The SMAC stack (or Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud) has been one of the most used, overused, and abused acronyms of the tech industry. All that is tech is linked one way or the other to SMAC stack, they say. True, there have been businesses who didn’t embrace SMAC stack and got “smacked”, quite literally. However, that is old news. Technology has evolved a lot since the advent of this term, and how! Newer, faster, and leaner trends have emerged, at a RAPID pace. If SMAC is the digital present, the future of tech is now RAPIDly changing. See where I’m getting at? No? Hang in there.
Five recent, definitive trends that have wafted out of the of the techie kitchen are Reality, Artificial Intelligence, Payments, Internet of Things and Drones. Their initials combine to form a ‘RAPID’ stack; a new term I’d like to coin. These trends, so to say, aren’t content in just being tech. They are linked inextricably to the enterprise and the individual customers’ lives, and they talk about tangible benefits to the latter, not just about features and specifications. They have the capacity to influence the world around us in ways we could only start to fathom. Not just customers; even established OEMs and channel partners are facing a sort of competitive revolution in their own right, in the form of RAPIDly mushrooming startups and niche service providers that offer the moon and then some. Let me explain.
Reality, in the technological form of Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR), is changing the way humans experience situations around them. AR is nothing but computer-generated, supplementary content which is placed on top of the user’s sensory experience, such that both appear to be a part of the same reality. However, the user can still differentiate between the two. AR can take the form of weather, traffic, and location updates shown on Google Glass, for instance. It can also be used to show advertisements, which are real-time and programmatic in nature. AR requires only a display – and can be delivered through headsets, smart glasses, and even smart surfaces. Passionate startups are increasingly being acquired by industry bigwigs to give the latter a head-start in this field.
Note that AR is a bit different from MR and even VR. In Mixed Reality (MR), the synthetic content is able to react and interact with the real-world content, while in AR it isn’t so. That being said, the two terms are used interchangeably even by industry leaders. In Virtual Reality (VR), a user ideally cannot differentiate between what is real and what is imaginary, while in AR, he/she can. Virtual Reality (VR) finds a lot of applications in the personal entertainment space while AR is more commercial in nature. Finally, AR and MR are ‘superimposed realities’ while Virtual Reality (VR) is a ‘simulated reality.’ AR/MR aid work while keeping the user in the present and hence find more common applications than VR.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a sub-domain of computer science. It allows a computer system to perform intelligent tasks, hitherto restricted to humans (and other living things). AI rests on five principle tenets that allow the above, which include language understanding, deep learning, reasoning, problem-solving, and perception. Once a machine gains expertise in these five functions, other functions such as language translation, logic, speech recognition, pattern analysis, and decision making emerge. Here, past experiences help the system to respond to a new stimulus, so much so that it essentially mimics cognitive functions of a human brain.
Research in AI is split up into three main areas; namely ‘strong AI’, ‘applied AI’, and ‘cognitive simulation’. Strong Artificial Intelligence (AI) intends to build machines (robots) whose intellectual capabilities cannot be distinguished from a human brain. Recent advances even allow development of unique personalities of such robotic machines. Imagine asking your personal robot to behave like Harry Potter, Sheldon Cooper, or your very own grandmother to sing you to sleep. Applied Artificial Intelligence (AI), on the other hand, aims to help in creating smart systems which have commercial applications. The Internet of Things, described later, is a technology that has applied Artificial Intelligence (AI) at its roots. Cognitive Simulation tries to understand and test theories on how the human mind works.
Payments is a related story. Worldwide, we have moved from paper to plastic and recently, chipped plastic. The reason? Convenience and security. Electronic transactions, in general, are on the rise. Emerging economies are eager to jump on the bandwagon too, some trying the ‘less cash’ model, and some, like India, forging a step ahead and trying to go entirely ‘cash-less’. Central banks in developed nations have begun experimenting with Blockchain, which finds global application due to its instant, secure, and transparent nature. Banks have taken on entirely new meanings, with mainstream telecom players, consumer electronic device manufacturers, and even aggregator platforms launching their own mobile wallets and sometimes entire payment banks. Payment Gateways and QR Codes are the new cash counters, while mobile devices are the new ATMs. Meals, groceries, shopping, subscriptions, travel, rentals ad infinitum; they’re everywhere. We’ve been inundated with online deals, offers, cashback, discounts, coupons et cetera to sign up to and use these services. We willingly give up our transaction data and personally identifiable information out of habit, sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly. And now we are addicted. Our payments are done in a zap. Our lives lived inside of apps.
Contactless payment is a recent phenomenon, achieved by the process of ‘tokenization’, which discards the need to carry a card entirely. The process is such that the consumer need not worry about the retailer misusing his/her account details. A supporting theme is the use of biometrics – initially fingerprints, and now retina scans – for securing such payments. Wearables, described previously, are also being used to enable payments. Technology is increasingly becoming ubiquitous in payments, the most recent advancement being the use of uniquely identifiable brainwaves as password for payments.
Talk about the Internet of Things (IoT) and you basically have machines talking to humans and other machines (M2M). How do they do that? Sensors. RFIDs. The applications are boundless. Think of everything automated – smart anti-theft homes, refrigerators, driverless cars, on demand healthcare, energy management systems, food production monitoring, livestock & poultry monitoring, smart retail labels, and even networked toys for kids – they’re all already here. Smart cities are already being planned, implemented, and on the rise. The culmination of IoT seems to be in the concept of a Universal Remote, which automatically senses smart devices in its environment, connects to them, and can control them. Think of being able to switch off lights in the bedroom from the living room, through your mobile phone. Or being able to preheat the microwave and set air-conditioning temperature from the garage itself, as you park your car after an exhausting day at work.
IoT will lead to improved information and analysis as well as better automation and control, as machines become more and more intelligent. It is not easy to manually keep tabs on the huge number of notifications resulting out of all the data. This is where Robotic Process Automation could help, to ease the burden on humans and enable the latter to make or delegate decisions.
Drones find applications in many areas of life, from pizza delivery to last mile surveillance. They are designed to make humans comfortable, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Replete with cameras and little beacons to help in maneuvering, they can even be used inside a space station, eliminating the risk to life.
With the right frequency, drones can be used to direct loud noise to trees caught in forest fires, thereby disrupting the air surrounding the latter and cutting off the oxygen supply. Sound, made of pressure waves, makes the fire die out and such a drone is called a sonic extinguisher.
Usage of micro-drones is now popular worldwide for unmanned aerial solutions, surveying and mapping inaccessible or remote areas without harming them. Drones help increase safety; reduce risk, time, and hassle, and can survive even the harshest weather conditions for applications such as mining, logistics operations, research, security, aviation, unmanned cargo, monitoring, and search & rescue.
So here it is, the RAPID stack. As you can see, the five components are all related and dependent on each other to form a truly integrated stack. They combine to create a ‘connected living’ experience for the end customer. These five technologies have the potential to change the world as we perceive it to be.
Implementation of applications of the RAPID Stack could be easily outsourced to a reliable Tech, Engineering and R&D Services provider who has experience in these segments. For instance, HCL’s IoTWorks offering is fully equipped to plan IoT programs customized to business needs. So move over SMAC, the future of tech is now RAPID!