Technology Predictions for 2021 from PARC Researchers

It’s always interesting to talk to researchers working at the forefront of their respective fields, to discover what trends and opportunities they see. We asked members of the PARC research team to share their perspectives on where technology will take us in 2021 and beyond.

A cleaner future

I predict we’ll see acceleration in clean energy, carbon capture, and energy efficiency technologies this year. The Biden administration has vowed to make it a priority, and will be enabled by the fully Democratic Congress. The current trend toward remote work and better digital communication tools will have an impact on our emissions as well, due to the consequent reduction in vehicle miles driven.

Kate Murphy

Wearable health/wellness devices become mainstream

With the COVID-19 pandemic straining healthcare facilities and challenging access to clinics, people will increasingly adopt health/wellness wearable devices. Combined with advances in IoT analytics and telehealth systems aiding health diagnostics, this will be a key step towards the democratization of healthcare, aiding lower cost, periodic self-health assessments and proactive wellness initiatives.

Ajay Raghavan

Supply chain management and further advances in RNA Immunotherapy

Technological advances will be driven by exposed shortcomings and successes of the previous pandemic year.  A fast and effective roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines globally has highest priority in the first half of 2021;  managing medical supplies, educating people about the vaccination and supporting healthcare workers.  The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the danger of depending too heavily on faraway suppliers.  Here, 3DP technologies will help manufacturing companies to produce parts at their sites when needed.  The success story of mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 is just the beginning of a new era in vaccine development for infectious diseases such as influenza (flu), Zika and rabies viruses, as well as promising approaches for mRNA cancer vaccines.

Anne Plochowietz

Virtual technologies and climate action

The year 2020 exposed some challenges that humanity never faced in the modern era. As we are on the path to recovering to normalcy, we must acknowledge that the experience has undoubtedly changed how we work, communicate, and move around. In 2021, I anticipate tremendous interest and investment in virtual technologies to help people adapt to hybrid workplaces. Moreover, with the new administration centering on climate change as a crucial issue, I believe there will be a significant focus on how technologies, such as AI, IoT, and cleantech, could support climate action.

Kalai Ramea

Meaningful advances in AI

Considerable work remains to advance AI to the point where it can help solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. Despite a lot of hype AI has not had real and meaningful impact in the world. The McKinsey Global Institute has compiled a list of 160 potential AI use-cases with high social impact. Of the technologies they identified, only a third have actually been used in the real world and even those were limited to small experiments. Promises like diagnosing cancer or even self-driving cars continue to be just on the cusp of actual deployment. In 2021, I’m looking forward to AI starting to get traction on significant but realistic use-cases. We’ll be thinking about how AI can help inform climate change mitigation efforts or make progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We’ll also be continuing our work to enable humans and computers to work together. I predict we’ll make great strides in developing collaborative, tasked-based interactions between people and AI that incorporates conversation, augmented reality, and task knowledge forming human-computer teams to carry out complex tasks.

Kyle Dent

Innovation and further development in 3D and AM technologies

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the global supply chain for many weeks in 2020, revealing gaps in the USA supply especially for personal medical protection equipment. Nevertheless, through the amazing efforts of 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM) systems, the supply chain recovered and met the needs of frontline and essential workers. 2021 will be an exciting year for 3D printing and AM- there will be more players in the space and increased funding from venture capitalists. 3D printing and additive manufacturers will focus on digitalization and tightly connect end-to-end manufacturing flow to provide incredible levels of flexibility and unique piece manufacturing. We will see exciting innovations in hardware, materials and services.

Joanne Lee

Simple, but Enabled Sensing

Sensors – doing more with less: With increasing demand for ubiquitous sensing, there is a need for low-cost disposable sensors that can be widely deployed. I anticipate a move towards simpler sensors coupled with more robust, AI-enabled analytics that can deliver valuable insights without requiring high-end sensor nodes.

Sean Doris

Additional information

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Our work is centered around a series of Focus Areas that we believe are the future of science and technology.

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