The year 2017 is upon us, and it could well be a tipping point with respect to the disruptive technologies we've been hearing about for years. It will not necessarily be a year marked by the emergence of new, game-changing technologies. Rather, it will be a year in which long-talked-about technologies move from the drawing board to real-world applications.
By now, you're no doubt familiar with the short list of disruptive technologies: autonomous vehicles, delivery drones, 3-D printing, the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI). All have been tested and trialed over the past two to three years. But it appears the fun is now about to begin in earnest.
Take autonomous vehicles, for example. The idea has been out there for decades. But in 2016, after years of seeing the occasional news story on, say, a road test of a driverless car, we were suddenly inundated with reports of new and expanded pilot programs, new technologies, and new entrants into the market.
For instance, in December, Apple confirmed the company's intent to develop a self-driving car in a letter to U.S. regulators. That followed reports in both the U.S. and Europe of autonomous trucks making trial deliveries, including the mid-October delivery of a truckload of beer from Fort Collins, Colorado, to Colorado Springs. The two-hour, 120-mile trip was conducted with a "smart" truck outfitted with sensors, radar, and cameras.
The truck did have a driver, but largely to monitor the vehicle's progress. The driver reportedly took the wheel as the truck moved onto and off of the highway—the first and last mile, if you will.
The test was conducted by self-driving vehicle specialist Otto in partnership with the giant brewing company Anheuser-Busch. Otto was acquired last year by the ride-sharing company Uber, which is testing a self-driving taxi service in Pennsylvania and California.
In mid-October, we learned that all new Tesla vehicles are being equipped to operate autonomously, although that functionality isn't yet activated on the cars. When the time comes, turning on the driverless features will be a simple matter of a satellite-based download to the car, according to published reports. Tesla is considered a pioneer in this area, but it's not alone. The likes of Google and Ford Motor Company are already well down the road to developing their own driverless vehicles.
Similarly, the drones we've heard so much about recently took a big step closer to real-world application. In December, Amazon completed its first drone delivery in the U.K. As part of a limited trial, it dropped off an Amazon Fire TV media player and a bag of popcorn to a nearby residence. According to published reports, it took just 13 minutes from the time the order was placed for the items to be delivered.
Buckle up. We could be in for quite a ride in 2017.