A VR Headset for Every Kid ... and Other Tech Predictions
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because it’s time to buckle up for drone racing and bleeding veg.
By Zara Stone
Picture this: Lisa, age 10, returns from her first day of middle school with a brand-new toy to show her parents. “Every kid in my class got one,” she says, passing over a wireless headset for them to examine. “It’s for researching our lessons and homework.” A teacher’s note explains that a new statewide scheme provides these free of charge in order to promote fairness and equality in learning environments. “One Oculus Per Child” reads the tagline.
This might seem crazy, but we’re 17 years out from One Laptop Per Child, a move that equipped more than 3 million children with laptops — the idea being that tech is key to a well-rounded education. One Oculus per household isn’t that far-fetched, especially considering Mark Zuckerberg’s billion-dollar investment in innovating education.
Will drone racing become a popular spectator sport?
Today’s tech landscape is the perfect storm of sci-fi dystopia. In the not-so-distant future, pizza drone deliveries, artificial-intelligence journalists and self-driving cars will be the norm. At the same time, increasingly intelligent drones destroy lives, chatbots spread fake news and AI is taking jobs. Technology is redefining our reality. With that in mind, here are my three top tech predictions for what’s going down in the tumultuous tech world this year.
Tech’s Sport Takeover
Say “so long” to Friday night football as new technologies are making inroads on sports fans’ attention. Take esports, the pastime of watching other people play video games. Today, millions tune into livestreams on Twitch and watch prime-time esports on ESPN — by 2020, esports will have an audience of 589 million people and will be valued at $1.49 billion, according to Statista. That’s a 204 percent increase from 2016. Esports is now a category at the 2018 Asian Games, and the Olympic Committee is considering its inclusion in the 2020 Olympics. And, no surprise, it falls squarely in the millennial market, with 46 percent of all esports viewers being 18–24 years old.
There’s also an upsurge in drone racing, the equivalent of an aerial NASCAR. More than 30 million people watched Drone Racing League on ESPN (now entering its third season), and the team has raised more than $30 million so far. Again, viewers skew young. “There’s a generational shift in culture and entertainment,” says Robert Cheek, head of business development at drone startup UVify. He sees racing drones as a natural spectator sport for a generation accustomed to high-intensity video games.
In Austria this year, Red Bull held a drone racing event that mimicked the chaos of Mario Kart, complete with wipeouts and fireballs as pilots raced at speeds of 100 mph and above, around a Formula One track. “They had to keep people out of the arena as they didn’t have enough seats,” Cheek says.
This is the year where a doctor’s visit includes a cheek swab and “preventative” medicine becomes a medical watchword. Why just treat disease when you can stop it from happening in the first place?
The global market for personalized medicine is forecast to grow 77 percent to 2.8 billion by 2022, according to Statista, and companies are stepping up to meet the demand. In 2017, Forward, a high-tech reinvention of the doctor’s office, opened two locations in California, complete with medical AI, Apple-like design, genetic testing and free wearables for all patients. In 2018, they’re looking to the East Coast and expanding into dermatology and ophthalmology. “People go to the doctor when they get sick — we want to address that before it happens,” says CEO Adrian Aoun.
Seattle-based startup Arivale takes a different approach, using the $53.6 million it raised to combine genetic testing and microbiome analysis with nutritional coaching and lifestyle advice. “Long-term, this can save people money,” says CEO Clayton Lewis. “We want to provide actionable data.”
The Future of Beef Is Vegetables
Around 30 percent of calories consumed by humans — globally — comes from meat, but that’s a losing proposition. The amount of water, land and greenhouse gas produced this way is not a long-term sustainable option. Hence the proliferation and investment in plant-based protein, from Impossible Foods’ “bleeding” veggie burger, which raised $258 million, to Beyond Meat’s $72 million and vegan meal producer Sweet Earth being acquired by Nestle in September. The finances are unknown, but Nestle said it expects the plant-based food segment to be a $5 billion market by 2020.
Companies like Impossible Foods “are taking a scientific approach” to determine “what’s in the burger from a cow that gives it its taste and texture people like” and trying to replicate that, says David Welch, director of science and technology at the Good Food Institute. The Impossible Burger launched in 2016 in a handful of venues — in 2018 it plans to be in 1,000-plus locations, including university cafeterias, company offices and even museums.