Despite mounting faultlines, technologies such as GreenTech, autonomous vehicles, robotics and AI will probably continue making headlines next year.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has brought about tremendous changes to the way we live, work and play. In 2019 alone, we witnessed how industries were massively disrupted, with nations, businesses and workers standing on the cusp of momentous change, facing the need to transform and upgrade themselves rapidly in order to stay relevant and competitive on the road ahead.

According to a Microsoft-IDC study, digital transformation will add an estimated US$1T to Asia Pacific’s GDP, with 60% of the region’s GDP derived from digital products or services by 2021. Separately, Gartner estimated that 70% of enterprises will be experimenting with immersive technologies for consumer and enterprise use, and 25% will have them deployed in production by 2024. With the rapid evolution of technology showing no signs of slowing, how will 2020 shape up from a technology perspective? 

We see four emerging technology trends that will not only shape the business landscape, but will also transform the way we live, work and play in 2020 and beyond.

Robots are the answer

According to IDC’s Worldwide Semiannual Robots and Drones Spending Guide, spending on robotics, drones and associated services in Asia Pacific (excluding Japan) is expected to reach US$120.4bn by 2022, triple the total spending in 2018. The Asia Pacific region is also projected to be the top market for robotics applications, followed by the United States and Japan. With robots currently being used primarily to ease labour crunches and resolve manpower constraints, we expect to see the application of robotic technologies being expanded beyond business use cases, to help solve some of the more pressing societal challenges in the coming years. 

Today, we already have robot traffic cops patrolling the airport, robots that provide room service at hotels, and tray-returning robots at neighbouring food courts and hawker centres. With rapidly ageing populations posing significant challenges to Singapore and the region, robotic technologies can also be tapped upon to help solve some of the issues that come with a greying population. 

For example, robots like HOSPI can help deliver medicines and medical equipment around hospitals and care homes, freeing up valuable time for medical professionals to provide personal care for their patients. Trials for self-driving robotic mobility wheelchairs are also being carried out at large spaces such as airports and shopping malls to help the elderly safely navigate their way to their destination, enhancing accessibility while removing some of the key obstacles for the mobility-challenged old folks.

Autonomous vehicles will reimagine transportation

Next year, the automobile industry is poised for a significant upgrade. With 5G roll-out set for 2020—faster transmission speeds coupled with low communications latency will create faster, more intelligent networks islandwide to advance the development of autonomous vehicles (AVs) in Singapore. Besides enabling real-time transmission of traffic and pedestrian data between AVs, with traffic signals and other roadside gear, the functionality and safety of AVs will also be enhanced to unlock its full potential.

Research and development for AVs have also shifted into top gear, especially with the recent introduction of self-driving shuttle buses in Sentosa, and the designation of the entire western Singapore as a test bed for self-driving vehicles. With each passing day, we are inching closer to a world where we can be chauffeured around without the need for human drivers, reimagining the future of transportation. Cities like Singapore can be redesigned into people-centric hubs with green paths for compact mobility units and bicycles to travel on, while vehicles ply around on roads and highways outside these hubs for longer-distance transport. 

AVs will also redefine the way we spend our time during long-distance commutes. Without the need of a human driver, self-driving cars will also be transformed into adaptive spaces that meet our needs—be they a mobile living room, a relaxation zone, entertainment centre or even an office on wheels. 

AI augmenting human capabilities

Over the last decade, artificial intelligence (AI) has navigated its way into our everyday lives. From the smartphone camera that you use to capture brilliant images in low light settings, to the smartwatch that makes recommendations for your exercise plan based on your health data, to the chatbot that you speak to when you run into problems with your telco, AI is increasingly being ingrained into our lives.

Beyond its current business and consumer applications, we expect to see AI being harnessed further to augment human capabilities. From using AI in wearables in the automotive industry to improve worker safety to the use of AI within AVs to detect pedestrians on the road to prevent traffic accidents, we will increasingly see AI respond in ways that are even more human-like, with the technology being used more widely to make decisions in place of humans. 

Rise of GreenTech 

This year, the issue of climate change has been making headlines around the world. While governments have taken the lead to implement regulations such as carbon taxes, businesses also have a responsibility to take ownership of their carbon footprint as part of the broader push towards building a sustainable future. 

A recent report by Greenpeace revealed that datacentres in China are on track to consume more electricity by 2023 than the whole of Australia last year. With mobile and cloud technologies continuing to drive demand for datacentres in Singapore and across the globe, these growing energy needs cannot be ignored. And amidst a business climate where companies are under pressure to be transparent about their environmental footprint, businesses in the technology industry and beyond need to be committed to using clean energy and green business practices, in order to lay the foundation for sustainable growth in the future. 

At Panasonic, we practise the ECO-VC value creation concept that encourages not just our employees, but also our supply chain partners to minimize their costs as well as their environmental impact in procurement to support our sustainability goals. We believe that only with collective action by the government, businesses, consumers and the broader society can we foster a sustainable future for the next generation.