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Personal robots and self-driving vehicles

Posted on March 18, 2016

Personal robots, emotional companion devices and self-driving vehicles are three of the top 10 tech trends to watch in the next decade, according to Keith Brophy, executive director of the Michigan Small Business Development Center, housed in the Seidman College of Business.

Brophy's insights and predictions are highly anticipated each year at the Tech Trends event in Grand Rapids. The 15th annual aimWest Tech Trends was held March 16 at City Flats in Grand Rapids.

Brophy said personal robots will become commonplace.

"Industrial robots have been commonplace, but we have not yet seen personal robots, such as C3PO from Star Wars, really emerge to serve as personal or business helpers," said Brophy. "Softbank, in Japan, has introduced 'Pepper' — a robot that greets customers, guides them, and carries out other activity to serve business. It is tuned to interact well with customers, and even recognizes and responds to their mood. 

"A company in Boston is about to introduce a quasi-robot device that is an emotional companion. It can be programmed to provide specific expertise in various areas, and it recognizes and responds to mood and is intended to provide a positive, emotionally enriching experience to the humans it interacts with. The robot is interested in interacting with us, helping us feel good, and helping us coordinate our lives.”

Brophy's Top 10 Tech Trends:

• Trend 1: Connected, self-driving vehicles, owned by companies rather than individuals, will become our primary means of transportation.

• Trend 2: Transportation pathways restricted to connected, self-driving vehicles will replace many roads.

• Trend 3: Personal robots will be deployed by consumer-oriented businesses to address customer facing tasks and to collect vast amounts of customer interaction data in the process.

• Trend 4: Emotional companion devices with targeted expertise will become commonplace, with JIBO serving as a pioneer.

• Trend 5: The economy will dramatically transform with significant workforce displacement as new industries emerge centered on “Gig” and automated services.

• Trend 6: Personal monitoring technologies deployed by citizens will join multiple governmental data streams to provide ongoing environmental and security threat assessments.

• Trend 7: Satellite deployment will become much cheaper, easier, and more frequent, leading to breakthroughs in weather and climate monitoring, reductions in the cost of mobile communications, and an acceleration of the space arms race.

• Trend 8: Drone use matures into a blend of automated connected vehicle and automated connected drone technologies working in tandem, such as truck deployed delivery drone fleets and first responder vehicle early arrival drones.

• Trend 9: Powering homes and small businesses efficiently, earth-friendly, and off-the-grid will become the norm.

• Trend 10: Work teams will increasingly function in virtual reality workplaces, built on a combination of real colleagues, AI-clones of real colleagues, and AI-created colleagues.

Brophy is a past West Michigan Entrepreneur of the Year who launched his first business, Sagestone Consulting, with assistance from the SBDC. Brophy has served as CEO of Ideomed, a care-team connected mobile health company, and president of Business Development at NuSoft Solutions. 

Brophy began his career at IBM Federal Systems and Systems Integration divisions in Washington D.C. He has been a frequent speaker on future trends in regional and national venues, including testimony before a U.S. Congressional subcommittee on mobile health innovation. He earned a bachelor's degree from University of Michigan and an M.S.I.S. degree from Strayer University.

The Michigan Small Business Development Center™ (MI-SBDC™) provides counseling, training, research and advocacy for new business ventures, existing small businesses and innovative technology companies. The state headquarters, located in the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University, supports 12 regional offices and more than 30 satellite offices, each providing counseling and training to small business owners and entrepreneurs in all 83 counties in Michigan through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration.