BERLIN – Even as the technology majors struggle with techlash, there are other bright spots emerging in the world of scientific advancement. What could see a breakthrough in 2020?
SELF-DRIVING CARS: Although 2020 was supposed to be the year when self-driving cars hit the roads, the developers now concede that it's going to take considerably longer. The main problem continues to be how to accurately predict the behaviour of other road users. Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc, the parent company of Google, is currently the only company conducting extensive tests of a robotaxi service. The coming year will show whether other players are ready or, as experts expect, whether it's time to winnow out the less successful ones.
VIRTUAL REALITY: Despite billions of dollars in investment, the technology, which requires users to wear a special headset so they can immerse themselves in a virtual reality (VR) has remained a niche market. Will that change in 2020? Facebook-owned Oculus VR in particular has paved the way with its stand-alone headset Quest, which offers a high-quality, wireless VR experience - so a user doesn't need to be plugged into an expensive PC. Oculus plans to take a further step forward in the coming year: using hand tracking, instead of requiring the usual controller system.
5G: Spectrum blocks for super-fast, fifth-generation wireless technology were auctioned off around the world this year, and the first networks are up and running. Next year could be the first with widespread 5G. The chipmaker Qualcomm, whose technology can be found in the vast majority of smartphones, is projecting sales of up to 225 million 5G handsets. An interesting question is whether the industry pivots to 5G first, as expected, or consumers do. Meanwhile, the controversy is likely to continue about whether the Chinese hardware company Huawei should be allowed to participate in the development of 5G networks.
AMBIENT COMPUTING: The idea of interacting with the computers found in many devices in a user's surroundings isn't new. Now, however, the proliferation of voice assistants and miniaturization of computer technology have finally made the concept of "ambient computing" a reality. Amazon recently introduced an experimental ring and set of spectacles, both outfitted with its voice assistant, Alexa. And several functions usually accessed via Apple's iPhone are either on the Apple Watch or AirPods, Apple's wireless Bluetooth earbuds.