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For IT leaders, it is an exciting and challenging time. On the one hand, there is the need to be in a state of constant innovation. On the other hand, understanding where that innovation comes from and where the best areas to direct limited resources are can be difficult. Finding the right skills to cover emerging areas of innovation can be challenging too, set against a backdrop of a deepening skills crisis.

Some of the areas where technology will rapidly graduate from the stuff of science fiction to having a meaningful impact in the enterprise world in APAC, according to a recent Gartner webinar, are satellite communications, digital humans, tiny ambient Internet of Things and autonomous robots. For this article, we focus on what IT leaders in Australia need to know about these bleeding-edge technologies.

1. Satellite communications

Connectivity across Australia is going to undergo a significant transformation as low earth orbit satellite options become more commonplace. Currently, there’s just the one provider in Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink, but the Australian government set up a working group to explore LEO opportunities in early 2023 and expects there will be more providers emerging in the years ahead.

The government is exploring LEO technology with the following in mind:

  • Its potential role in closing the digital inclusion gap, particularly in relation to First Nations peoples.
  • Its role in supporting greater resilience and redundancy in emergency circumstances.
  • The potential for satellites to deliver universal telecommunications services.
  • The economic benefit that could come from greater LEOSat usage, including by facilitating the Internet of Things.

Given the size of Australia, and the extremely low population density across much of it, the ubiquity that LEO satellites promise could be an enormously effective way of unlocking much of the country by bringing fast internet to it for the first time. LEO satellites could become instrumental in furthering regional development and helping organizations reach and interact with populations outside of the major cities.

2. Digital humans

No, these are not the Joi units from Blade Runner 2049… or are they?

Digital humans are the digital twin concept, as applied to people. They were conceptualised by Gartner as “artificial entities designed to create new types of companions, assistants, therapists, and entertainers,” and Gartner predicts that by 2027, a majority of B2C enterprise CMOs will have a dedicated budget for digital humans.

But the applications of digital humans will extend far beyond simple marketing exercises. Australia’s leading scientific research organization, CSIRO, is actively exploring the “twinning” aspect of digital humans and using them as a model for experimentation and research. CSIRO highlighted some real-world applications of digital humans, which include:

  • A virtual model of an Olympic swimmer was used to assess the coach’s proposed changes to his technique.
  • A software tool that was provided to Diving Australia to allow interactive experimentation of virtual dive techniques for female synchronized diving athletes heading to Rio 2016. The coaches and athletes used it to trial technique alterations for improved scores without compromising performance or safety.
  • A virtual mouth is being used to inform the redesign of healthier food for greater consumer acceptance. The modelling process is increasing the understanding of in-mouth behavior and the effect of proposed design changes.

For now, digital humans are still a niche application of technology, but due to their requirements for extensive data management and software development, there will be growing demand for experts in this field in the years ahead.

3. Tiny ambient IoT

A tiny ambient IoT device is a 3GPP Internet of Things device that is much smaller and cheaper compared to previous generations of IoT, and the ultimate ambient IoT energy source is radio waves. This technology enables the tagging, tracking and sensing of objects without the complexity or cost of battery-powered devices.

While this concept hasn’t been explored to any great scale in Australia, in a symposium held on the Gold Coast last year, Gartner claimed: “This will enable new ecosystems; new business models based on knowing the location or behaviour of objects; smarter products with new behaviours; and a much lower cost of tracking and monitoring. Tiny ambient IoT will expand opportunities for a wide range of businesses, but Gartner recommends assessing potential social and regulatory issues before adoption.”

In the webinar, Gartner Vice President analyst in the Technology Innovation practice Arnold Gao highlighted examples around the world, such as one where researchers placed these tiny, battery-free IoT devices on butterflies without inhibiting the insect’s ability to move and operate; these can be printed for as little as $0.01 per sensor in bulk. Sensors that are extremely lightweight and inexpensive truly open up a host of new opportunities for businesses in all sectors.

4. Autonomous robots

In February, the Australian military, in collaboration with the U.K. and U.S., showcased autonomous vehicles and systems, powered by AI. Late last year, the Gatton AgTech Showcase held in Queensland attracted more than 1,000 attendees to see the latest in automated farm robotics, drones and more for the agricultural industry.

The application of AI to robotics was inevitable, but thanks to advancements in both fields of technology, we’re starting to see them brought together now. Between this year and 2030, the market for AI-enhanced robotics is projected to grow by 25.64% CAGR to US$935.80 million by 2030.

Autonomous robotics is one of the key areas of interest among those organizations that are pushing for Australia to increase its national investment in R&D from around 0.5% of GDP currently to 3% by 2035.

IT pros should focus on these capabilities to meet leader’s needs

While much of the focus on IT is currently in areas such as AI, cybersecurity, digital transformation and data, the next wave of innovations are going to bring these things together in an incredibly complex and nuanced way. IT professionals must be proactive in learning and mastering new technologies to stay relevant and competitive.

It is also clear that technologists will be expected to become more strategic than operational in their roles. The value of these advanced technologies is not in their creation and implementation — where technologies like AI will assist anyway — but rather in how they’re conceptualized and used. For IT pros at all levels, success will increasingly hinge on their ability to conceptualise solutions that further business objectives rather than support the organization in operation.


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