We go through hype cycles in the venture business. Ideas and technologies can take off or fall out of favor for all kinds of reasons, and it’s our job to spot the trends early, and make smart bets on their viability.
CES plays a big role in these hype cycles — it’s a platform for companies to show off their new innovations, and gauge industry and public response. Many of the technologies on display at CES are years from coming to market, or never will. Others are right on the cusp of taking off. Here are some thoughts on a few of the technologies highlighted at this year’s show.
AI was one of the big themes, and it’s something Qualcomm Incorporated and its investment group, Qualcomm Ventures, are actively pushing forward. Just this past November, we announced a $100 million fund to help companies developing products and services with on-device AI. Moving AI out of the cloud and onto your devices provides a faster, more secure experience, and we’re making big investments and big strides in the space.
The combination of AI at the edge and 5G create the foundation on which all kinds of world-changing technology will be built, including IoT, another core area of focus for us in 2019. IoT can take many forms: smarter homes, a more secure network, more efficient manufacturing, an intelligent power grid, etc.
As expected, IoT companies and products had a major presence at the show, from technology enabling smart cities to connected farm equipment to IoT-enabled home security systems. As 5G networks begin to roll out this year, IoT applications will benefit from speedier connectivity and data transfer, with lower latency. Combine that connectivity with on-device AI, and our homes, vehicles and workplaces will get smarter, more efficient and learn to anticipate and respond to our needs.
Speaking of vehicles, the future of automotive technology took center stage at the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Crowds were wowed by concept cars, autonomous vehicles of all shapes and sizes and technologies like Qualcomm’s own 3rd Generation Snapdragon Automotive Cockpit Platforms, which provided a glimpse into how in-vehicle experiences will be transformed.
Auto is a growing business for Qualcomm, and at Qualcomm Ventures, we’re looking at all types of companies in the sector, including those focused on making sensors for autonomous cars, transportation as a service, electrification — the entire stack. As with IoT, autonomous car technology is built on the foundation of AI and 5G connectivity, and we’re selectively investing in companies that are complementary to what we are developing in those areas.
There’s so much development going on in autonomous cars, but we’re still a few years away from seeing mass-consumer applications and a fully developed network of cars that drive themselves is even farther off.
In the meantime, keep an eye on autonomous airplanes. I believe we’re far closer to autonomous airways than roadways. Commercial airlines already operate in autopilot mode for much of their flying time. And air space isn’t as crowded as, say, a major highway. What’s more, in some critical regions, short autonomous flights can solve real problems on the ground, as anyone knows who’s been on the 101 for three hours trying to get from San Francisco to San Jose.
It’s the nature of future-tech to be hype-driven and speculative; sometimes the timing is right and sometimes it isn’t, but that doesn’t mean the tech won’t be viable in the future. Meanwhile, we wait, watch, see how the markets develop, and look to new opportunities.