Tech News: Three important technology trends

By Louis Fourie Time of article published Jan 24, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - Last week in Tech News I covered three important technology trends that became evident at the yearly International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that was held from January 7 to 10 in Las Vegas, US.

The first trend that I covered was the major role that 5G will play with regard to other Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies, the Internet of Things (IoT) and the economy.

The second trend was the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning in almost all devices and emerging technologies.

The last trend was that humans in future will have to increasingly co-exist with robots and that human-like chatbots will be part of our lives.

This week I would like to cover a few more trends that were observed at CES 2020.

In the past few years, all of us have become aware of the disastrous effects of global warming. Since 14.5percent of greenhouse gases come from livestock, a large number of companies are researching plant-based meat substitutes, which could eventually make a major difference to the environment, as well as become a sustainable source of food as the global population increases to nine billion in 2050.

After their huge success with their Impossible Burger 2.0 at CES 2019, Impossible Foods demonstrated their plant-based Impossible Pork at CES 2020.

Pork is currently the most consumed meat in the world and is especially popular in Asia where 4.4billion of the world’s 7.8billion people live.

The plant-based Impossible Pork could, therefore, make a great difference to the environment.

In general journalists and visitors agreed that the taste and texture of the Impossible Pork was great.

Impossible Foods also promised that their plant-based bacon and sausage would soon be available.

The important trend at CES 2020, illustrated by Impossible Foods, was that technology plays an important role in food innovation and that plant-based meat is a serious replacement not only for environmentally conscious people, but also for all of us.

The IoT is one of the building blocks of the 4IR. CES 2020 therefore demonstrated numerous intelligent devices, sensors and the linking of everyday objects to the internet.

An important trend that could be noticed was the proliferation of health sensors in consumer products, together with smart apps and software to enhance the understanding of the state of our health.

A few years ago the information and insight offered by current consumer health products would have cost thousands of dollars and a visit to a specialist.

For instance, many of the smart watches now include an electrocardiogram to determine heart health; photoplethysmography (an optical technique that can be used to detect blood volume changes in the microvascular bed of tissue) for the heart rate; SpO2 (peripheral capillary oxygen saturation) to determine the level of blood oxygen; and advanced sleep analysis that can detect sleep apnoea and other sleep disorders.

Some smart watches can automatically track the number of calories your body actually absorbs (calorie intake) and can detect stress levels based on skin readings by using very similar technology to what is being used in lie-detector tests.

The company Valencell demonstrated their blood pressure-sensing earbuds, which uses photoplethysmography to detect and manage hypertension - an often undiagnosed condition and a silent killer. The reason for choosing the ear is that it has much more blood flow and a richer heart- rate reading than a finger or wrist.

One of the major benefits is that unlike a standard cuff, it can continuously monitor a person’s blood pressure.

Other products at CES 2020 constantly measured blood sugar to make life much easier for diabetics. Smart glasses that can help people with dyslexia were also displayed.

The very important contribution of IoT health products is that they provide a plethora of data about our health without any effort on our side.

A few years from now we would wonder how it was possible to take so many decisions about our health without the supporting data to understand the underlying factors.

Although medical professionals are also using the data from the devices to diagnose, monitor and treat patients, the numerous sensors and intelligent software has the potential to become a disrupting and democratising force in health care.

Another major trend was that technology is becoming less obtrusive and is blending more into the environment. Two companies, UltraSense and Sentons, demonstrated their embedded technology that uses sound waves to create touch interfaces out of plain surfaces made of plastic, metal, wood or other materials.

It now seems that the long-promised buttonless phone is much closer than we may think, because this sound-wave technology can simply make the side of the phone a virtual button.

Pressing and holding a particular spot could activate a power button, while running a finger down the back of the phone works like a scroll wheel on a mouse.

Squeezing the phone allows you to take the perfect Instagram selfie. Haptic feedback allows the user to easily locate the virtual buttons.

But both companies are going far beyond virtual phone buttons and have demonstrated the use of the same sound-wave technology on car steering wheels, windowpanes and many other appliances to replace the standard buttons.

Since nothing is as ugly as a television or monitor that is switched off, the company Mui Lab has designed a smart display out of a natural wood surface that could blend seamlessly into a living space.

The display looks like a normal piece of wood, but when switched on it displays buttons, messages or pictures directly on the wood surface.

Fully autonomous cars are still relatively scarce, but some of the automation technologies are well known to us, such as parking assist, lane guidance, collision avoidance, emergency braking and many more.

There is, however, little doubt that driverless mobility and autonomous cars are an important trend of the future. Many car manufacturers from all over the world demonstrated their self-driving technology at CES 2020.

Interestingly enough, autonomous cars were not limited to car manufacturers. Yandex (the Russian “Google”) demonstrated a fully automated Toyota Prius that drove visitors around the streets of Las Vegas. The company mapped out the streets two weeks earlier and carefully annotated any obstacles by hand.

A safety driver was also on hand with an emergency brake button, but fortunately was never needed.

Since the conceptualisation of the autonomous car, navigation has been a major challenge.

Companies usually developed their own mapping systems and often duplicated work and with little or no consistency between platforms. But this has changed with the introduction of the first software-as-a-service (SaaS) system by HERE Technologies, which any car manufacturer can integrate into their products without having to develop their own solution.

The HERE Navigation on Demand can easily be integrated into the infotainment systems of cars and also has Alexa pre-installed. This one-stop mapping solution should certainly reduce the costs and complexity of building self-driving cars.

Qualcomm, the well-known manufacturer of mobile phone process, is designed to manage all aspects of autonomous driving, from active safety tools like autonomous braking and road sign recognition, to fully self-driving taxis.

Snapdragon Ride’s impressive heat efficiency enable designs that can use passive air cooling, which is much simpler and also much less expensive than water cooling. Together these developments could lead to a further drop in the price of autonomous vehicles.

Professor Louis C H Fourie is a futurist and technology strategist. [email protected]

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