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YEAR IN REVIEW: EXCITING NEW TECHNOLOGIES WE SAW IN 2014

In case you’ve been a bit overwhelmed at the dizzying pace of technological change lately then you’re not alone. What was considered science fiction a few years ago is fast becoming present day reality. Smartwatches, retail robots, virtual assistants that can understand your speech, drone delivery units . . . who would’ve thought? 2014 has seen some major changes in the world of emerging and disruptive tech and we thought it’d be nice on this last day of the year to review some of the most compelling areas of innovation. Glancing over these new technologies gives us some benchmarks for shaping and influencing our business strategies in the months and years to come.

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Internet of Things: Big Data has been on everyone’s radar for a number of years now. But there’s another up and coming technology that has captured everyone’s attention of late and is certainly moving the needle on the market buzz scale. It’s the Internet of Things, which according to Gartner Research has officially surpassed Big Data as the most hyped technology. IoT is essentially about the linking and interconnection of physical objects through the internet. We’ve already seen some commercially viable products like the Nest thermostat and smoke alarm or the Fitbit activity tracker. But these are just scratching the surface. The market continues to gear up with increasing numbers of products and objects coming online with sensors, RFIDs, and other tracking capabilities. There are a ton of potential applications in industries such as transportation, home automation, medical and healthcare systems, and large-scale industrial applications. Experts predict that there will be 25 billion objects connected to the internet by the year 2020. Also, this past fall Google kicked off its Physical Web project, which gives a preview of what it sees as the next generation Internet – the linking of objects via wireless URLs for ubiquitous communications between devices. This will not be your grandma’s internet!

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Smartwatches: 2014 marked the emergence of the smartwatch market in full form. Major players like Google, LG, and Samsung introduced devices, following the path of the popular Pebble Watch release in 2013. But the real news of the year in the wearables market was the Apple Watch announcement in September. The smartwatch is now slated for a spring 2015 release and, based on the hype and fanfare, it’s already a potentially epic device. If there’s one company that can make it a commodity item, it’s Apple. Based on Moore’s Law we know that the PC has been steadily shrinking over the past 30+ years. With the Apple Watch we are likely to witness in 2015 another epic downsizing, bringing us full circle back to where Steve Jobs launched the whole PC movement in 1977.  Imagine the scenario; from a computer in every home to a computer on every wrist inside of 35 years!

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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. Consider the huge amount of attention that robotics drones have received this past year, and their immense growth in the commercial sector. They’re becoming ubiquitous enough that the FAA is working to clarify regulations for the control of these devices within federal airspace. Amazon Prime Air is ready to revolutionize the world of shipping by offering to get packages into customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles. The e-commerce giant has already applied for FAA approval.

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Service Robotics: 2014 witnessed some significant changes in the long-awaited robotics industry. The most commercially viable market has been telepresence robotics, which for a number of years has allowed remote workers to be more present in their home offices. The market is now at an “inflection point” as new players have entered and prices have dropped. Once a luxury item, now more and more options are coming online for telepresence devices at the $2000 mark or lower (for instance, see the Beam+ or PadBot). What’s particularly exciting is to see office robotics technology spawn developments across other industries. Fellow Robots is an up and coming player seeking to position itself at the forefront of the new “retail robotics” market. In partnership with Lowe’s Innovation Labs (as in the Lowe’s Home Improvement retail chain), Fellow Robots recently released OSHBot. OSHBot is a human-sized, multi-lingual robot capable of greeting customers and 3-D scanning any part and taking customers to the aisle location. OSHBot has been undergoing beta testing during the holidays at Orchard Supply Hardware Store in San Jose, CA. The device represents some of the latest advances in emerging technology – artificial intelligence, sensors, wireless networking, voice recognition, and design prototyping. 2015 will be an exciting year as telepresence robots continue to drop in price and morph into more service oriented sectors. Stay tuned as robots become more present in retail stores, restaurants, and homes!

As we get ready to wrap up 2014 it’s a great time to stop and take stock of best practices, review strategies, and think about the year ahead. How will you and your organization or startup respond to the latest technologies outlined here? Do you have a plan in place for the Internet of Things? What will be your approach to Apple Watch? What about robotics and smart machines; how will you leverage these devices in 2015? Now is the time to start strategizing the latest emerging and disruptive trends. Businesses that lead out now in developing innovative new customer-centric solutions with these technologies will set themselves apart and keep their competitive advantage in the challenging years ahead.

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