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Five tech megatrends set to take 2022 by storm

Posted 18 Jan 2022

Five tech megatrends set to take 2022 by storm

In many ways, 2021 felt like a supercut of 2020. Another year passed in a flash, with the pandemic attempting to throw another sucker punch to UK industry.

That said, at Digital Catapult, we saw once again that the organisations we work with – both large and small – stood up in defiance and showed incredible resilience in the face of numerous challenges. Our deep tech community continues to rise up as a proud UK success story; spanning transformational areas like AI, virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), the internet of things, 5G and blockchain.

In fact, our Digital Future Index showed that UK advanced digital technology companies across these tech areas received a total of £2.46 billion in investment in 2021 alone, and found the UK is better placed than any country in Europe to take advantage of these technologies and how they will impact global businesses over the next decade.

As we enter 2022, which incredibly marks 15 years since the iPhone first hit our shelves, what are the technological advances that will define the next year?

Here are my top five:

1 – ‘The Metaverse’

A trend truly exacerbated by the pandemic and the need for increased virtual and remote activity, ‘the Metaverse’ is on everyone’s lips – seeing a huge spike in interest on online platforms, particularly since Facebook officially announced its name change and strategy to “Meta”.

While buzz around immersive technologies like VR/AR has been around for years rather than months, these technologies are finally starting to gather real momentum and be considered at significant scales. In combination with advanced networks such as 5G and AI for spatial computing they are starting to reach an elevated level of sophistication as they also combine with games engines.

We’ve witnessed a steady shift in immersive applications from virtual reality gaming, to augmented reality concerts and events, to remote repairs and employee training in industrial sectors. As these applications spiral in 2022, rather than just fingers on screens, people will increasingly interact with data, information and content as it is layered over the physical world, making it digitally interactive. We have already seen some recent demos, such as Nike and Snap Spectacles combining to create a new AR running experience.

But it’s not just the tech giants like Meta that are on the pulse here. We’re seeing many startups leading the charge – and with the UK boasting the second highest number of immersive startups in the world, we’re in a good position to make an impact.

Meanwhile, the media, arts and creative sectors – anticipating somewhat of a cultural renaissance post pandemic – is increasingly exploring methods of virtual production, using LED screens and other deep technologies as part of the journey towards content for the metaverse. This has led to us launching a new Virtual Production Test Stage this year to help businesses of all sizes to experiment and capitalise on these technologies.

The rise of increasingly hybrid realities promises to be a trend of not just the next year, but the next decade. It will transform the way we work, play and interact with one on a day to day basis as a new type of internet emerges – blurring the lines between the physical and the digital world.

2 – Greentech

COP26 in autumn 2021 set the tone for this next one – highlighting the unprecedented shift needed for us to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Between business and industrial processes, industry is responsible for around 20% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Across the economy, organisations are being pushed to take action and are at last coming to the realisation that being both green and profitable is actually linked, rather than mutually exclusive. Paired with this, consumers are increasingly keen to understand the provenance of the products they buy.

Innovations in digital technology are integral to tackling these issues and forming the infrastructure needed to facilitate such meticulous close monitoring. 2022 will see a rise in businesses using technologies such as the Internet of Things and blockchain to improve traceability across their products and processes, pinpointing avoidable waste and excess emissions. These technologies will enable us to have a top down view of the carbon footprint across supply chains, and without them it will be impossible for businesses to make strategic decisions that allow them to reach net zero.

Again, UK startups and small businesses are making strides in this regard. Greyparrot, for example – who has raised £2.75 million investment so far – is using AI-powered computer vision to sort large waste flows, helping drive efficiency and profitability for waste managers.

3 – Remote and autonomous machines

Digital, technology-enabled autonomous machines across all sectors will continue to gather pace.

While it certainly predated the pandemic, this is perhaps another trend sped up by the COVID-19 crisis as organisations strove to find new ways of working more leanly, and often, offsite. From warehouses, to waste management and building construction to name but a few, we’ll continue to see organisations invest in autonomous technology to help them carry out remote repairs, monitor their assets and pinpoint faults, or carry out inspections considered too dangerous for humans.

When it comes to autonomous machines powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning, responsible adoption has been significantly heightened in the context of factors such as the pandemic and climate change.

Designing technology responsibly and ethically, while ensuring AI/ML projects are conducted in a way that benefits all stakeholders involved as equally as possible, has continued to climb up the agenda; in the absence a ‘universal truth’ on how this can be done, I would expect discussions around this to continue well into 2022.

4 – Supply chain resilience

Dominating the headlines throughout the course of 2021 were supply chain shocks; whether product shortages or logjams at ports, we’ve seen how one single problem in one part of the network can impact a multitude of businesses – as well as consumers.

We’re seeing more work come to the fore when it comes to using advanced digital technologies to prevent shocks – from KnowRisk, which looks at reducing supply chain risk and evaluating insurance models, to the Digital Sandwich – which will improve traceability across the length and breadth of food & drink supply chains.

Organisations, traditionally dealing with these problems reactively, are building an understanding of how to better use real-time data to collaboratively manage risks and proactively reduce their frequency and impact. In 2022 we’ll see the substantial growth of Digital Twins – a real-time digital representation linked to a physical asset or process that so that adjustments to one, will impact the other – having a notable enabling effect on business resilience.

5 – Cross-sector & tech collaboration

Traditionally, the market often thinks about startups in siloes, be them tech or market silos. However, as we exit 2021 and face increasingly complex systemic challenges as a society, more and more value is being delivered in bringing together corporates, startups and researchers across technologies and markets to work jointly towards solutions.

Solutions developed for one industry can have immense potential for another, while an idea generated by a startup can answer burning questions a large corporate has been yearning to solve. Our recent research, for example, showed that 82% of manufacturing leaders think working with startups is key to digital transformation.

At Digital Catapult, we’re responding to this emerging need for more flexible technology ecosystems by developing a new way of designing and delivering our startup support programmes. Bringing them under one roof – through our new acceleration programme FutureScope – we’re giving a new focus to mixed stage and mixed technology cohorts addressing key industrial and societal challenges.

Innovation shaped for the better

Digital remains the building blocks of our economy – key to economic growth and UK competitiveness.

In such adverse times, it can be tricky to predict exactly what’s around the corner. However, sometimes the best innovations can be born out of crises – and the hurdles faced over the last two years are continuing to play a clear role in shaping technological development, applications and collaborations around us (hopefully for the better!)

Who knows where we’ll be this time next year?

Phil Y Square

Philip Young

Director of Policy, Research & Strategic Engagement