Hailing an Uber or Lyft might one day be the old-fashioned way of getting around. Instead, passengers might head to the helipad to catch a ride from a flying autonomous vehicle. Not only will these future taxis take to the sky to potentially reduce traffic, they’ll operate independently of a human pilot.
Realistically, the world (and the technology) aren’t quite ready for autonomous flying taxis. The first challenge will be mastering the autonomous technology, which is still at least five to 10 years away.
The concept of autonomous flying vehicles isn’t just for human passengers but can be applied to transport many other things such as medical supplies, packages, food delivery and more. Companies are actively investigating this technology as a way to deliver same-day packages or regularly send supplies to remote locations without a pilot. These are a real possibility in the next decade.
While there will be unique regulatory and societal challenges to deal with first, flying autonomous vehicles are one of 17 new technologies to join the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2018. The Gartner Hype Cycle focuses on technologies that will deliver a high degree of competitive advantage over the next decade.
This year, Gartner organized the 17 technologies into five major trends that will blur the lines between humans and machines: Democratized artificial intelligence (AI), digitalized ecosystems, do-it-yourself biohacking, transparently immersive experiences and ubiquitous infrastructure.
Trend #1: Democratized AI
AI technologies will be virtually everywhere over the next 10 years. While these technologies enable early adopters to adapt to new situations and solve problems that have not been encountered before, these technologies will become available to the masses — democratized. Movements and trends like cloud computing, the “maker” community and open source will eventually propel AI into everyone’s hands.
For example, smart robots capable of working alongside humans, delivering room service or working in warehouses, will allow organizations to assist, replace or redeploy human workers to more value-adding tasks. Also in this category are autonomous driving Level 4 and autonomous driving Level 5, which replaced “autonomous vehicles” on this year’s Hype Cycle.
Autonomous driving Level 4 describes vehicles that can operate without human interaction in most, but not all, conditions and locations and will likely operate in geofenced areas. This level of autonomous car will likely appear on the market in the next decade. Autonomous driving Level 5 labels vehicles operating autonomously in all situations and conditions and controlling all tasks. Without a steering wheel, brakes or pedals, these cars could become another living space for families, having far-reaching societal impacts.
Trend #2: Digitalized ecosystems
Emerging technologies in general will require support from new technical foundations and more dynamic ecosystems. These ecosystems will need new business strategies and a move to platform-based business models. The shift from compartmentalized technical infrastructure to ecosystem-enabling platforms is laying the foundation for entirely new business models that are forming the bridge between humans and technology.
Blockchain, for example, could be a game changer for data security leaders, as it has the potential to increase resilience, reliability, transparency, and trust in centralized systems. Also under this trend are digital twins, a virtual representation of a real object. This is beginning to gain adoption in maintenance, and Gartner estimates hundreds of millions of things will have digital twins within five years.
Trend #3: Do-it-yourself biohacking
2018 is just the beginning of a “trans-human” age where hacking biology and “extending” humans will increase in popularity and availability. This will range from simple diagnostics to neural implants. However, questions remain about how far society is prepared to accept these kinds of applications and what ethical issues they create.
These biohacks will fall into four categories: technology augmentation, nutrigenomics, experimental biology and grinder biohacking.
For example, biochips hold the possibility of detecting diseases from cancer to smallpox before the patient even develops symptoms. These chips are made from an array of molecular sensors on the chip surface that can analyze biological elements and chemicals. Also new to the Hype Cycle this year is biotech, artificially cultured and biologically inspired muscles. Though still in lab development, this technology could eventually allow skin and tissue to grow over a robot exterior, making it sensitive to pressure.
Trend #4: Transparently immersive experiences
Technology, such as that seen in smart workspaces, is increasingly human-centric, blurring the lines between people, businesses and things, and extending and enabling a smarter living, work and life experience. In a smart workspace, electronic whiteboards can better capture meeting notes, sensors will help deliver personalized information depending on employee location, and office supplies can interact directly with IT platforms.
Trend #5: Ubiquitous infrastructure
Infrastructure is no longer in the way of obtaining an organization’s goals. The advent and mass popularity of cloud computing and its many variations have enabled an always-on, available and limitless infrastructure compute environment.
Take quantum computing, for example. With its complicated systems of qubits and algorithms, can operate exponentially faster than conventional computers. In the future, this technology will have a huge impact on optimization, machine learning, encryption, analytics and image analysis. Though general-purpose quantum computers will probably never be realized, the technology holds great potential in narrow, defined areas.
Mike Walker is a research vice president with Gartner, Inc., focusing on enterprise architecture and technology innovation. Mr. Walker will discuss the outlook for emerging technologies at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo.