Viewpoint: Post-pandemic trends for the electronics industry…
01 August 2021
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Never before has the world experienced such a year. With the COVID-19 global pandemic came new norms for how we work, study & live – including a proliferation of remote/home working and real structural shifts in our everyday dependence on and interaction with digital & electronic technologies.
This viewpoint was originally featured as the cover story in the August 2021 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. And sign up to receive your own copy each month.
The challenges of lockdown and coronavirus through 2020 and into 2021 are also testing economies, industries and supply chains – and will reverberate well into the next few years, at least. So what trends have dominated the electronics industry throughout this period – and which are most likely to continue to do as we move forward? Dunstan Power, Director at embedded electronics consultancy, ByteSnap Design, and his team of engineering consultants have been reflecting on electronics and tech for the post-pandemic era…
1. Growth in COVID-accelerated medical technology
In response to COVID-19, we have seen development of consumer medical devices accelerate. Smart watches may be able to monitor for illness, as well as fitness – for instance, being able to detect an increase in body temperature. Wearable smart devices may also be upgraded to incorporate features such as automatic contact tracing, like with the NHS COVID app on smartphones.
2. Advances in social care & home care technology
The home care market was ripe for explosion in 2021. With care homes seeing inflation-busting fee increases in recent years, and concerns over infection control during lockdown, there are many reasons why some senior citizens want to remain in their own homes for as long as possible. Making sure elderly relatives are safe, secure and happy in their homes is very important for families – and technology to unobtrusively monitor and provide emergency response is expected to grow rapidly moving forward.
3. Machine learning to fuel growth in connected health
Connected health has become flavour of the month. We see lots of projects over the next few years being related to an increase in remote diagnostics of illnesses, measuring everything from temperature through to falls. We anticipate greater deployment of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) across connected health as well.
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For example, machine learning can be used for diagnosing whether someone has fallen over or if they’ve collapsed from a cardiac arrest. It could also prove useful in diagnosing symptoms. Think of what a GP does; this type of diagnostic work is ripe for machine learning and artificial intelligence to ask questions and gather information. Initially, we anticipate GPs using it to help better manage their workloads, rather than replacing them. Over time, we can expect AI to take over some of the GP’s more routine, mundane tasks.
Another use case: diabetes monitoring. Safety concerns will curtail how much machine learning is used for administering doses. The exceptionally high standards placed on medical device safety mean that this development of actually using AI and ML to administer doses is likely to be post-2021. However, over the next few years, we can certainly expect to see machine learning embraced by telehealth for monitoring and diagnoses.
4. Wider deployment of gesture recognition technology
Gesture recognition is the safety lead from a hygiene point of view with COVID-19, as – particularly early on in the pandemic – there was concern about the virus contaminating surfaces. So, we predict that over the next few years, we will see more systems and devices being developed to allow people to use gestures, instead of touchscreens.
Supporting technologies to drive this acceleration of gesture recognition are likely to include optical systems, or capacitive touch sensors. For instance, Microchip has a 3D gesture recognition chip. We can also see people using low cost cameras and machine learning to build these gesture-activated systems.
5. Volume to increase on speech recognition
Greater expansion into speech recognition systems will go hand in hand with the rise of gesture recognition tech. We’re already using speech to trigger our personal touchscreens and smartphones, for example. But over the next few years, we should see more speech-activated systems appearing in public spaces – a further move away from devices and systems that require touch.
6. Component supply crunch
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The global pandemic resulted in a great deal of factory downtime worldwide. Consequently, demand slowed as well. However, orders spiked again – aggressively – and stock levels have not recovered enough to keep pace with demand. Some distributors have already issued warnings to their customers on various parts. 2021 has borne witness to a global component supply crunch, so it may be prudent to implement extra planning to protect project timelines and budgets.
7. Smart home gym equipment set to expand
As a result of the home workout market increasing, we should see growth in smart workout assistants over the next few years. These would include AI systems which could deliver a more personalised workout to suit your goals, as well as using cameras to analyse posture during workouts to ensure they are being done safely and correctly. This would also tie in to improvements in teleconferencing, with more online classes being done.
