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Pandemic Driven Shifts to Accelerate Throughout 2021

Discover which trends you’ll see more of in 2021.

Blue Bus In a Tunnel

2020 was a pivotal year for businesses, which accelerated the pace of technological trends, as companies big and small leveraged emerging technologies to overcome new market constraints. Meanwhile, consumers and brands renewed their commitment to social responsibility, including sustainability, in light of the year's events. 

Many of 2020s trends will progressively expand across industries and regions in 2021. Here are a few notable mentions:

Consumers demand more ethical AI systems

How the world views artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly changing as data quality, privacy, safety and ethics concerns move to society's forefront. Several ethical AI initiatives are underway globally, with universal AI principles expected to follow in 2021. Companies are under increased consumer pressure to protect customer data and build AI trust through transparency —what data they used and how they generated and manipulated the data.

Why this matters: 

AI can do many things, but its systems are only as good — or as bad — as its data inputs. AI systems often carry underlying implications that mimic the biases of society at large. 2020 turned out to be a watershed moment, with institutional bias, systemic inequality, censorship, data integrity and privacy loss thrust under the microscope. Developers should examine the presence of unintended biases to keep AI systems functioning fairly and ethically.

Automation changes how we work

The 2020 acceleration of robotic process automation (RPA) toward universal adoption will not slowdown in 2021. Increased online shopping, remote work and a continued focus on COVID-19 risk mitigation favor the automation of routine transactions, especially as the cost of RPA tools is no longer a barrier. Industries impacted by the pandemic must reexamine how their work gets done. Many companies will find that increased automation is essential to reduce the risk of lost market share and further protect their employees. 

Why this matters: 

COVID-19's impact will significantly drive the deployment of automation of building systems for employees' safety and comfort. Automation of elevators, plumbing fittings, lighting and HVAC, among other services, requires a lot of planning, communication and testing. Companies must take care to ensure the technology is reliable, and invest in optimizing their processes before seeking to automate them.

Industry and government app development escalates

Industries and government, driven by the pressure of the pandemic, collaborated on the use of apps. As government offices shifted to remote operation, the need to rethink how functional activities, such as permitting, meter reading and building inspections, could continue. Online tools already under development for improved convenience were fast-tracked to help maintain these essential services.  

SolarAPP, an app that allows instantaneous permitting of rooftop solar applications, is but one example. 

Why this matters: 

The pandemic may have supercharged app development, but it's an improved convenience to all parties that will make tools such as SolarAPP the norm.

The electric vehicle market takes off

According to the automotive research firm JATO, electric vehicle (EV) registrations (defined as pure electric, plug-in hybrids, full hybrids and mild hybrids) surpassed diesel registrations in September 2020. Incredibly, electric vehicle registrations performed better overall in a year where total car registrations dropped 29% during the first nine months of 2020. 

For other parts of the world, advances in fast charging and wireless fast charging technology may overcome any lingering doubts around EV technology as charging time is reduced from eight hours to minutes. The world is much closer than ever to EV charging finally being on par with refueling. 

For commercial fleets, wireless charging offers enormous benefits as well. Singapore is already exploring the technology, using it to wirelessly recharge buses and trucks in addition to consumer electric vehicles. UL certified the first wireless EV charging system in May 2020. Buses, palletizers and industrial trucks will benefit most; wireless charging makes fleet management much nimbler. 

Why this matters: 

EVs can help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and cut emissions that contribute to smog, generally improve public health and reduce fossil fuels' environmental impact.