10 Future Technologies You Need to Understand Now
By Edward J. Correia on June 25, 2014, 4:35 pm EDT
Stay on top or be left behind. That's been the rallying cry for coaches in business, sports and life in general. Technologies have a way of catching up on businesses, which often focus more on keeping up with day-to-day activities and less on staying abreast of what the future might have in store. Take General Electric for a recent cautionary tale. Once the world's biggest, the company recently announced a $1 billion investment in its software business to play catch-up with the likes of IBM.
Understanding technologies of the future is key to playing a successful role in it. Here are 10 emerging technologies with the potential to dominate the high-tech landscape in the coming decade. Many relate to the Internet of Things, which for that reason is first on the list.
The Internet of Things
The so-called "Internet of Things" is getting lots of attention these days. But what is it? If you already understand the concept of embedded systems--like those running in cars--then just add an IP stack and you're up to speed on IoT. The Earth of 2020 will be coated by 25 billion autonomous web-connected devices that collaborate to serve mankind, according to research by Gartner. These devices will be watching homes and offices, alerting us of suspicious activities, monitoring the power grid to keep energy systems running at peak efficiency, streaming media and health alerts and ensuring that all of our environmental and automation systems keep running. The IoT is also the cloud, where most business and computing will get done in the future, and it is ripe with opportunity for solution providers.
A group of former Apple engineers sought to personalize the IoT in 2010 and make it meaningful to people's lives. The result was Nest Labs, which had an idea so unique and useful that in January it was worth $3.2 billion to Google. The company's flagship, the Nest Thermostat, works like a modern programmable model. However, it's controlled with a mobile device, monitors your activity while home and away to maximize the efficiency of energy usage and communicates with the utility company to help minimize your bills and control energy prices for the general community. There's also a smart smoke and carbon monoxide detector. For managed service providers, Next and others like it offer opportunities to help customers automate their environmental systems and provide ongoing maintenance services.
Peloton is the French word for platoon, and for truck fleets it means using technology to electronically combine two or more individual vehicles into a convoy to increase safety, reduce driver fatigue and save as much as $100,000 or more in fuel costs per truck per year. Peloton Technology is a 2011 venture-funded startup that's currently beta testing a system combining GPS, wireless communications, blind-spot video monitoring and forward collision avoidance systems similar to today's adaptive cruise control. According to the company, its system mitigates "the most common truck accidents," and in tests with pairs of trucks, they've seen fuel savings of 4.5 percent for the lead truck and 10 percent for the back rig. The system is capable of controlling larger vehicle groups and might even persuade competitive freight haulers to work together more.
You might have noticed new letters with or instead of the a/b/g/n that usually accompanies a Wi-Fi spec. Many new mobile devices now include the 801.11ac spec and its support for wireless speeds up to 1.3 Gbps. But most organizations still lack the infrastructure to make it work. This spells an opportunity for resellers to prepare customer Wi-Fi networks for the future. All that's needed is an access point (AP) that supports the new spec. Approved in January, the 802.11ac works by expanding the capacities of the 802.11n spec. The new spec supports single-link throughput of up to 500 Mbps, doubles the number of spatial streams to eight and optionally widens the channel bandwidth from 40 MHz to 160 MHz, with a mandatory width of 80 MHz. The 802.11ac spec is backward compatible with 802.11n and operates on the same 5GHz band.
Desktop virtualization has done wonders for IT departments looking to speed and simplify PC deployment for enterprise task workers. But rendering a 3D model over a VDI connection can be like watching grass grow. That's about to change thanks to GRID, a series of server-side PCIe GPUs from Nvidia that time-slice hundreds or thousands of graphics cores among as many as 32 of the server's hosted VDI users. A small Windows app works with a modified hypervisor to compress and transfer the pixels at close to real time, making apps such as AutoCAD run like they're local. Linux and Mac OS clients are expected this summer. Pricing starts at $2500; it supports hypervisors from Citrix, Microsoft and VMware. The video card maker in May launched a site that allows resellers to test Nvidia GRID for free.
