What will innovation look like in 2018? Bird & Bird's Digital Innovators tell us all about the year ahead

 
Lynsey Barber
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Tech startups are hugely ambitious for 2018 (Source: Getty)

In a year when quantum computing made major leaps forward and using your face as a password became a reality, you’d be forgiven for being hard pushed to imagine just how much further technology can take us.

But 2018 will certainly be a year for driving even more innovation for the 50 up-and-coming companies chosen as City A.M. and Bird & Birds Digital Innovators (check them out here) only two of which - with your help - will soon be crowned winners.

The carefully selected bunch of trailblazing firms who are predicted to change lives and transform markets in the years to come are already harnessing technology and breaking boundaries. And you can help choose just which ones you think are doing it best by voting for your favourite firms here to help us whittle it down to a top ten shortlist.

We caught up with a handful of them to pick their brains on just what they’re planning for an even bigger, better, more ambitious 2018 and what they think the year will hold beyond their own business.

From hype to real help

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Habito has created a chatbot that can help you nail down the best deal on a mortgage - no humans needed! Founder Dan Hegarty shares his thoughts.

What are the innovations coming for your own business in 2018?

We hope one of the biggest innovations for 2018, in terms of customer impact, is our further integration with the banks. We are currently working with several major retail banks and high street lenders to integrate our technology and systems directly so that we can facilitate real-time mortgage approvals, as well as applications.

We are also expanding into a new but complementary market; home and life insurance. We are currently developing a suite of simple and transparent insurance products that are free from confusing industry jargon and tailored to the needs of our mortgage customers.

And, what broader tech innovation do you predict beyond your own business for the year ahead?

We believe that 2018 will start to usher the first raft of real consumer benefit offered by the coupling of AI and chat and voice-based interfaces. The hype has been considerable in 2017, but applications that can make a real difference are beginning to emerge.

There is a class of simple problems that “narrow” AI in its current form, is mature enough to solve. Building experiences around this AI are taking time to perfect, much like the evolutionary waves that were experienced on web and mobile and 2018 will see much more innovation in this space.

Trailblazing technology

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Wish you could try things on virtually when shopping online? Metail is making that a (virtual) reality. Founder and chief executive Tom Adeyoola gives us his insights.

What are the innovations coming for your own business in 2018?

We’re working on male MeModels, machine learning based garment and outfit recommendations, exciting progression in the realism of the MeModel and garments with pose variations as well as higher resolutions. We will hopefully see the emergence from R&D of our 3D head modelling technology, not to mention many more exciting uses of data that we haven't even grasped yet.

And, what broader tech innovation do you predict beyond your own business for the year ahead?

Rather than one thing, I think next year will see an acceleration of the utilisation and extrapolation of data and machine learning based tools that will widen the gulf between traditional and tech based businesses. This will present itself in a deluge of innovations that will transform all parts of the retail supply chain. In retail, tech got retail before retail got tech...and they're now sprinting off into the distance.

Pressing problems

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Cera brings the on-demand economy to social care, making finding assistance as easy as ordering a cab. Co-founder Dr Ben Maruthappu gives us a sneak peek at its year ahead.

What are the innovations coming for your own business in 2018?

Already at Cera, we are already able to predict whether our patients are at risk of hospitalisation through our bespoke AI platform, Martha. However, we are always looking to improve the way – and indeed, the pace – at which we respond to health-related issues. Over the coming year we hope to manage this, both by continuing to experiment with unique new technologies (particularly AI), whether in the health-tech space or elsewhere; and also by forming more exciting partnerships with like-minded companies to enhance our ability to deliver top-quality care.

And, what broader tech innovation do you predict beyond your own business for the year ahead?

I think “tech for good’’ is a major area of enterprise that will continue to expand over the coming year. There are already a number of unique apps starting to emerge in this space, designed to tackle major social issues like poverty (both nutritional and financial), housing, employment and mental health. With investment growing in this space, it’s definitely one to watch.

Rise of the machines

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Chirp is making sound sing, creating an entirely new way for devices to speak to each other, using “sonic barcodes” instead of wifi or bluetooth. Chief technology officer James Nesfield gives us the lowdown on the year ahead.

What are the innovations coming for your own business in 2018?

In 2018 we will continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in the data over sound space. We continuously invest in R&D to ensure our technology remains state of the art and it is precisely because of this diligent, streamline focus that we see a very broad range of applications from nuclear power stations to children's toys already in the market powered by our technology. In 2018 we are excited to see our technology in use cases and sectors that today we have not yet touched.

And, what broader tech innovation do you predict beyond your own business for the year ahead?

We see machine learning as a tool for innovation in 2018, beyond applications it has already had significant success in optimising. It is already a very hot topic with a massive amount of resource and innovation behind it. When machine learning techniques start to increasingly be applied to traditionally 'creative' tasks we will see the best of human-like intuition and inferences drawn from big data sets opening up a new wave of innovation. This might be most concisely characterised as a shift of machine learning from optimisation/classification to creation/innovation.

Major milestones

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Behind every good driverless car is a superhuman brain, like FiveAI’s artificial intelligence. Chief executive Stan Boland tells us where 2018 is taking them.

What are the innovations coming for your own business in 2018?

In 2018 FiveAI will start testing autonomous vehicles on public roads. This is a key milestone in our quest to lead the development of autonomous vehicle services in Europe. We will trial a fleet of autonomous vehicles to operate alongside existing transport in London in 2019.

And, what broader tech innovation do you predict beyond your own business for the year ahead?

In 2018 we’d like to see European businesses start to think big, like their US counterparts, in order to dominate their own market. This means companies need to shift from creating excellent technology – which leads to these companies being acquired – to creating outstanding services which truly serve the European and global markets, and can define the business landscape for years to come.

Walk on the wild side

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Cities are becoming smarter and Pavegen generates power simply from the pavements we walk on. Founder and chief executive Laurence Kemball-Cook tell us about their direction of travel.

What are the innovations coming for your own business in 2018?

During the next year we will be growing the capabilities of our digital platform, which rewards users for their interactions and provides permission-based relationship data for communities and brands. We will also be enhancing the security and integrity of our data capture system.

And, what broader tech innovation do you predict beyond your own business for the year ahead?

We anticipate the increasing adoption of electric transportation, battery storage systems, and autonomous last-mile delivery systems. This will lead to a growing demand for tech which enhances and supports health and wellbeing in city centres.

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