Foresight 2021 lists the technologies to watch in the next 12 months

An annual list from Lux Research ranks the emerging tech trends which they predict will transform the world over the next 10 years

The past 12 months have done nothing if not cement the true value of tech in the fabric of society. As such, it’s imperative for businesses to analyse and identify the innovations that will allow them to thrive in tomorrow’s world.

To support this process, Lux Research – a leading provider of tech-enabled research and advisory services – has published its annual report on the top technology trends and innovations that will have the greatest impact on society over the next 10 years, based on proprietary data science tools and expert insight.

The Foresight 2021: Top Emerging Technologies to Watch report identifies and ranks the 12 most revolutionary technologies, selected from innovation interest scores from the Lux Tech Signal – a composite measure assembled from a range of innovation data sourced, along with input from Lux’s own experts.

Here are the 12 most impactful emerging tech trends for 2021 and beyond, according to Lux Research.

1. Autonomous vehicles

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The report predicts that growing levels of automation will eventually result in the removal of drivers in consumer and commercial vehicles. Consistent and regular advancements in safety and efficiency benefit both consumer and commercial cars, while Level 4 and 5 autonomous vehicles will support new logistics and mobility possibilities by removing the human driver requirement.

To capitalise on this, Lux experts advise businesses to tap into tools like sensors and connectivity for autonomous vehicles, while also planning for the impact on mobility businesses more broadly.

2. Natural language processing

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Devices like voice assistants, machine translation and chatbots, powered by natural language processing (NLP), have had a 44% CAGR over the last five years, now reaching more than 3,000 publications annually.

3. Plastic recycling

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In third place, the report champions plastic recycling innovations that convert plastic waste into other valuable products, creating a circular economy while minimising pollution.

According to Lux’s company database, 155 startups dedicated to addressing plastic waste have been established in the last 10 years alone.

Experts advise businesses to engage with waste collection to secure inputs for recycling facilities, urging company leaders to take advantage of plastic waste as a distributed feedstock source, as well as to play in new stages of the value chain.

4. AI-enabled sensors

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New to this year’s league table, the Lux report notes that AI-enabled sensors are now able to provide more impactful insights when paired with machine learning and AI. The data highlights state that more than US$1.8bn has been raised by companies developing or using AI-enabled sensors.

Improvements in machine learning means developers and operators can extract more value out of sensors, giving businesses the chance to create new products and improve internal processes by generating deeper insights from existing hardware.

5. Bioinformatics

While discovery remains the most profitable opportunity for and application of bioinformatics, Lux researchers also note that the field holds new and exciting opportunities for risk assessment, safety and personalisation. While health and pharmaceutical are still key within this field, new opportunities are arising in fields like food and agriculture.

“Capturing value through bioinformatics is no longer optional but a must,” write Lux’s researchers.

6. Green hydrogen

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The production of clean hydrogen for energy, mobility and industrial uses, plus applications in storing and transporting energy, is key to the world’s sustainability agenda. The use of green hydrogen can help to decarbonise industrial processes.

Experts advise businesses to research industrial hydrogen uses in applications from cement and steel to power-to-chemicals, exploring the potential of hydrogen to support new energy networks as the costs for renewables decline.

7. Shared mobility

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With the top four ride-hailing organisations on the globe holding a shared worth of US$166bn, it’s clear that shared mobility services such as Uber and Lyft will continue to make huge waves in the business of tech.

Shared business models like those employed by your favourite ride hailing, car-sharing, autonomous taxi and other mobility-as-a-service structures will play a huge part in society over the next 10 years, continuing to attract the attention of potential investors. While the ride-hailing space is increasingly competitive, this collaborative business model will continue to disrupt the traditional sales business model – including for things like car subscriptions and microtransit services.

8. Alternative proteins

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Plant-based proteins provide alternatives to the traditional, resource-intensive meat industry.

Impossible foods and Beyond Meat demonstrate that the supply of sustainable protein is possible. Lux’s data reveals that there was a 112% return on the stock price for Beyond Meat this year, considerably outpacing the general market.

Experts advise businesses to consider the tech capabilities required to further the impact of plant proteins in the near-term, as well as cellular agriculture in the long-term. The report’s authors state that increasing the inherent protein content in crops and improving the sensory/nutritional quality of plant proteins can present major opportunity.

9. 3D printing

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3D printing is a field of tech that encompasses the additive fabrication of objects by depositing and patterning layers of material. Lux researchers note that it has revolutionised the process of prototyping and is now doing the same for mould and tool production.

More and more industries are beginning to adopt this strain of tech, including aerospace, medical, automotive, oil and gas, marine, construction, and footwear. In light of this, Lux foresees big things for the 3D printing over the next 10 years.

10. Materials informatics

This emerging technology harnesses AI techniques to accelerate chemical and material development.

Lux research notes that while major players in materials informatics are still in their early-stage engagement phase, in which different business models are being tested, this demonstrates a unique opportunity for clients who engage well and early enough to become the field’s most dominant player.

11. Precision agriculture

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The surging costs of agricultural necessities such as water, fertilisers and pesticides, along with the increasing demand for food and a growing global population has consequently turned up the heat on agricultural production.

Precision agriculture technologies – which use a global positioning system (GPS) to monitor equipment field position to collect information and apply inputs as required in each location – have the potential to ease this pressure, increasing the efficiency of agriculture by either minimising the inputs required or by maximising yields.

12. Synthetic biology

“Technology limitations, as well as the real and perceived ill-effects of traditional petrochemical synthesis, have led to alternative models of chemical production, including synthetic biology,” writes one Lux report. According to their study, fermentation can hold the key to cost savings, greater innovation and the creation of novel products. 

“Synbio will propel companies that understand the right strategy for the distinct value propositions it offers at each step in the production life cycle” said Lux analyst Gihan Hewage. “Companies with products in the ideation and early development stages will differentiate most from flexible production and the ability to create novel products, whereas products in later stages of development can leverage the environmental and marketing benefits of the technology.”

Surprisingly, 10 of last year’s top 20 technologies didn’t make this year’s cut, highlighting the rapidly changing, fluid nature of tech innovations over the last 12 months. Notably, 5G networks – which topped last year’s list – were missing from the predictions for 2021. This could be because the rollout of 5G is already underway, meaning that, while still important, this technology is no longer so firmly established on the industry radar.

Other technologies that dropped off the list included blockchain, battery fast charging, 2D materials, and vertical farming.

Experts say that the technologies named in Foresight 2021 will also play a role in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. “Technologies from our lists, like digital biomarkers and AI-enabled sensors can help bring businesses back to work,” said Michael Holman, PhD, vice-president of research and lead author of the report. “But for all the changes that the pandemic has brought, the key megatrends shaping the future are still in force. Technologies that support these transitions, such as autonomous vehicles, alternative proteins, and green hydrogen, will maintain their momentum as a result.”

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