Top emerging technologies to watch in 2021

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Autonomous vehicles, plastic recycling tech and natural language processing tools, which power devices like voice assistants, machine translation and chatbots, are among Lux Research’s top emerging technologies to watch in 2021.

The new report, titled: “Foresight 2021: Top Emerging Technologies to Watch”, identifies and ranks key technologies that will reshape the world and will likely have the greatest impact over the next 10 years, based on proprietary data science tools and expert insight.

According to Lux Research, the technologies are chosen based on innovation interest scores from the Lux Tech Signal, a composite measure assembled from a variety of innovation data sources, along with input from Lux’s experts.

“Technologies from our lists like digital biomarkers and AI-enabled sensors can help bring businesses back to work,” says Michael Holman, PhD, VP of research and lead author of the report.

“But for all the changes that the pandemic has brought, the key megatrends shaping the future are still in force. Technologies that support these transitions, such as autonomous vehicles, alternative proteins and green hydrogen, will maintain their momentum as a result.”

Ten of last year’s 20 technologies don’t appear on this year’s lists, showing how dynamic changes in the innovation landscape have been over the past year. Notably, 5G networks, which claimed the top spot in last year’s report, are absent from this year’s list – as 5G rollout begins, they’re still important but are now firmly established on everyone’s radar.

Lux Research’s top tech predictions for 2021

Autonomous vehicles

McKinsey has predicted that roughly 15% of automobiles sold in 2030 could be fully autonomous.

According to Lux, improvements in safety and efficiency are happening at all levels of vehicle automation, benefiting both consumer vehicles and commercial applications. Furthermore, levels four and five autonomous vehicles (high automation and full automation) will open new mobility and logistics possibilities by removing the need for a driver in a vehicle.

Increasing levels of vehicle automation will eventually result in removing the need for drivers in consumer and commercial vehicles.

Natural language processing

Natural language processing is a subfield of linguistics, computer science and artificial intelligence (AI) concerned with the interactions between computers and human language.

Powering devices like voice assistants, machine translation and chatbots, natural language processing patents have had a 44% CAGR over the past five years, now reaching more than 3 000 publications annually.

Plastic recycling innovations

Concerns about plastic waste from consumers and regulators have only grown, and major consumer product companies from food to apparel have made commitments to increase recycling rates and usage of recycled content. Innovations that can convert waste into higher-value products are in high demand to meet the challenge.

AI-enabled sensors

Sensors of all kinds can now provide more impactful insights when coupled with machine learning and AI. Recent advancements in machine learning capabilities enable developers and operators to extract more value out of sensors; this is an opportunity to create new products and improve internal processes by generating deeper insights off existing hardware.

While AI has made its mark in traditional tech, integration with physical sensors will benefit a huge variety of industries, enabling automation of processes and enhancement of workers responsible for acting on that insight.


Bioinformatics is an interdisciplinary field that develops methods and software tools for understanding biological data. The largest use of bioinformatics is currently in pharmaceutical discovery, but new and far-reaching opportunities, including risk assessment, safety, personalisation, diagnostics and traceability, are making bioinformatics impactful across multiple industries, including food and agriculture.

Applications and impacts of bioinformatics across the agrifood and health ecosystem show how bioinformatics is accelerating innovation and the creation of novel approaches across industries.

Green hydrogen

Producing clean hydrogen for energy, mobility and industrial uses, plus applications in storing and transporting energy, is expected to gain momentum in 2021, as more organisations strengthen their green strategies.

Vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells have been an unfulfilled dream, but green hydrogen can help clean up otherwise hard-to-decarbonise industrial processes.

Green hydrogen produced from renewable electricity can enable storage and transportation of clean electricity for a more robust and flexible energy transition.

3D printing and additive manufacturing

3D printing has transformed prototyping and is doing the same for mould and tooling production. Today, an increasing range of industries, including aerospace, medical, automotive, oil and gas, marine, construction and footwear, are also using 3D printing for direct production of end parts.

Touted as an enabling platform for applications ranging from personalised medicine to personal drones, 3D printing is forecast to grow to an estimated $8.4 billion market in 2025.

Alternative protein technologies

Meeting the growing global demand for protein supply sustainably is an urgent concern.

The technology capabilities required to further the impact of plant proteins in the near-term and cellular agriculture in the long-term will be in great demand – increasing the inherent protein content in crops and improving the sensory/nutritional quality of plant proteins can generate major opportunity for businesses specialising in this field.

Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are showing there is a massive opportunity to cater to sustainability-minded consumers and to the demand for protein choice in general.

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