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Hi-tech trends for 2019: the year of 5G, AI, self-driving cars – and a real ‘RoboCop’

  • Wider deployment of fifth generation of mobile communications and smart consumer technologies in coming year will herald arrival of the ‘data age’
  • A robot crime-fighter, Knightscope K5, is now in use by Microsoft and Uber to patrol car parks and large outdoor areas in the US
PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 December, 2018, 2:50pm
UPDATED : Monday, 31 December, 2018, 4:13pm

Although online and/or concierge grocery shopping is convenient, sometimes you just want to select the produce yourself.

So, in 2019, consumers will be able to simply tap a button to summon the closest robotic grocery store on wheels.

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Once the Robomart arrives, people can head outside, unlock the doors and pick the products they want. When they are finished, they just close the doors and send it on its way.

Robomart tracks what customers select using patent-pending “grab and go” checkout-free technology and will charge customers and send a receipt accordingly.

After years of development and testing we’re seeing the first commercial deployments of 5G and self-driving vehicles
Steve Koenig, vice-president, research, Consumer Technology Association

This is one view of the future of self-driving vehicle – a sector tipped to be one of the big technology trends over the next 12 months.

Steve Koenig, vice-president of research at the Consumer Technology Association, which runs the annual CES trade show promoting consumer electronics in Las Vegas, in the United States – which begins on January 9 – says 2019 will be the year of 5G – fifth-generation mobile communications – artificial intelligence (AI) and self-driving vehicles (SDVs).

“After years of development and testing we’re seeing the first commercial deployments of 5G and SDVs,” he said.

“We’re seeing SDVs go commercial with the launch of Waymo’s automated mobility as a service (AMaaS) business in Phoenix, Arizona, in the US [in December].

“This is a milestone moment for the industry and we expect similar services to launch around the world in 2019.”

Waymo, the former Google self-driving project owned by parent company Alphabet, has launched a self-driving taxi service, Waymo One, in the Phoenix area in the US.

People can hail an autonomous taxi 24/7 and, like Uber, can see price estimates before accepting a trip.

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Passengers, should they need to, can converse with a “rider support agent” via their Waymo app or the in-car console and screen.

Robomart is another example of where this kind of SDV technology is headed.

After testing the initial fleet of mobile, robotic produce marts in commercial pilot schemes during 2018, Ali Ahmed, founder and CEO of Robomart, says a deal had just been signed with one of the top five grocery chains in the US “to deploy commercially in 2019”.

Spoken language facilitates consumers’ engagement with digital assistants, which is establishing voice as the ‘go-to’ human-machine interface
Steve Koenig

The next 12 months will also be the year that AI reaches critical mass in commercial and consumer arenas, Koenig says.

“For businesses, machine-learning is improving processes and, in some cases, automating them for even greater efficiency,” he says.

Consumers are beginning to endorse digital assistants such as Alexa or Google Assistant to help them with everyday tasks, from internet searches to buying products.

“Spoken language facilitates consumers’ engagement with digital assistants, which is establishing voice as the ‘go-to’ human-machine interface,” Koenig says.

These trends are important because of the universal impact they will manifest.

“Every consumer, industry and economy will be influenced by developments across these trends,” he says.

“The wider deployment of 5G, AI and SDVs in the coming year heralds the arrival of the ‘data age’ of consumer technology.

“We are therefore witnessing the birth of a new IoT – the ‘Intelligence of Things’ – become reality.”

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of everyday devices, vehicles, and home appliances that contain electronics and software, which allows these things to connect, interact and exchange data.

David Cearley, vice-president of Gartner, a global research and advisory firm, agrees that 2019 will be a year of “autonomous things”.

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“Whether it’s cars, robots or agriculture, autonomous things use AI to perform tasks traditionally done by humans,” Cearley says.

“The sophistication of the intelligence varies, but all autonomous things use AI to interact more naturally with their environments.”

Cearley says companies such as Microsoft and Uber already use Knightscope K5 robots to patrol car parks and large outdoor areas in the US to predict and prevent crime.

“These robots can read [car number] plates, report suspicious activity and collect data to report to their owners,” he says.

