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Top tech innovations to watch in 2021: how could they shape your career?

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Some of the top tech innovations that will have the greatest impact over the next 10 years, may surprise you – excite you – and some might even get your nose right out of joint.

According to Lux Research, the technology that will reshape the world the most over the next decade is anything to do with autonomous vehicles. While this could be just what some STEM specialists are looking for in terms of their next contract gig or client base, those in the driving seat may not see this as a welcome enterprise, such as taxi, bus or delivery drivers. But as we have learned during the ongoing pandemic, there are opportunities everywhere, we just need to know how and where to spot them and be flexible enough to pivot to meet unexpected demand.

Delivery companies will be first to go driverless

Big companies, especially delivery companies will be among the first and few that will be able to afford the technology in the early stages of autonomous driver implementation, according to a report from Postage Supermarket, an international online courier delivery service.

The Freelance Informer looked into this and found that DHL reported in late 2019 that a freight truck autonomously delivered butter over 4,500 km from California to Pennsylvania in 3 days in inclement weather, factoring in snow, a similar trip would normally take 9 days and a rushed direct order would take 5 days.

However, DHL said, “More technology advances and tests will be needed, as well as the formation and standardization of rules and regulations, before real benefits can be realized in the logistics industry.

“Even though courier firms will have to make a hefty initial investment in the technology, they will see returns on it in the long run. Autonomous vehicles will be able to work longer hours and have lower running costs than ones which require a qualified driver,” said the Postage Supermarket report.

According to the report, The Future of Driverless Haulage, the technology could save the industry between £33bn and £47bn on insurance, labour, vehicle utilisation and fuel after only 10 years of implementation. 

It would seem that taxi drivers might be safe for the time being, and while investors, such as VC firms, are still interested in autonomy the focus has shifted towards practical services such as grocery delivery, automated warehouse robots, and autonomous functions restricted to highways, according to a Financial Times report.

So, besides autonomous vehicles, the 12 key overall technologies that will see technology transform businesses include chemicals and materials, automotive, food and agriculture, electronics and IT, and energy.

The top three technologies cited in the Lux report are:

  • Autonomous vehicles: Improvements in safety and efficiency are happening at all levels of vehicle automation, benefiting both consumers and commercial operations. Level 4 and 5 autonomous vehicles will transform mobility and logistics by removing the need for a driver behind the wheel of a vehicle.
  • Natural language processing: Powering devices like voice assistants, machine translation, and chatbots, natural language processing (NLP) patents have had a 44% CAGR over the past five years, now reaching more than 3,000 publications annually.
  • Plastic recycling: Concern about plastic waste is nothing new, but major consumer product companies have made commitments to increasing recycling rates and innovations that can convert waste into higher-value products. Over the past decade alone, 155 startups addressing plastic waste have been founded.

Ten of last year’s 20 technologies don’t appear on this year’s lists, showing how dynamic changes in the innovation landscape have been over the past year. Notably, 5G networks, which claimed the top spot in last year’s report, are absent from this year’s list – as 5G rollout begins, they’re still important but are now firmly established on everyone’s radar.

Technologies from the Foresight 2021 will also play a role in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, said the report.

“Technologies from our lists like digital biomarkers and AI-enabled sensors can help bring businesses back to work,” explained Michael Holman, Ph.D., Vice President of Research and lead author of the report.

“But for all the changes that the pandemic has brought, the key megatrends shaping the future are still in force. Technologies that support these transitions, such as autonomous vehicles, alternative proteins, and green hydrogen, will maintain their momentum as a result,” said Holman.

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