2016 is behind us and there are many interesting things ahead in 2017. 2016 brought many interesting developments in robotics, artificial intelligence and related markets during the last year. The question now is how some of those innovations will evolve and what predictions we can make for the next twelve months.
There are five themes that I’ll address in this article:
It’s become evident with the events of this past year that cybersecurity is one of the most urgent areas for investment and growth. With all of the stories that made the news and more ominously those which didn’t, security is ever more important in an increasingly connected world. Whether it’s foreign entities seeking political influence & espionage or for-profit criminal enterprises seeking to extract money from individuals and enterprises through ransomware, it’s evident that the Internet has become a wild-west world where everyone needs to be armed and protected. The question for 2017 is how the Internet will react and evolve to provide more law and order. I would predict that it’s a good time to look for emerging players who will provide the tools to enable all of us to protect our data and our identities. I also believe that we have to protect net-neutrality so that every content provider has an equal chance to thrive. With the growing world of cloud-based businesses, it’s more critical than ever to ensure that the Internet and all of its properties can remain safe from nefarious activity.
Autonomous vehicles were the focus of many news headlines in 2016. Both passenger vehicles and in the area of autonomous ground, air and marine robots. All of these applications are adjacent to each other and they feed on technology advances in any of the markets. Every autonomous robot manufacturer is eagerly awaiting the reduction in sensor cost along with the advancements in battery technology which will come from the mass adoption of autonomous passenger vehicles. 2017 will see the ramp-up of the Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada, which bodes well for proving that battery technology can be produced cost effectively on US shores. Improved battery technology, together with advancements in perception will be the two key advances in 2017 which fuel growth in autonomous vehicles.
The world of software development has changed tremendously since the turn of the millennia. Gone are the old architectures of on premise applications, replaced by mobile apps, cloud-based solutions and subscription-based licensing. Looking forward into 2017, nearly every new software startup is building a business based on software-as-a-service (SaaS). SaaStr is one example of a community which has been built to help new SaaS based organizations thrive. The entire software investment cycle has evolved to focus on the growth of annual recurring revenue. The Chief Revenue Officer is now one of the most important roles in fledgling SaaS organizations.
The nature of work is evolving. President Elect Trump was elected on a promise to bring jobs back to the US. While there are signs that a renaissance of manufacturing is happening in the US, production lines are now more automated than ever. Manufacturing may well continue to return to the US, but it won’t bring with it old-school production line assembly jobs. The type of jobs which will come with the next wave of manufacturing will require higher level skills, and the jobs won’t be manual labor. Starting in 2017 we need to continue to invest in STEM based programs for the next generation of workers.
One of the interesting opportunities for entrepreneurs starting in 2017 will be the opportunity to build and grow a business based on owning and managing fleets of robots. Today that opportunity exists with drones, in applications such as real estate photography, surveying and agriculture support. Just around the corner will be opportunities for applications such as janitorial robot fleets, agriculture harvesting, along with other service related applications which haven’t been concepted yet. The new innovation will be that fleets of robots will be owned, maintained and deployed locally by robotic service organizations across all types of applications.
Most of the attention this past year has been on the many interesting research projects which are bringing real advancements in artificial intelligence to the world of robotics. Cloud based computing algorithms are enabling new applications in robotics which make the machines smarter than they’ve ever been before, and able to share data and knowledge across machines. As the 2016 US Roadmap for Robotics highlighted, we are in the starting gates for many interesting robotic applications and some of these technologies will begin to be commercialized in 2017.