industrial revolutionGartner says that global shipments of 3D printers will grow 98 percent in 2015, and then double in 2016. 3-D printers are becoming more advanced, prices are dropping, and printing services are growing. Not to mention, this past summer Amazon launched its own 3-D printing store, which should speak volumes about the potential impact of 3-D printing on manufacturing and commerce.

Smart Machines & Advanced Automation: Machine Learning, artificial intelligence, and robotics are advancing rapidly and we’re seeing their impacts in everything from Amazon’s customized recommendations to digital assistants like Siri and warehouse robotics such as Kiva Systems. As Gartner points out, “Prototype autonomous vehicles, advanced robots, virtual personal assistants and smart advisors already exist and will evolve rapidly, ushering in a new age of machine helpers. The smart machine era will be the most disruptive in the history of IT.” These trends will continue to advance quickly in 2015. Will this be the year that Amazon Prime Air takes off or that robots invade the home?

For a number of years now, Gartner has offered a very useful framework for how technology is revolutionizing business and society and transforming the way we live, think, and work: the Nexus of Forces. Here’s their definition:

“The nexus of forces describes the convergence and mutual reinforcement of four interdependent trends: social interaction, mobility, cloud, and information. The forces combine to empower individuals as they interact with each other and their information through well-designed ubiquitous technology”

Technology is a key differentiator today that impacts everyone, from the serial entrepreneur to the corporate CIO and on to the everyday consumer. As we get ready to wrap up 2014, it’s a good time to stop and take stock of best practices and review strategies and think about the year ahead. How will you and your organization respond to the Nexus of Forces in 2015? Do you have a plan in place for the digital workforce? What’s your BYOW (Bring your own wearable) strategy? These questions represent both a challenge and an opportunity for businesses . . . to face uncertainty, stretch beyond the status quo, and think innovatively.