Editor’s note: Tom Snyder is executive director of RIoT, a regional Internet of Things users group based in Raleigh.

RALEIGH – Industrial Revolutions don’t happen overnight, but 2018 showed that we are clearly past the hype stage and into the IoT 4.0 economy.  Depending on the source, there are between 19 and 24 million connected devices deployed worldwide.  Here is RIoT’s assessment of the trends and developments that will be center stage in 2019.

1 – Autonomy

While drones and self-driving cars continue to grab the headlines, other autonomous systems are deploying much more rapidly.  As an example, smart meters are no longer simply automating billing, but tying directly to industrial and supply chain systems to automate just-in-time energy generation.  Systems of systems approaches are driving cross-application communication and intelligence.  While interoperability continues to be a challenge, expect to see the large cloud and connectivity providers aggressively pursuing vertical partnerships to integrate technologies end to end.  This will directly compete with the hundreds of smaller IoT software platform providers filling that integration function today.

2 – Social Congruence

Security remains a hot-button topic and without question there will be high profile hacks and attacks in the coming year.  The IoT security industry is catching up as the market potential grows — a natural progression in emerging markets.  But more significantly, expect companies to focus much more on privacy and end users this year.  GDPR is just the tip of the spear in terms of regulatory action and the top companies will get out in front of new legislation, and include customer inputs from the design stage.  Users are fleeing Facebook in large part due to the lack of attention to end user rights.  Expect the market to adjust with more transparency.

3 – Edge and Mesh

Computing will accelerate towards the edge as more value is derived from low-latency decision-making.  This was a clear trend in 2018 that is not slowing down.  The launch of the first true 5G connectivity will further necessitate edge computing, with smart cities leading in the application space.  Emerging this year, expect to see considerable momentum in mesh compute and networking.  While autonomous vehicles will carry enough onboard compute to do local extreme-low-latency decision-making, more and more IoT systems will leverage computational power across clustered edge nodes coupled to small cell broadband rather than overdesign computational resources into each device.

4 – Voice

While contextual analysis is still low-performing, natural language processing is advancing extremely quickly.  Progress in voice interface capability is expected to advance as quickly as any other in the machine learning space, with microphones being deployed in nearly all new devices, automobiles and workspaces.  While the home will remain the market leading application, expect to see voice interfaces for enterprise applications begin to gain traction.

5 – Blockchain & AR

Expect 2019 to be the year that both blockchain and augmented reality move beyond the hype stage and into substantial application.  While blockchain achieved “ready for prime time” status in cryptocurrency, it still had not gained significant traction in IoT and industrial application.  That will change this year with municipal applications for smart city/citizen interactions and asset tracking and management applications in the industrial space.  The growth of edge computing and high bandwidth connectivity will enable AR to finally become practical.  Digital twin intelligence comes to the edge with industrial, energy, and infrastructure maintenance and repair as a leading application.

6 – System Partnership

This is a continuing trend from 2018 as companies realize that IoT systems are much too complex to conduct completely in-house.  Municipalities that laid an open-source architecture approach in recent years will rapidly advance through partnerships in the application space.  Cloud providers will become much more active in investing in entrepreneurial hubs to understand how applications need to drive new software tools and platforms.  Connectivity providers will lead efforts in interoperability and standardization.  Those who fail to establish the right partnerships will find themselves behind as competition ramps up.