If you are a regular consumer of tech news, live in one of the technology echo chambers (i.e. Silicon Valley) or have a family member in the industry, you’ve likely become familiar with today’s most innovative products and services. However, if you are not among this group, then your familiarity with technology may be limited to what is stocked on the shelves in your local mall.
In a continual effort to identify radically new products and services, I’ve compiled a of list innovations that haven’t become mainstream yet but share a common characteristic in that they all can (and in my opinion- will) become something huge. [Disclaimer: This list is by no means complete and consists of technologies that I find uniquely interesting based on my perspective, your list may differ]
With that said, here are five amazing innovations that I believe most Americans know nothing about:
1. 3D Printers
Despite not owning one personally, I’ve gained a fair insight into the potential of these devices. My prediction is that we will eventually be producing/printing more than 50% of the items and products that we are currently use to buying. Household items, automotive parts and fashion accessories will be some of the things we will be printing. It will just require more flexible material items and further simplification of design software.
I think the acquisition of MakerBot, a fast-rising consumer 3D printer company, by industry veteran Stratasys is an early sign of things to come. As the price-point of these powerful machines continues to decrease, consumer interest and subsequent adoption will increase. Picture this: One day, in the not so distant future, you will walk in the kitchen/garage/closet and realize that you are all out of those [insert basic product name here] and will just go to your printer instead of the nearest store.
2. Domestic Drones/UAVs
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have transitioned from the battlefield to domestic soil. After seeing a few particular initiatives, I’m extremely excited about the potential of this innovation. The opportunity to save consumers and businesses time, money and effort to accomplish simple tasks will be too much to resist. From everything like basic delivery services to property appraisals to security surveillance, these devices will likely become too attractive for people to ignore.
Again, with a continually lowering price-point, UAVs will become more affordable to consumers and businesses, moving them from the hobby shed to the real world. The biggest hurdle associated with these machines becoming prevalent is the public concerns around privacy and security. However, because of inevitable market forces, UAVs will likely become proliferated across many industries and regions, beginning with basic functions and advancing on to creative use-cases.
3. Bitcoins and other Virtual Currencies
The almighty dollar has dominated as the standard currency of our civilization for centuries. This will remain true for centuries to come, no doubt. However, as a result of the diminishing faith in the national and international economic markets, other forms of currencies will continue to gain traction and popularity. Bitcoin, a virtual algorithm-based currency with no centralized institutional control, has emerged as the early leader to fill this space.
It can be used to purchase products and services from anyone willing to accept it, which is a growing population. To be fair, there are significant concerns around the legality and regulation about Bitcoin, much of which seems to threaten its very survival. Yet, there is also tremendous support from the venture capital world, the same industry that funds yesterday’s, today’s and tomorrow’s biggest innovative ideas. And just as all big innovations have been met with skepticism, governmental threat of regulation and public dismissal, this too may eventually emerge as a game-changing innovation.
4. Off-the-Shelf Genetic Testing Kits
If knowledge is power, then insight into my genetic predisposition to certain diseases is a hell of a lot of power. With the rapid rate of innovation in healthcare technology and genetic testing, the ability to peer into our bodies and our future is nearing an arm’s reach away. Companies like 23andMe are changing the way we look at our health and our future, literally. As this is one of the early players on the retail front, many more are likely to come.
As someone who has actually ordered and viewed my results from such a test, I can attest that it is insightful. Questions around accuracy are still up for discussion, as are questions around the moral debate. What is not up for debate is the reality that understanding our bodies can empower us to proactively take action to improve our health, or at least the probability of long-term health.
5. Platform Connectors
Automation is the future of convenience. Fortunately, the devices and tools that we depend on are continually getting smarter and more connected. As more of these tools openly provide access to their data through methods like application programming interfaces (APIs), increasing levels of automation can be accomplished that can save us minutes, and in some cases hours, each day.
Using tools like IFTTT, Zapier and others, I can automate many of my daily personal and professional tasks. From automatically posting a ‘Happy Birthday’ message to my Facebook friend on their birthday to automatically adding contacts to my CRM when I receive an email from a potential client, I can streamline many of the tasks that require my incremental attention.
This becomes increasingly interesting when you consider the tens of dozens of websites, social tools and hardwares that are supported by these platforms. Things like automatically turning the house lights on or off at a certain time to things like automatically copying photos from Facebook to Dropbox, the concept of streamlined automation can get exciting.
For clarification, I consider this a significant innovation because many of the tools and platforms we use have historically had their data in a silo, preventing certain degrees of automation. Now, with platforms being able to communicate with one another, there is an opportunity to take our technology to the next level by letting the automation do the heavy lifting of the small day-to-day duties. The larger opportunities are truly endless and unrealized.
So how does your list compare?
As stated previously, this list is in no particular order and consists of things derived from my interests and areas that I’m familiar with. Only time will dictate how these things will truly pan out. Part of the reason that envelope-pushing innovations haven’t become wildly known is because some are still being hacked on and tweaked within the proverbial garages of todays smartest people. Entrepreneur and angel investor Chris Dixon wrote about this paradigm as well, citing that activities that begin as tinkering and hobbies often take ten or more years to become practical utilities for normal people.
These five technological innovations exist today and may soon become the dominant tools for manufacturing, healthcare, delivery, finance and connectivity. My bet is that they will. Many legal, social and societal changes may have to occur prior to any of these becoming the next big thing. But just like most envelope-pushing innovation, the needs of the market and embracing of users will come as the benefits become more apparent. But, as of today, most Americans likely have no idea about what these concepts even mean and they don’t care. Yet.