Like 2020, 2021 was a year of ups and downs, with significant COVID changes and technological advancements. Our lifestyles may have been disrupted as a result of the majority of us working remotely and staying at home, but we continue to adjust to the new normal. Pandemic may have confined us to our homes with online shopping, grocery deliveries, and OTT entertainment, but it could not halt innovation. More inventions were developed in order to survive this unprecedented pandemic. AI & ML algorithms and intelligence, for example, provide insight into bacterial proteins to help predict infection outcomes and develop new treatments. A combination of AI and simulation can also speed up the screening of COVID-19 drug candidates by 50,000 times.Now, we can apply AI on carbohydrates to predict which viruses are likely to spread from animals to humans.
While every conference in 2020 was virtual, some in-person conferences were allowed in 2021. The world’s largest consumer electronics show (CES) plans to hold an in-person conference in 2022 during the first week of January, but companies such as Google, Microsoft, Intel, AT&T, T-Mobile, and AMD have announced that they will not attend. However, at the AWS re:invent, Google I/O, Microsoft Build, Facebook F8, and Apple WWDC conferences, a slew of new products and announcements were made.
The Cloud, along with the Hybrid Cloud, is still on the rise and will be the focal point for all technologies. Kubernetes is taking over the container world, edge computing is gaining traction, and IoT is becoming more intertwined with AI/ML in the Cloud. Along with AI, Big Data, Connected Devices, Cloud, and Drones, we will see increased interest in Metaverse with xR. ( extended Reality, which is a combination of Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality)
AI is becoming an integral part of our daily lives, from opening phones with face ID to searching something on Google, showing relevant content on social media to navigating traffic, enabling voice search on smartphones to providing content recommendations on Netflix. In 2021, investors poured more money into AI startups than ever before, and two of the first AI-first drug discovery companies went public by raising more money through IPOs. Exscientia, a UK-based AI-first drug discovery company, debuted on the NASDAQ in October at a $3 billion valuation, and Utah-based Recursion Pharmaceuticals, an AI-first company that uses computer vision-powered microscopy to discover drugs, raised $436 million via NASDAQ IPO in April.
The enterprise data and automation sector had a spectacular year with blockbuster IPOs. Snowflake (cloud data platform), UiPath (RPA – robotic process automation), and Confluent (Kafka-based data streaming) represent $138B of newly created public market value in 2021 with solid revenues throughout the year.
In 2021, more data lakes became Cloud-native than the traditional Hadoop-based. Cloud-native data lake vendor, Snowflake’s market valuation grew 50% in 2021 while revenues jumped 100%. The enterprise data/A.I. company Databricks reached $38B in valuation when all three major cloud vendors – Amazon, Google, and Microsoft – invested in Databricks in February 2021.
A newcomer in this space, Firebolt secured $127M funding in July 2021 in addition to $37M funding in December 2020. It seems to provide a much more efficient and cheaper data & analytics solution in the Cloud. Update: Last week, it raised $100 million in a Series C funding round at a $1.4 billion valuation.
2021 witnessed a huge decline in Hadoop usage. The merger with Hortonworks didn’t help Cloudera much as Cloud-native technologies are dominating the Big Data space. Cloudera is also offering their platforms on major Cloud providers and providing an on-prem option where you could separate storage from processing, aligning with cloud-native architectures. Cloudera is also supporting hybrid and multi-cloud strategies.
Pandemic forced every company to bet on digital transformation and resiliency. Pandemic also enforced remote working with videoconferencing, contactless delivery and shipping, virtual doctor visits with telemedicine, online education, AR/VR based education, etc. All these things quickly exploded, and the companies were able to meet the unexpected demand with the infinite scalability offered by Cloud. Gartner predicts that 47% of workers will continue to work remotely in 2022, up from 27% pre-pandemic.
Multi-cloud is becoming a viable option as we can easily port applications wherever and whenever we want. Various factors, like procuring compute in real-time, streamlined connectivity between integration platforms, porting the interoperable data between cross platforms, are contributing to the wide adoption of a multi-cloud strategy. Based on the current trend, companies are picking AWS for customer-facing apps, Azure for business services, and GCP for analytics, particularly Big Query.
Trends such as edge computing, an architecture pattern bringing compute closer to users and devices, and 5G – the next generation of cellular connectivity are enhancing the IoT capabilities. A shift toward connected homes, smart cities, supply chain tracking, Industrial IoT, and autonomous mobility pushes the 5G-6G internet technology.
2021 witnessed more than 10 billion active IoT devices, and the number will surpass 25 billion by 2030. Global IoT spending will reach $15 trillion by 2025, and IoT solutions can generate $4-11 trillion by the same time.
Drones & Flying Taxis
Joby Aviation, an electric aviation company based in Northern California, completed an impressive 150-mile flight in July 2021. With 1,000 test flights of its eVTOL craft, the company is confident to have a full-scale air taxi service in operation in 2024 to begin commercial operations.
Toyota invested in this company, and it recently acquired Uber’s flying taxi division. This piloted taxi can travel up to 200 mph with a range of more than 150 miles and can carry four passengers.
Flying taxis need mini airports (called skyports) to pick up and drop off passengers. However, Joby Aviations closed a deal with US parking firm Reef Technology to leverage the roofs of some of its car parks into skyports. It has also signed similar agreements with New York’s largest landlords.
New Zealand-based Wisk has been testing Cora, an autonomous flying taxi, for a while. It is talking to regulators (including the US Federal Aviation Administration) to get approval for public use of the air taxi. It’s partnered with Boeing Co. and Kitty Hawk Corp. to develop the technology. Compared to Joby Aviation, Cora’s range is small – aiming to carry two passengers about 30 miles at speeds of about 100 miles/h.
Drone deliveries and flying/air taxies are becoming a reality, and FAA recently eased rules to fly drones over people and at night for widespread commercial deliveries.
While some say Facebook diverted everyone’s attention from its controversies to its new name Meta, there is a reason why it is betting on Metaverse. Its massive investment in Metaverse is an indication that it will explode in 2022 and beyond. According to Facebook (now Meta) co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Metaverse is a physical internet in which we not only consume content, but we are part of it. It is not limited to one type of technology, but it will initially be crowded with many technologies/players. It will be interesting to see how Metaverse will be shaped with multiple big players chasing it. We have seen some success in the past with AR/VR glasses, but it is yet to hit the mainstream with the right level of comfort and sophistication. While hanging out with friends on a sunny Bahama beach (virtually) sounds so fun and exciting, we have to see how Metaverse enables that seamless experience.