How iso-life has elevated technologies, from the NBN to augmented reality

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced organisations and employees to adopt new technologies to improve their productivity. But what does this mean for the future? Are we living in the ‘new COVID norm’? What about flying cars, VR and AR, remote working and more? We sat down with Trevor Long, podcast host and the influential technology journalist who you’ve probably heard on national radio or seen on The Today Show and A Current Affair, at the beginning of Australia’s lockdowns about the future of technology in the corporate world. Here’s what he had to say.

There’s been serious technology adoption thanks to COVID-19, for videoconferencing in particular. But what about the underlying issue? The NBN is holding up to the extra pressure in some places, while others are having major problems. What are your thoughts on the state of the NBN, and is this creating a greater drive for 5G?

If this pandemic happened 10 years ago, we’d be in a world of pain. 11 million homes would be running ADSL.

The issue we have today is there’s a few groups of people. There are those people who have not connected to the NBN, but it’s available to them – that’s just stupid and they should connect. It’s their own fault. Then there’s the people who don’t have the NBN available – that’s frustrating. There’s probably 500,000 homes that just don’t have it yet, and that’s frustrating because we haven’t reached the endgame.

But the big thing that we’re learning here is that the telcos differ from house to house. And this is a really important thing for people to understand. If there’s five homes in a row and they’re all connected to the NBN through the same technology – good or bad – and there’s five different internet providers, they are all getting a different result because the internet provider chooses how much capacity to put into their local area. So if one person is with a provider that has huge capacity and low customer numbers: excellent experience. Another provider with medium capacity and huge customer numbers: probably not a great experience. So there needs to be a bit of shopping around happening.

The last group is the people who have great internet coming into their home: awesome. But if their home office is set up way down the other end of the house, that little Wi-Fi they you got from their telco will be rubbish. They’ll have to invest in a better network at home. So unfortunately, you’ve actually got to invest in a home network that’s going to give you proper connectivity across the house.

What I’m saying is, the NBN is good and bad. But it’s actually not always the NBN itself. It’s often just the people at home and their connectivity that’s no good.

Let’s talk about the future from a public-transport perspective – there’s lots going on around automated cars and flying drones for travel. Is the pandemic going to drive this need for futuristic public transport?

It’s an interesting one and I’m not sure how the pandemic will impact those future technologies. But let’s start with the high-end: flying cars. Uber has trialled Uber Elevate in Melbourne, which is due to go public in 2023, and it will initially just be a helicopter. Down the track, it will be some form of automated drone. That program is just about taking cars off the road and making transport more efficient.

Drone deliveries – that’s where the best opportunity is right now, because obviously more people working from home will need more deliveries. So drone deliveries will need a bit of a ramp-up.

Autonomous cars are actually at risk through this, because the future for autonomous cars is actually Uber and taxis. We will never own autonomous cars, they will simply be the vehicles that come and take us from A to B. I don’t know whether they are better off or worse off because of the pandemic.

There’s less traffic on the road right now if you look at the data from Google and Apple. Apple has just released information that says their requests for driving instructions are down 42% on the normal baseline, which means traffic on the road is down at least 40%. That’s why I think the government gets involved. The government encourages work-from-home because it takes traffic off the road. And that’s a good thing on many levels: road toll, upkeep, maintenance.

So the long-term prospects are for traffic to be lower and for autonomous cars to continue to be developed. But I just don’t know whether we understand the need or purpose for autonomous cars are right now. That’s still five to 10 years away from being a genuine reality.

What do you think is the next biggest advance in work? Your job covers a lot of big tech companies in AI and blockchain. But what about AR and VR – are they the future?

VR hasn’t necessarily peaked, but it has found its limits. I’ve got a VR headset at home – it’s awesome for some gaming, so VR will definitely last. But it has limits.

Augmented reality, though, hasn’t even seen its early strides. What you can do now with AR is phenomenal, and I think it’s yet to be fully embraced. The devices we carry around are becoming so much more powerful and we’re about to see a revolution in augmented reality.

For example, the latest iPad has a LIDAR sensor in it, which is what autonomous cars use to see the world around them. So this iPad can see all the surfaces around it within eight metres to such accuracy that it can literally plot something augmented in your room.

It’s phenomenal stuff and yet it barely even touches the surface of what could be utilised in the real world.

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