Tech Trends: 4 key technology trends driving innovation in 2017

In his Tech Trends column, Chief Technologist Ahmad Bahai explains emerging technology trends that will change our world and the key innovations needed to make them a reality.

 The electrification tide is rising. Electronics are permeating every aspect of our lives. Everything around us is getting more intelligent, more connected – and therefore replete with semiconductor content.

Big data is getting bigger, personal electronics are getting more personable, and smart machines are getting, well, smarter.

In 2017, I see the following technology trends helping to steer the course of innovation. Some of these trends are carryovers from the prior year, but continue to be pervasive and increasingly important in the technology landscape.

1 - High voltage

The growth in high voltage is driven in part by the increasing popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs). Most major car companies are aggressively developing both EVs and HEVs, and the need for power drivers and charging stations will fuel the growth of high voltage power electronics.

Also, high voltage power will be necessary to power more robust data centers with the development and proliferation of 5G-enabled devices. We’ll talk more about this later –under smart buildings and smart cities. Off-line applications, such as smart and rapid chargers – dependent on high voltage power – are also showing signs of healthy growth.

Traditional power devices continue to experience a healthy growth.  More advanced power devices, such as gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC), show promising opportunities, though only when they become more affordable, by offering higher power density in a smaller footprint.

2 - Semi-autonomous systems

The automotive industry is embracing the latest electronic features at the pace of the consumer market. Even more telling is that the semiconductor content growth within cars continues to outpace automotive market growth since 2010. However, with automotive quality standards demanding higher reliability and longevity, innovation for next generation cars has prompted both new technical challenges and market promises. New complex advanced driver assistance (ADAS) systems will deploy multiple cameras, radar, LIDAR and ultrasound sensors for autonomous driving. Additionally, the EV/HEV market, which has driven innovation in power electronics, shows promising growth but still a small percentage of total market.

Another semi-autonomous system that will see growth this year is robots. Traditionally, robots have been used in industrial applications for some routine and precise applications. Robots are now finding roles in enterprise, education, the consumer market and in assembly lines working alongside people. Advanced control techniques, in conjunction with high performance motor drive and sensors, will be extensively utilized in modern robots.

Drones will also see expansion of professional applications. Their use in security, entertainment and survey services will grow this year. We will see advanced sensor systems and flight time improvements for many critical applications.

3 - Smart buildings and smart cities

Smart buildings and cities are adopting industrial internet technology at a faster pace than the rest of industry 4.0. More commercial and industrial buildings are adopting sensor networks for security, utility monitoring, water and air quality, and more.

Urbanization is accelerating globally. With higher concentrations of people in big cities, we cannot underestimate how critical it is to ensure energy efficiency, improved transportation quality, and better water and utility management. Cities are also deploying intelligent traffic monitoring and control, security systems, and intelligent utility monitoring at a faster pace.

As big data continues to grow, the demand for data – both wired and wireless – is growing exponentially. Video will contribute to about 60 percent of data traffic on networks, and mobile data is doubling every 15 months (Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2016–2021). The need for processing and moving massive amounts of data around buildings, factory floors, and inside cars or public transportation have pushed many aspects of the technology to its limits. The explosive growth of data in wireless networks has expedited the development of 5G radio infrastructure.

Data centers are also rapidly expanding. The implications of this trend manifest themselves in ultra-high speed interfaces up to 100Gbps, advance power management, and integrated radio units. Data analytics, in many cases real-time, is critical in many applications and has prompted new processor architectures. Machine learning accelerators for embedded processors and GPUs with special hardware features for artificial intelligence are utilized in many new applications.

4 - Personal electronics

The fast pace of personal electronics growth drives the development of innovations with increasing semiconductor content and differentiating features. Many of the personal device innovations will gradually enhance and emerge in automotive and industrial markets as well.

Devices around us are more powerful and omnipresent than before. Therefore, our interaction with machines is more frequent and evolving. While touch has been the dominant human machine interface, more native approaches that leverage speech, vision and gestures are emerging. Voice interface is increasingly more reliable and affordable for many consumer and automotive applications. Virtual and augmented reality started for entertainment and gaming – with dizzying effect – but have been evolving for many professional applications, such as flight simulation. Flexible electronics and display is finding applications in mobile and medical applications.

Keep an eye out for my columns this year – each diving deeper into these trends. We’ll discuss the technical challenges within each and how semiconductors are driving the technologies forward.