In this April 16, 2019, photo, attendees take a close look at cars from BYD at the Auto Shanghai 2019 show in Shanghai. China's electric car sales are stalling following the end of multibillion-dollar subsidies that made it the biggest market for the technology. Communist leaders want to make China a leader in electric cars but are shifting the burden to the industry by imposing mandatory sales quotas. Photo: AP/Ng Han Guan

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.

AR: Apple is among the companies that swear by the technology known as augmented reality (AR), in which virtual elements on an electronic display are made to appear as if they lay on top of real environments. With its AR platform ARKit, Apple wants to make it possible for app developers to easily integrate the technology into their apps. The initial focus is on games, as well as learning and job-related apps. According to media reports, Apple - along with other companies - is working on AR glasses. The software development company Niantic, developer of AR mobile games including the highly popular Pokemon Go, is already gearing up for a future with AR glasses.