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2020 Year in Review: Foundational Technologies for Digital Transformation

Kevin See, Ph.D., VP, Research
January 22, 2021

As reflect on 2020, our digital transformation team looks back at some of the most important developments that occurred in our foundational technologies coverage.

Foundational technologies are what enable new use cases that create value in both process and product for all types of organizations in all types of industries. Monitoring the pace of innovation and true capability of these technologies is vital to deploying them effectively.

Ai and Machine Learning 2020 Year in Review: Foundational Technologies for Digital Transformation

  • Apple acquired lightweight ML startup Xnor.ai for a reported $200 million; the startup claims 10× improved model performance while consuming 15× less memory, potentially enabling more intense computation on low-power devices.

  • AI chip companies SambaNova ($250 million) and Graphcore ($150 million) raised money, pushing their respective valuations to $2.5 billion and $2 billion, signaling likely consolidation in the space going forward.

  • The U.S. announced a $1 billion plan for creating AI and quantum research institutes. The mix of public and private funding will fund seven AI institutes and five quantum institutes over a period of five years.

  • Microsoft announced the ability to train neural networks with more than a trillion parameters. These software-based improvements lead to capabilities like training 10× larger models on a single GPU and point to the importance of software innovations in addition to hardware.

  • Google DeepMind's hybrid deep learning set a new mark in protein structure analysis. As part of the CASP contest, it crossed the threshold by being on par with X-ray crystallography across more than two-thirds of the proteins analyzed.

 

Sensors 2020 Year in Review: Foundational Technologies for Digital Transformation

  • Density, which develops a privacy-preserving occupancy sensor using infrared depth sensors and ML, raised $51 million, boosted in part by increased sales attributed to interest in managing capacity limits due to COVID-19.

  • Maxim Integrated Products released a ready-to-wear reference design for wearable biosensors. This reduces the time to develop wearable biosensors by at least six months and accelerates turning prototypes into wearable devices.

  • King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and UC Berkeley discovered that graphene sensors can work in harsh environments hostile to conventional technologies. The group claimed operating temperatures up to 650 °C under high salinity, pressure, and radiation.

  • Apple integrated lidar sensors into the new iPad, opening up new use cases powered by more accurate depth information. This marks a major leap for lidar outside of the conventional autonomous vehicle application.

  • New York City plans to use mobile air quality sensors to monitor air pollution in the Bronx. MIT's Senseable City Lab developed the sensors and offered them to the city for free, making it the sixth city in the world to adopt the technology.

 

ROBOTICS 2020 Year in Review: Foundational Technologies for Digital Transformation

  • SoftBank and others invested $263 million into warehouse robotics startup Berkshire Grey. The startup fuses AI, computer vision, gripping, and robotics into a complete solution for picking, packing, and sorting items. This could drive further consolidation of cash-strapped startups with effective niche capabilities.

  • ABB chose Covariant as an AI partner to add enhanced computer vision capabilities to robotic tasks like assembly, opening the doors to future applications in markets like logistics, food, and agriculture.

  • Online grocery company Ocado acquired Kindred AI and Haddington Dynamics to automate pick and pack. These two acquisitions will speed up Ocado's path to lights-out microfulfillment centers.

  • Facebook partnered with ULC Robotics to develop a fiber-deploying crawler robot. The two worked together to build a system that could wrap lightweight fiber cable around medium-voltage power lines and claim this can reduce traditionally labor-heavy deployment costs by 3× to 5×.

  • Hyundai Motor acquired controlling interest in Boston Dynamics. The humanoid robotics developer has changed hands multiple times and likely found a long-term home, as it can help Hyundai migrate from a car company to a mobility provider.

Lux Research Digital Deep Tech Newsletter

Additionally, the Lux Digital Team curated the following "Analysts' Choice" for further reading on foundational technologies.

  • "What does COVID-19 mean for blockchain?" Though we've historically been cautious about blockchain, COVID-19 has created new circumstances where trust is more important than ever. This insight analyzes what has changed and where blockchain can play an important role going forward.

  • "Building Robotics Solutions." Robotics is evolving quickly, moving past simple tasks to more complex and varied applications. This report looks at what processes robotics can automate and what is needed to build these solutions.

This blog is part of the Lux Digital Team's Year in Review series examining the highlights and key developments in digital transformation in 2020. For an overview of the other storylines in Digital Transformation of Physical Industries, be sure to subscribe to our digital newsletter.

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