Unexpected convergent consequences: This is what happens when eight different exponential technologies all explode onto the scene at once.

An expert might be reasonably good at predicting the growth of a single exponential technology (e.g., the Internet of Things), but try to predict the future when the following eight technologies are all doubling, morphing and recombining. You have a very exciting (read: unpredictable) future.

1. Computation

2. Internet of Things (Sensors & Networks)

3. Robotics/Drones

4. Artificial Intelligence

5. 3D Printing

6. Materials Science

7. Virtual/Augmented Reality

8. Synthetic Biology

This year at my Abundance 360 Summit I decided to explore this concept in sessions I called Convergence Catalyzers.

For each technology, I brought in an industry expert to identify their top five recent breakthroughs (2012-2015) and their top five anticipated breakthroughs (2016-2018). Then, we explored the patterns that emerged.

This post (the first of seven) is a look at networks and sensors (i.e., the Internet of Everything). Future posts will look at the remaining tech areas.

Networks and Sensors – Context

At A360 my first guest was Raj Talluri, the Senior VP of Product Management at Qualcomm, who oversees their Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile computing businesses. Here’s some context before we dive in.

The Earth is being covered by an ever-expanding mesh of networks and sensors that form the Internet of Things (or the Internet of Everything). Think of the IoT as the network of all digitally accessible objects, estimated at 15 billion in number today, and expected to grow to more than 50 billion by 2020.

But what makes this even more powerful, is that each of these connected devices, are themselves made up of a dozen sensors measuring everything from vibration, position and light, to blood chemistries and heart rate.

Imagine a world rapidly approaching a trillion sensor economy where the IoT enables a data-driven future in which you can know anything you want, anytime you want, anywhere you want. A world of instant, high-bandwidth, communications and near perfect information.

The implications of this are staggering, and I asked Raj to share his top five breakthroughs from the past three years to illustrate some of them.

Recent Top 5 Breakthroughs (2013 – 2015)

Here are the breakthroughs Raj identified in networks and sensor technology from 2012-2015.

1. Emergence of Continuous Low-Power Always-On Sensors

One of the major advances from the past three years has been the proliferation of “always on” sensors.

As Raj explains, “You’ll be amazed how many of your phone sensors are always on. If you look at your phone, there were times when you had to press the button to say hello Google or hi Siri. Now, you don’t. You just talk to it and it figures it out.”

“This has been made possible because you’re now able to make very low power sensors that listen to you all the time, keyword detect and do the data processing.”

2. Smartphones Drive Sensor Volume at Low Cost

The number of sensors in your smartphone today has exploded. Raj continues, “We are now seeing 10, 20 and even 30 sensors embedded in our smartphones. Things like proximity sensors when you pick your phone up, gyros, cameras, depth sensors and so on. This has really driven down cost and driven the discovery of new sensors, because there are a billion smartphones [sold] every year. It’s a huge opportunity.”

A billion phones means 20+ billion sensors — and we are headed towards a trillion sensor economy.

3. “Systems” Fuse Continuous Sensor Data and Cloud Processing

Seamless integration of processing is happening in the cloud and on your device. Raj explains, “When you say, ‘Okay, Google,’ a part of what happens next is on the phone and a part is on the cloud. You don’t really know where the processing is being done, on your device or on the cloud, the handoff is seamless.”

4. 4K Video Format Goes Mainstream

4K screen resolution is close to the point that the brain is unable to notice pixels. As such, somewhere between 4K and 8K, virtual reality become visually equal to visual reality.

Raj explains how this technology is exploding: “If you buy a 4K TV and watch 4K content, it’s very hard to go back to 1080p. It almost feels like you were watching a VHS tape when DVDs came out. Today, if you look at what we’ve done at Qualcomm in the high-end processors space, we shipped over 200 to 250 million processors that actually record in 4K.”

5. Opening of Sensor APIs to 3rd Party Apps Development Community

The reality is that the majority of phone apps now come from third party developers. This explosion in apps (perhaps 50 to 100 per phone) is only possible because of (i) the opening of the APIs for the sensors in the devices and (ii) the community of developers that has emerged as a result.

So what’s in store for the near future?

Anticipated Top 5 Breakthroughs (2016 – 2018)

Here are Raj’s predictions for the most exciting, disruptive developments coming in networks and sensors in the next three years.

As entrepreneurs and investors, these are the areas you should be focusing on, as the business opportunities are tremendous.

1. Wireless Network Densification (4G/5G): Cost / Megabit Plummets

The cost per megabit of connection is going to plummet – essentially nearing “free” in the very near future.

Raj expands, “Already in places like Indonesia, we find that people are actually getting data plans at a price of $5 a month. In most of the world, the cost per megabit is extremely low as the cost of launching networks is plummeting.”

2. Emergent Peer-To-Peer Tech Drives Automotive Communication and Safety

Soon all of your devices at home and work (screens, thermostats, DVRs, computers, even cars) will automatically connect seamlessly. You won’t have to make conscious decisions about how to connect your washing machine. When it finishes washing the clothes, you will get a notification on your phone.”

3. Global Internet Connectivity via Satellite Plummets in Cost

Qualcomm, in partnership with Richard Branson, are working to deploying a 648 satellite constellation called OneWeb. Raj explains, “Global Internet connectivity through satellites is finally going to happen… Just think about three billion new people coming online at a megabit per second. It is going to be completely different kind of experience.”

4. Exponential Growth in Connections to Internet from Various Devices — Personal/Home/Cities

Raj says, “I often ask people: how many IP addresses do you think you have at your house?” Most people have no clue. They say, “Maybe two or three…”

For Raj (and most of us) it’s more like 50… your TVs, your set top boxes, phone, iPads, Nest, cameras, light bulbs…

“In the next few years, the number of things that will be connected to the Internet at any given point of time in your life is going to be so huge that the way they work is going to be very different. You won’t need to reach for your phone to do something. Coupled with sensor networks, you’ll just be able to speak and ask for what you want.”

5. Major Improvements of Head-Mounted User Interfaces With Rich Bandwidth and Onboard Sensors

Over the next three years, we’ll see rapid uptake of VR and AR headsets, each with 4K displays and cameras, and packed with a suite of sensors connected by high bandwidth communications to the cloud. The result is that each of us is wearing an incredible user interface with high-speed communications that will make our virtual experiences so good that you won’t need to travel to experience something.”

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Dr. Peter Diamandis is the Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation, which leads the world in designing and launching large incentive prizes to drive radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. Best known for the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE for private spaceflight, the Foundation is now launching prizes in Exploration, Life Sciences, Energy, and Education. Diamandis is also the co-Fou...

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