An exciting convergence is happening between the physical and digital worlds. New innovations, from robotics and new materials to logistics and sustainability, are impacting our industries and our lives.
The past year gave us a sneak peek of big innovations on the horizon. Yet, the most disruptive tech trend of 2018 isn’t a technology, it’s a company. Amazon isn’t just changing our shopping habits, it’s disrupting entire industries, influencing the design of cities, and impacting our social lives. It threatens parts of our economy while creating new opportunities that make local manufacturing more important than ever.
Innovations of 2017
From a technology perspective, 2017 didn’t disappoint. SpaceX demonstrated their premise of reusability to make regular access to space economically feasible. Scientists edited the genes of a human embryo using CRISPR-Cas9. MIT researchers created the first superlight porous material from graphene, and the US Navy 3D printed their first component for use inside an aircraft.
Autonomy is finally here–for specialized applications, anyway. Autonomous truck company Embark came out of stealth and started shipping refrigerators regularly from Texas to a distribution center in Southern California. Uber announced flying car service in Los Angeles by 2020, and automotive micro-factory Divergent 3D (listen) raised $90M to use digital fabrication to manufacture small fleets of autonomous vehicles.
Artificial intelligence won big, too. Humanoid robot Sophia was granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia and Google’s Deep Mind AI taught itself to walk last summer. (However, in another study, DeepMind still had difficulties understanding Homer Simpson’s actions. D’OH!) 2017 was the year of the smart voice device, and the Echo Dot was the top-selling product last holiday season on Amazon across all categories.
DAQRI’s lightweight Smart Glasses are now ready for prime time, even if MagicLeap isn’t quite ready quite yet. Even Snap Inc–the pioneer of ephemeral, digital interactions–became a hardware company with its Spectacles, drones, and merchandise. (Unfortunately for the company, however, hundreds of thousands of those Spectacles are still sitting as extra inventory in warehouses.)
The Deal of the Year
Despite all of the amazing technological innovations last year, however, the most notable technology news item in 2017 in my opinion wasn’t an innovation at all, but far more prosaic: Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods. The deal rocked the business community for many reasons, but mostly for its symbolism and what it forebodes for the future.
The most obvious impact of Amazon is how consumers have radically changed our expectations around cost and convenience, wanting nearly instant access to products as though we were turning on a faucet or flipping a light switch. Companies feel more intense pressure than ever to innovate quickly and accommodate our insatiable need for instant gratification.
Many retailers have been struggling to survive what some have called the Great Retail Meltdown of 2017. While others have pointed out this is just a market correction, Amazon’s vast data collection and analytics capabilities not only enable them to deliver convenience, but consumer and pricing intelligence that many claim is used to undercut brands and retailers.
But Amazon’s influence goes well beyond commerce.