8. Laptops market (ARM) race to heat up
ARM is making a big play to try and be taken seriously in the desktop world. And if Apple and Adobe can succeed in producing ARM devices, running native ARM applications, that even come close to their x86 siblings, then that might just be a compelling enough line-up for ARM to break into the mid-range laptop markets.
Most MS Office apps are already supported due to their Surface X. Success from Apple and Adobe too here could see other OEMs and developers start to produce ARM laptops and applications to follow in their footsteps, improving on the currently weak ARM line-up.
The efficiency of these ARM processors makes them ideal for students and general-purpose laptop users, and though it’s unlikely they’d be considered for heavy workloads like CAD, gaming or video editing any time soon, it’s an interesting space to watch as ARM laptops develop over the coming months and years.
9. Smart homes continue to increase in appeal
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Smart homes for security, heating, lighting and so on, as well as smart meters for utilities, will become even more popular over the next few years, with the focus on climate change and managing energy. In parallel, data from smart homes will start to become more appealing to manufacturers, consumers and governments. And the fact that many people spent most of 2020 at home may have them pondering on better use of home energy and automation.
10. Augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR) to further evolve
Over the past few years, we’ve seen VR technology evolve, but primarily in the gaming market. Over the next few years, we can expect to see a rise in use cases for VR, such as remote learning in educational systems and remote shopping, both ideas which have gained popularity due to COVID-19.
Imagine if you could use your avatar to walk around a VR store and look at items from any perspective you want, instead of being limited to images available on websites. 2021 might also prove to be the start of the AR era, which has an exceptional number of uses cases, but has thus far been limited by hardware requirements. The ability to scan a space and overlay holographic objects, signs or text is particularly attractive for design, engineering, automotive and architecture.
For example, instead of following an IKEA or jet engine manual, you would be able to see a holographic animation overlaid on the object in front of you; interior designers could scan a room, then instantly rearrange furniture and decoration to see what it would look like.
In addition, Apple’s new iPhone 12 comes kitted out with a LiDAR sensor and the iPhone 12 Pro apparently has all the hardware requirements for AR support. Also, Samsung and start-up, NReal have announced progress into commercialising lightweight AR headsets, which will make use of new 5G networks. We believe that before the end of 2021, we’ll see more buzz in AR marketing and a rush for budget/mid-range Android phones to begin putting LiDAR capability into handsets.
11. Nature & outdoor leisure apps – and the “IoTree”
Global lockdowns left many of us pining for the freedom of the outdoors; and technology to enhance our experience of nature could well become a dominant trend over the next few years. Look out for a proliferation of outdoor-related gadgets for camping, hiking or enjoying nature (such as apps to detect what nature is around, trackers for everything and techy versions of camping equipment, such as stoves and headlamps).
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We anticipate the expansion of wearables for the outdoors, in particular – for example, t-shirts with sensors (equipped with GPS and tracking heart-rate). New apps are being developed which use sensors on ski boots to collect data on skiing performance and make recommendations for improvement.
And with 2020 giving us a greater appreciation for the outdoors, we could even see an increase in “the IoTree” – a smart agri concept in which IoT sensors are attached to trees to help measure environmental factors.
12. Retail technology to herald cashless society
More tech will emerge for contactless payments – with the push towards a cashless society now greater than ever. So, expect to see technological advances making payments easier, quicker and more secure.
13. RISC-V edges further towards the mainstream
RISC-V ISA, the open standard instruction set architecture (ISA) based on established reduced instruction set computer (RISC) principles, is likely to continue its march to the mainstream during 2021. We’ve seen the push to develop RISC-V ISA hardware gather pace in recent years. Though there are still some question marks of the maturity of the RISC-V ecosystem, but we could experience an even greater acceleration towards RISC-V ISA in 2021 – particularly if ARM is bought out by NVIDIA.
14. Improved remote/home working solutions
With 2020 being a defining year for remote/home working, growth and change in remote working solutions is a certainty over the next few years – for example, significant upgrades will be seen in teleconferencing software, such as smoother video generated by AI. Also, improvements to noise cancellation in calls, as well as more comfortable/smaller headsets.
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