2017 is going to be a really exciting year and we’ve put together a list of predictions. Many of the technologies we’ve been discussing for years are about to hit the mainstream. Gartner calls this the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’, where the true benefits of a technology become clearer and more widely understood (note that Gartner wasn’t involved in the formation of this list). I had to limit the number of technologies we could include here; the initial list based on discussions with my very smart colleagues contained 30 items! Please read on to hear our optimistic predictions about which technologies will enter this slope of enlightenment in 2017.
- Multi-domain security: Security is a make or break issue and since the problem will undoubtedly get worse before it gets better we’ll probably look back on 2017 as the year of hardware. Every day more connected products are hacked; at stake is our privacy, financial livelihood and physical safety. Recently two major telcos had their routers/gateways hacked within days of each other; the hackers were able to exploit weakness in current Linux-based implementations. While we won’t see pervasive deployment of multi-domain security in 2017, we will see widespread understanding that it’s a necessary way to protect embedded devices. Imagination’s licensees, their customers, operators and service providers agree. Increasingly companies will adopt a separation based approach like that provided by Imagination’s OmniShield technology; it’s really the only way to architect connected products.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI): This is the year of machine learning and neural networks. 2017 will see a number of chips targeted at AI and several demonstrable technologies by year end. We’re working with our partners to enable this revolution across nearly every market where our technologies are found. As our customers develop chips that support things like natural language processing, voice recognition technologies, and vision processing algorithms, they need to consider the increased demands to process data locally and relay data to the cloud for onward processing and data aggregation. They can benefit from our MIPS CPUs and PowerVR multimedia IP; we’ll have new developments in 2017 that will help drive this market forward.
- Autonomous technologies: Closely related to AI but important enough to be called out on its own, 2017 will see a transition from manual to semi-autonomous technologies in automobiles, drones, and some robotics applications. It will also see further regulation as these technologies begin to proliferate. At Imagination we are creating solutions that meet safety and reliability requirements, and that provide a foundation for security. We will have a separate list of predictions on automotive technology – stay tuned for that!
- 360° video: Driven by user-generated content uploaded to social media and video sharing sites like Facebook and YouTube, we’ll see 360° video entering the mainstream. PowerVR multimedia IP cores enable our SoC customers to create compelling solutions for 360 video. In addition to consumer use cases, 360 video will also begin to find its way into applications such as surveillance, automotive and medical training. The rise of 360 video will also contribute to enlightened VR technology in 2017.
- Untethered VR: In 2016 we saw relatively affordable VR devices enter the market which enable compelling VR experiences, while mostly eliminating simulation sickness. With hardware that can drive dual high-resolution displays, we are now entering the era of consumer-satisfying VR. Moving ahead, VR will reach the next level as audio/visual processing technology develops to enable more devices to capture scenes and immersive audio, and devices become untethered. Imagination is investing increasing resources into VR development so that we can help our partners create optimised solutions.
- Ray tracing: You’ve undoubtedly heard us talk about ray tracing before; now forces are coming together to make it a reality. One driver is the emergence of new use cases such light field rendering and foveated rendering. The frontier of game rendering is advancing too: what were considered amazing game visuals five years ago don’t look that great today. In addition, the cost to add ray tracing acceleration is incremental. Growing interest in VR, AR and mixed reality applications will push the need for this technology. PowerVR ray tracing is the ideal solution since it achieves the best performance per watt for ray tracing.
- Voice recognition and interaction will be incorporated into more and more devices – we’re already seeing Alexa in an increasing number of products because of her API. We’re also seeing new classes of hearable devices. In 2017 such assistants will begin to proliferate just about everywhere. We’ll see this technology develop to a point where natural language can be used by consumers to engage in conversation with their devices. In the future, this may develop into using other methods to improve the conversation (e.g. gesture recognition).
- Hardware virtualization: We often talk about virtualization (VZ) as it relates to security, and indeed it provides the foundation for multi-domain OmniShield security within our IP cores. But VZ is also a means for OEMs to let disparate operators and service providers offer dissimilar and secure services across devices that use all of our IP families, including PowerVR GPUs and the entire range of our MIPS CPUs. VZ can enable secure provisioning and management of remote trusted services. In 2017, new products will enter the market that make use of this powerful capability.
- Integrated wireless connectivity: there is a clear trend away from using separate wireless combo chips toward integrating connectivity onto the main application processor for products such as smartphones. We see the trend starting to move into other connected devices as companies look to reduce power, silicon area, and bill-of-materials costs. By delivering real performance in an ultra-low power envelope, our Ensigma Whisper wireless communications IP can meet the need. The significant uptick in our Ensigma IP licensing in 2016 points to this trend being well underway.
- Hardware accelerators: Is Moore’s Law dead? Whether you answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’, it’s clear that there is an ever increasing need for more processing power – especially with many of the above technologies increasing demand. One way companies are coping is through the use of function specific accelerators. Such accelerators can provide performance gains (ray tracing accelerators for GPUs are a good example), and will provide a path to ensuring cloud service providers’ infrastructure continues to scale. Industry changes in this area are opening the door for new players to step into the mix.
There are of course many other technologies that will experience a big year in 2017. While not yet reaching the enlightened stage, it will be a pivotal time for things like IoT interoperability and security standards, true heterogeneous processing and open source hardware and software models. We’ll be on a clear path to 5G in 2017, and this will present many opportunities. I’m also intrigued to see what companies including Google and Microsoft will roll out this year around quantum computing. What do you think about 2017’s enlightened technologies? What else should be on the list? Let us know in the comments below!