Like it or not, cryptocurrency is a fact of the modern age, and every serious business should at least understand how it works. Of the dozens of cryptocurrencies in use today, the oldest and most widely known is Bitcoin. At the heart of the the Bitcoin system is an open-source application that's deployed by individuals or companies that compete to securely process transactions. Whenever currency changes hands, the transaction is verified by the software and a secure signature is added. The transaction is then anonymously recorded and stored in the network and a small commission (in bitcoin) is paid to the owner of the bitcoin server that "won" the transaction. In this way, bitcoins are slowly put into circulation at an ever decreasing rate and with a cap of 21 million. Bitcoins are traded in bitcoin exchanges just like those of other currencies. Transactions involve no financial institutions and are untraceable, which has drawn scrutiny from regulators.
While bank-free transactions appear to have secured a part of the future world economy, traditional bank accounts are still a part of today's reality for most businesses. But what about physical branches? Trying to prove they're obsolete is Simple Bank, which in 2012 went to beta with its all-electronic banking system and now has more than 40,000 customers and assets in excess of $1 billion. Accounts are FDIC-insured through The Bankcorp, a private-label banking service provider that caters to "branchless banking," ATM transactions carry no surcharge and checks are deposited via smartphone camera. In February, Simple was acquired for $117 million by BBVA, an international banking conglomerate headquartered in Spain.
The concept of using containers to ease application deployment isn't new. But taking a new approach to the virtualized OS wrapper is Docker, an open-source container framework that automates much of the setup work. Docker extends the Linux Container model with an API that links to the Linux kernel and its mechanisms for isolating resources such as CPU, memory and network. In doing so, it altogether removes the need for virtualization, enabling a self-sufficient container that's smaller in size and far more portable than those available previously. According to its makers, Docker containers can be built on a laptop and run on any server, OpenStack cluster, VM or even bare metal. Docker is still under development but has been considered stable since April.
The BYOD craze was bad enough. But to factor in the ad-hoc use of cloud-based file storage and sharing is a guaranteed recipe for data loss. One of several companies addressing this need is nCrypted Cloud, a Boston-area startup that in January unveiled its flagship nCrypted Cloud Enterprise Edition. It puts a much-needed layer of user-managed security on top of box, Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive without burdening the IT department with lots of administrative overhead. The nCrypted client for Android, iOS, Mac OS and Windows implements a virtual viewer over cloud-based storage folders, with a series of new icons indicating one of five security levels of the files and folders within. File access must be authenticated through a backend server.
The idea of sending electricity through space has been around since at least 1893, when Nikola Tesla first spoke publicly of his experiments with wireless power distribution. Solutions of the current century mostly involve charging toothbrushes and mobile devices at close proximity using magnetic induction. But a few companies can lob electrons across a room. Among those farthest along is Witricity, an MIT offshoot that uses magnetic resonance to generate electricity wirelessly in a way that's roughly analogous to a singer shattering a glass. Wireless power opens the door to continuous operation of tether-free devices in classrooms, boardrooms, hospital rooms and anywhere that wires are dangerous or inconvenient. The company's resonance technologies have been adopted as the Rezence wireless power standard, which has the support of Broadcom, Dell, Hitachi, Intel, Qualcomm, Samsung and dozens of other major companies.
The Bottom Line
Technology continues to change and shape the world. Nascent devices like Google Glass are beginning to find a market, while some things are a bit farther down the road. Google's Project Tango, for example, is an experimental smartphone that captures the world around it in 3-D images. And a French company called SigFox is building an internet "slow lane" just for the low-priority communications of IoT devices. Solution providers that can change along with technologies will prosper like never before. Others will be left at the curb of history. GE recently revealed that it will spend $1 billion to avoid such a fate as it attempts to catch up on device analytics software in support of its service and repair businesses. Which type of company will yours be?