From nanosats and drones to virtual reality gaming: top 5 trends in ‘frontier technology’ industries

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 September, 2015, 7:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 September, 2015, 12:49pm

•42 per cent of all funded drone start-ups currently focus on software
•76 per cent of virtual reality content now related to gaming
•2,000 nano- and micro- satellites to launch by 2020

Frontier tech start-ups, which focus on drones, space-related technology, augmented reality and virtual reality, raised a combined US$2.17 billion in the first half of 2015, according to a new report. This is more than double the amount raised during the whole of 2014, the report from venture and investment database CB Insights showed. Here are some of the top emerging trends.


More software for drones

A greater number of companies are trying to make drones easier, smarter and more interactive. Some 42 per cent of all drone start-ups focus on software, including operating systems, apps and platforms. Even China’s DJI, which controls 70 per cent of the global market for civilian drones, said it will create an open platform for users to share information and for developers to create customised drones based on the data supplied.


Growth of drone-based deliveries

Drones currently have the ability to carry small payloads of up to five pounds, which Amazon claims covers around 86 per cent of all of the packages it ships. Using drones makes sense financially: the cost is less than 10 per cent of traditional ground-based delivery services. As consumer behaviour shifts towards “on-demand” products and services, this trend will accelerate. China’s SF Express delivers between 500 and 1,000 packages a day using drones, and Amazon and Google have run pilot tests in the logistics field.


Rise of augmented reality and virtual reality gaming

Some 76 per cent virtual reality content is now related to gaming. This is estimated to be worth US$225 million, around 3 per cent of the total gaming market. Although its current impact is quite small, large companies like Facebook, with its US$2 billion acquisition of hardware developer Oculus VR, are positioning themselves within the market. Microsoft and Sony have made virtual reality headsets of their own, while Samsung and Google are also designing cheap headsets to work with high-end smartphones.


Commercialisation of cheaper nano-satellites

Nanosatellites have been used to gather imagery of the earth, analyse traffic algorithms, assess the health of crops to aid commodities trading, analyse images to measure the impact of deforestation, and much more. Over 2,000 nano - and micro - satellites are expected to launch from 2014 to 2020. 


More internet giants getting involved

Google and Qualcomm have been very active in the frontier tech space, having made numerous investments and acquisitions. Google, for example, spent US$500 million to acquire Skybox Imaging, a satellite imagery company, in 2014. Among China’s tech giants, e-commerce king Alibaba partnered with China’s YTO Express to hold trials of drone-based deliveries in February in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. China's largest smartphone maker Xiaomi is set to make commercial drones at a price affordable for most Chinese gadget consumers.