What might we see in 2016?

Will this be the year that we see drones in our skies and driverless cars on our roads? It just might be... maybe.

At the end of last year, Amazon released footage of their ‘Amazon Prime Air’ future delivery system that will safely get packages to customers within just 30 minutes using small unmanned flying vehicles - or drones as we know them. These continue to be developed in Amazon’s Cambridge lab here in the UK with a complete family of drone prototypes taking shape. If we are to see this service take off in 2016 it is very likely that it will be introduced here first. Jeff Bezos, Chief Executive of Amazon has stated "We continue to work with different regulators around the world. One of the regulatory agencies that's moving fastest on this is the UK, so it's possible that drone deliveries will start first in the UK”.

In recent years, Mark Zuckerberg has read two books every month, mastered Mandarin and aimed to meet a new person every day, but his recent New Year’s challenge is to code his own personal helper. In a post on Facebook he said “My personal challenge for 2016 is to build a simple AI (Artificial Intelligence) to run my home and help me with my work. You can think of it kind of like Jarvis in Iron Man.” AI is not only a focus for the Facebook founder, it will continue to grow and appear in technology products throughout the year. Microsoft recently sat down with sixteen members of its research team to discuss what they predict will be the big trends of 2016, with AI coming out centre stage. Eric Horvitz, Technical Fellow & Managing Director at Microsoft Research Redmond Lab said “A visible advance in computational intelligence will be the advent of fluid, multi-step conversational dialog with machines which will be noticeably more natural and competent than the speech interactions we have had with computers and smartphones to date.” This will no doubt lead to voice assistant software such as Microsoft's Cortana and Apple's Siri playing a bigger role in certain daily tasks.

With AI looking likely to play a greater role in our lives, how we travel may also start looking a little different. The ‘Google Self-Driving Car Project’ has been in development for several years but 2016 could be the year where things get moving, with recent reports that Google and the Ford Motor Company potentially partnering together to build a driverless car. Although this may still happen, Ford announced this week it will team up with Amazon, stating this will form part of an aggressive push into driverless cars and becoming a key company in smart transport. Speaking this week at the company’s press conference at CES 2016 in Las Vegas, Ford Chief Executive Mark Fields said “Beginning this year, you will see us change dramatically, with a focus on the transportation services sector”. He also stated that “Revenue from transportation services equal $5.4 trillion and yet, today we receive none of our revenue from transportation services. That’s about to change.” The partnership will see Ford use Amazon’s Alexa, the smart voice assistant. Will there be room for Google too?

The way we pay is also set to continue with growing cashless payments. Cashless payments overtook the use of notes for the first time last year and this is set to continue with the recent introduction of Apple Pay here in the UK and with the limit on contactless payments now £30. Accessing your phone is about to change too. Forget using numbers, it’s all about your face or your finger. We will no longer have to remember multiple password or confess to ourselves that every password is the same (always a bad move). Apple have Touch ID which lets you use your fingerprint to enter your phone (and make secure payments) and Google and Yahoo allow secondary-device authentication. If you are a fan of the ‘selfie’ you may be surprised that MasterCard have started trialling them as a replacement to traditional passwords. So if you fancy using facial recognition technology to pay at the checkout keep an eye out for their app that will launch following a successful trial period. MasterCard Executive, Ajay Bhalla has stated that the company want to identify people for who they are and not what they remember. She also said “The new generation, which is into selfies... I think they’ll find it cool. They’ll embrace it.”.

Virtual Reality is also set to form a big part of 2016 with Sony’s PlayStation VR, Facebook-owned Oculus Rift and HTC Vive all likely to hit the shelves in Q1. This week HTC have released information regarding an upgrade to their Vive, stating that delays were due to a very big technological breakthrough. This turns out to be a camera system that allows you to see objects in the space around you in the real world simultaneously. Although these gadgets come with a high price tag, with the Oculus Rift costing $600 this will likely be the year the masses into gaming will take greater interest. This technology is not only being utilised by the gaming industry but also in education, healthcare and also retail. VR in retail will allow you to try items on and shop socially while wearing a VR headset. Henry Stuart from VR production company Visualise has said recently that "Shopping will be tailored in VR," and that "It will only show stuff that's relevant to you, and you will be able to pick things up in the virtual world and feel them, as well as playing with them, before you start to buy them." Winnie Palmer, Global Digital Marketing Director at Hauwei will touch on VR during her keynote at this year’s Online Influence Conference at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff on April 21st.