Technology Pioneers in previous years have proved a strong indicator of upcoming trends, and this year’s selection of 36 is likewise expected to point the way towards products and services that will gain prominence in the coming years. The broad trends identified below reflect not only the final selection of winners but also the much larger pool of nominees.
Many of this year’s Technology Pioneers are developing products that make both environmental and economic sense: Alphabet Energy can generate power from waste heat in chimneys and exhausts; Oasys Water can desalinate water at energy-saving low temperatures; air conditioners by Advantix Systems cool and dehumidify air more efficiently in humid climates; and EcoNation’s new-generation skylights enable electric lights to be switched off.
Transparent photovoltaic cells developed by SunPartner will soon enable windows, billboards and device screens generate electricity, while Nest Labs’ thermostat is helping consumers to cut their heating and cooling bills. Kebony can make softwood into a replacement for tropical hardwood by treating it with natural biowaste, and Bug Agentes is reducing the need for pesticides in Brazil through mass production of parasitic wasps which target pests that prey on crops.
Precise and targeted therapies
Technology Pioneers from the health sector are making breakthroughs in nanomedicine and genetics that promise to revolutionize the treatment of cancer and other diseases. BIND Therapeutics can target drugs to diseased cells; nanoparticles designed by Selecta Biosciences can heighten or dampen immune system response; bluebird bio is tackling genetic diseases by using a virus to rewrite patients’ DNA; and Agios is targeting enzymes to starve diseased cells of the nutrients they need.
Foundation Medicine and Natera have pioneered technologies to make diagnostic testing more precise – respectively, helping cancer patients to identify the most promising treatments, and giving prospective parents the best chance of a healthy, viable pregnancy.
Smarter products and services
Some products and services promise a quantum leap towards new and smarter ways of doing things. Wireless electricity, being developed by WiTricity, will mean everything from mobile phones to floor lamps and electric cars can operate without needing to be plugged in. TruTag is developing tiny, edible tags that can be embedded in products to identify them, promising to assure supply chains and undermine trade in counterfeit goods.
The “sharing economy” is another potentially revolutionary trend: from broadband connections to do-it-yourself equipment to their own time and skills, many people own things they don’t use all the time. The Internet is making it possible to monetize such spare capacity. This trend is represented this year by Airbnb, which is transforming the travel sector by enabling people to rent out rooms in their homes or entire properties.
Enabling greater access
Emerging and developing countries are increasingly important marketplaces, and several Technology Pioneer companies are focused on widening access to products and services taken for granted by many on higher incomes: D-Rev is pioneering affordable prosthetics and other medical devices for those living on under US$ 4 a day; OMC Power is scaling solar-powered electricity for off-grid Indian villages; and Lenddo is using social media profiles to build credit ratings that enable the emerging middle classes to access loans and other financial services.
Jana is pioneering a new way for companies to engage with emerging market consumers by offering rewards in the form of prepaid mobile airtime. LiveU’s technology allows outside broadcasting from handheld cameras over cellular networks, with no need for satellite vans.
This year’s Technology Pioneers herald a new age of robotics. Rethink Robotics has developed an easily trainable robot that can work alongside humans in warehouses and on factory production lines, while SynTouch has invented a robot finger with the sensitivity of human touch, promising to make robots much more dexterous and versatile.
Cyberdyne has developed a robot suit that helps the elderly and disabled to walk, and can assist workers with heavy lifting. Also using technology to remedy a disability, Second Sight has developed a type of “bionic eye” – retinal implants that can help some blind people to see again.
A more personalized approach
Internet users increasingly witness a personalized online experience – from search results to shopping recommendations to social media, many expect websites to greet them based on knowledge of how they have interacted with sites before. Two of this year’s Technology Pioneers are at the forefront of making online advertising more relevant even to anonymous Internet traffic by using machine learning to inform statistical prediction. AppNexus’s real-time auction technology helps match adverts more effectively to content, while Adtelligence allows companies to create entire websites on the fly, targeted at users’ likely profiles.
A more collaborative approach
Problems yield solutions more readily with more minds applied to them – but coordinating work is a challenge. Two of this year’s Technology Pioneer companies, GitHub and Viki, owe their success to creating user-friendly tools which people can use to collaborate online – respectively, to develop software and to generate subtitles for entertainment in foreign languages.
Koemei’s automated transcription software, used to make educational videos searchable, also has a tool for collaborative correcting of transcripts. Data4’s activities to promote civic engagement and responsive government include encouraging hackers, journalists and governments to collaborate. Kaggle is also tapping the power of crowds, by enabling data scientists to compete to improve the algorithms companies use to create value from their data.
Redesigning education delivery
The Internet is revolutionizing the education sector, with three of the Technology Pioneers at the forefront. Coursera is leading the way with massive open online courses that give everyone access to elite universities. Codecademy’s collaborative approach to code learning, in which users create courses and learners help each other, promises to be more widely applicable. Dnevnik.ru has developed comprehensive software for educational institutions to manage learning.