The real-life “RoboCops” look very different from the science-fiction version – part-man, part robot – depicted in the RoboCop film of 1987, starring Peter Weller, and the 2014 reboot, starring Joel Kinnaman. But they are evolving: the K7 prototype revealed at the end of last year dons a smart-car appearance and it is probably a matter of time before we have Transformers-inspired law enforcement officers.

Flippy, the robotic burger flipper created by Miso Robotics – which uses a combination of cameras, thermal scanners and artificial intelligence to perform kitchen tasks and measure precise food temperatures – also made its debut in the US, during a trial this past year’s baseball season.

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It cooked food for fans at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles for half the season, up until the end of the World Series – which ended on October 28, with the Boston Red Sox defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-1.

Virtually every application, service and IoT object will incorporate some form of AI to automate or augment processes or human actions
David Cearley, vice-president, Gartner

Cearley says the five types of autonomous things occupy four environments: sea, land, air and digital.

“They all operate with varying degrees of capability, coordination and intelligence.” he says.

“For example, they can span a drone operated in the air with human-assistance [such as a Skydio R1 self-flying camera] to a farming robot operating completely autonomously in a field.

“This paints a broad picture of potential applications, and virtually every application, service and IoT object will incorporate some form of AI to automate or augment processes or human actions.”

Collaborative autonomous things, such as drone swarms, will increasingly drive the future of AI systems, Cearley says.

“However, they do not have the same capability as a human brain for decision making, intelligence or general-purpose learning.”

He also predicts advances in what Gartner calls “smart spaces”.

“A smart space is a physical or digital environment in which humans and technology-enabled systems interact in increasingly open, connected, coordinated and intelligent ecosystems,” Cearley says

“As technology becomes a more integrated part of daily life, smart spaces will enter a period of accelerated delivery.”

Essentially, smart spaces are developing as individual technologies emerge from silos to work together to create a collaborative and interaction environment, he says.

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“The most extensive example of smart spaces is smart cities, where areas that combine business, residential and industrial communities are being designed using intelligent urban ecosystem frameworks, with all sectors linking to social and community collaboration.”

The future will be characterised by smart devices delivering increasingly insightful digital services everywhere
David Cearley

Cearley says other things, such as AI-driven technology, edge computing, blockchain – a system in which a record of transactions made in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency is maintained across several computers that are linked in a peer-to-peer network – and digital twins – an exact digital replica of a product, process or service that can be used to pre-empt scenarios before they occur, enabling preventive action – are driving toward this trend as individual solutions become smart spaces.

“The future will be characterised by smart devices delivering increasingly insightful digital services everywhere,” he says. “We call this the intelligent digital mesh.”

Yet what do consumers think?

To come up with its new report “Tech Trends 2019: The Fads, the Fears, the Future”, US marketing agency FleishmanHillard followed the chat of one billion tech-focused consumer Twitter users between 2017 and 2018, and combined it with insights from more than 25 technology thought leaders from around the world.

Its analysis includes the following 2019 predictions:

AI will get detailed

Brands that use AI to engage in detailed and explanatory conversations, seeking to place AI in real-life contexts, will be the new year’s big winners.

Discussions on conversational AI increased 54 per cent in Twitter topic volume from 2017 to 2018.

Tech for good

More than 80 per cent of consumers rate data security and protection as “very important”– ahead of only health care and education in Britain and health care and freedom of speech in the US. The conclusion: responsible data protection measures will continue to be a major trend.

Augmented analytics will go mainstream 

AI’s potential to enhance human intelligence rather than replace it is central – consumers will want to understand both what augmented analytics means by itself, and what it means against technology’s other big trends.

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Blockchain will find new opportunities

Moving beyond cryptocurrencies, blockchain could expand, supporting developments such as smart cities and digital transformation. Discussion volume share rose by 52 per cent between 2017 and 2018 – and the opportunity for deeper, more forward-looking conversation is growing.

Edge computing will come to the fore

Edge computing streamlines the flow of traffic from IoT devices and provides real-time local data analysis.

Look for 5G to spur on the continued hype and interest in edge computing in 2019.

Immersive reality will transform new sectors

Virtual, augmented and mixed realities will join to create new experiences for consumers and will creep even further into areas such as retail, manufacturing and health care.

Smart fabrics and e-textiles will rise in popularity

Expect smart fabrics and exoskeletons to hit fashion runways and warehouse aisles alike, challenging what the term “wearable” really means.