Tech Trajectory

By: Sameer Desai

Printable food, driverless cars, drone deliveries, and more in the offing this year

1. Drones to cover the last mile

♦ No longer just expensive toys, drones are proving invaluable in delivering products and services to hard-to-reach places. While their use in surveillance and rescue operations has been well demonstrated, companies are now employing these ‘copters’ to provide traditional services more efficiently. From Indian wildlife protection forces using drones equipped with night vision to nab poachers, to Facebook’s giant drones that are currently being tested to beam wireless internet to remote areas, these remote-controlled aircraft are being seriously considered as more effective and economic alternatives to on-ground infrastructure. Regulatory authorities will have to grapple with the threats posed by unauthorised drones and the risks they may pose to wildlife and commercial aircrafts, but the benefits are too many to ignore. So much so that Amazon and US retail chain 7-Eleven are already piloting drone delivery services that drop parcels to their customers’ doorsteps within 15 minutes of orders being placed. Services such as this will be invaluable in India’s rural areas, where last-mile coverage remains a major logistical challenge.

2. Cord-cutting goes mainstream

♦ They call today’s youth ‘the cord-cutters’, who shun traditional programming on TV and radio for content that is available online, on-demand and on any device. With the growing proliferation of high-speed internet via broadband and 4G services, India too is rapidly moving online. It’ll be a while before all of India is consuming content digitally, but with the world’s biggest media streaming services (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple Music, etc) and strong Indian players (Eros Now, Hotstar, Saavn, and countless others) delivering a wealth of content ondemand, as well as acclaimed filmmakers creating content exclusively for these platforms, the move is happening. Many Indian TV studios are making entire episodes available to watch on YouTube for free already, so the shift is going to only accelerate in 2017.

3. Next-gen displays

♦ Smartphones haven’t seen too many major technological advancements in recent years, but that is set to change in 2017. The display is your phone’s biggest power hog, and this is just one of the challenges organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology is addressing. Not only are OLED displays far more power-efficient than existing LED screens — which will lead to improved battery life, but they also offer better picture quality, truer colour, faster response times, and can be made thinner. As OLED production reaches a large enough scale, these will also become cheaper than LED displays, but for 2017, analysts are projecting a supply shortage. That’s why we’re likely to only see OLED screens in high-end flagship devices this year, like the Samsung Galaxy S8 and one or two variants of the tenth anniversary iPhone. The Galaxy S8 is also expected to sport an edge-toedge, bezel-less display — much like Xiaomi’s Mi Mix concept phone — thanks largely to the benefits of OLED technology.

4. The driver becomes a passenger

♦ Some of the most exciting advances in the tech world in 2016 have taken place in the field of autonomous or driver-less cars, and every big name in the tech and car industries is vying for a piece of the pie. Driver error is the cause of over 90 per cent of road-related deaths, and tech and car companies believe the solution is to remove the driver from the equation. Elon Musk’s Tesla was the first to include an autopilot system in its road car, the Model S. Google, Apple, Uber, Volvo, Fiat and others are actively testing their autonomous driving systems and have already racked up millions of miles in testing. From an Indian perspective, however, driverless cars could well remain a pipe dream, given the woeful road conditions and generally careless driver behaviour.

5. Print everything

♦ 3D printing is another expensive hobby that has so far been limited to enthusiasts and scientists. Over the past year, the technology has become cheaper and more accessible and has found many more uses than earlier thought possible — from construction and prosthetics to medicine and food. Equipped with special resins, 3D printers are able to almost magically convert digital diagrams into real 3D objects. 3D printing removes the need for slow and expensive prototyping, and the industry is said to receive a major push in 2017, with several companies set to make affordable 3D printers available to consumers.

6. Other trends to watch in 2017

♦ AI and machine learning
♦ Home automation
♦ Virtual reality and augmented reality
♦ Digital and mobile payments
♦ Renewable energy

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