Manufacturing Technology Predictions for 2017

With another year in the record books, I thought I would look forward instead of back and give you the Unprofessional Engineering technology predictions for 2017. Do I have any inside knowledge as to where things are going? No. But I do work with manufacturers for companies of all shapes and sizes every day so maybe that will help this be dead on!

Virtual Reality Becoming a Reality

With 13 million units being expected to sell for the holidays, is virtual reality really a prediction for 2017? Yes! Products like the Samsung Gear VR, PlayStation VR and Oculus Rift were big sellers in 2016, but are they really being used for much more than fancy game play?

In 2017 look for VR to start showing up much more regularly. Shopping for a car? There’s no need to go to the dealership to see it, VR will make it happen right in your home (sure, upscale dealers will have it there for models they don’t have on site as well). Want to know what your house would look like with some remodeling? Put on your headset, move some furniture around and have the remodel right in front of you.

Companies are going to start investing more in VR this year, and it will be huge by the end of the year. Just wait, in 5 years we won’t have to get off the couch ever again. I can’t wait!

3D Printing more than Yoda Heads

I have a 3D printer sitting next to me as I type this (Printrbot for the win!). They have become affordable, extremely trendy and have changed the way engineers design. Wait…the first two, sure, but have they changed the way we design? Sites like Shapeways, Thingiverse and MyMiniFactory provide thousands of parts for anyone to print, but does this provide any value of than some novel entertainment?

Look for this to be the breakthrough year for 3D printing in the manufacturing space, going beyond small batch shoe runs to full part design and manufacturing tools for high end parts like cars, airplanes and space ships. Yes, space ships! I can’t think of a better place to take advantage of this technology than in space so that astronauts can print whatever they need to make repairs and construct. I will stake my already unprofessional reputation on the first manned mission to Mars having a 3D printer on it.

Autonomous Cars on the Road

We are so close to this! Listen to our cars of the future podcast to hear more about this technology and more that will be headed our way soon. But this one, it is happening in 2017. In fact, Michigan has already passed laws allowing this to happen, and many cities around the world have manned (for safety) autonomous cars on the streets today. The only real question is, which automobile maker is going to be the first to be selling them regularly? Tesla seems like the safe bet, but then again, do we really count Tesla as a company that sells cars regularly now?

There is too much invested in this technology by too many companies with too many life changing implications for it not to hit the streets soon (pun intended). By years end we will have a leader in the clubhouse selling autonomous cars while we watch the rest of the auto companies and laws of the road try to catch up to technology.

Machine Learning put to Use

This has to be one of the most fascinating new technologies being worked on today. It is impressive that Watson is able to crush us at Jeopardy, or that computers are able to play millions of games of Arkanoid to learn how the game responds and set all-time record scores, but this is just scratching the surface.

This year machine learning is going to cross the chasm (yes, I went there) from proof of concept to changing how human kind works and interacts with robots. This year will be the first time that an unassisted robot will perform major surgery on humans, and eventually completely replace surgeons, increasing success rates for all surgery.

The same learning will be used to keep our roads safer and find and create livable regions of distant planets long before humans land. This really isn’t a prediction, as to some amount it is happening today. But this is the year that humans take the back seat (literally in the case of autonomous cars) and let robots take control.

Internet of Things Actually Being Useful

The Internet of Things (IoT) is so cool! My Fitbit keeps track of my steps, uploads them to the cloud and ties them to the mobile app for me to see how little I move all day! There are 34,000 devices out there to let me know how warm my house is and adjust the temperature from anywhere! There are even products out there to let me know if I have to water my garden without stepping outside! But are any of these things really improving my life THAT much? I already know I’m lazy. I know my house is warm. I know if it rained out, so I have a pretty good idea if the garden needs watered.

This is the year that IoT starts to change, and save, lives. IoT ties into our safety on the roads as autonomous driving takes off. Sensors in helmets will be able to determine the force of impact in sports, helping to detect concussions more quickly. When you combine machine learning and IoT, the next logical step is clearly that the human race will become cyborgs. I’m just joking…but not really…

You’ve heard it here first! Come December when you’re sitting in the backseat of a driver-less car, reviewing your latest 3D printable airplane component with your VR set on, think back to Unprofessional Engineering and wonder how we knew what was coming next.

Have any predictions of your own? Reach out to us at and let us know what you think!

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