Emerging technology

R&D Spending: The Hype of Emerging Technologies

April 26, 2018
Are you ready for another wave of new tech in the workplace?

Download this article as a .PDF

R&D spending is a hot topic right now. Not since the 1990s has such a steady and possibly increasing amount of funding been on the horizon for inventive scientists and engineers. It is a great time to be in the profession. It is a global trend.

Seven or more years of consecutive increases in R&D spending appear to be lining up in the United States, after a five-year decline from 2010-2014. (MD March 18). Our knowledge of what this consistency means is better than it was in the 1990s. Few could spot a technology boom was coming much before it actually arrived. Today, we better understand that consistent spending does make a difference. And, that the effects of uniformity apply to all companies—unless there is a deep core competency in an area of volatile spending (INSEAD). With better management science, industry will hopefully be able to nurture and sustain this portending boom period.

When times are good and money is easier to come by, a look at the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies. This annual “educated guesstimate” tracks the emergence of new technologies using five life-cycle phases: innovation trigger, peak of inflated expectations, trough of disillusionment, slope of enlightenment, and plateau of productivity. These emergent capabilities are likely to move faster into workplaces and product lines in good times, which is not always a good thing. Not all technology kittens were meant to become cats, but friendly budgets tend to feed more kitties.

Enlightenment: Virtual reality has now broken through to the slope of enlightenment phase. Needs are being identified that have a commercial return. In turn, R&D spending on applications and equipment is increasing. The same cannot yet said for augmented reality.

Disillusionment: Augmented reality is in the trough of disillusionment, and the Pokémon cannot pull it out yet. “Software-defined security” and the big data and analytics initiative of an “enterprise taxonomy” for each company are also in the trough. These are great examples to make the point that the technologies being tracked are highly nascent—i.e., things that may or may not be around a decade from now. There are 28 more hyped technologies in the earlier stages than the four discussed so far.

Inflated Expectations: Smart robots, virtual assistants, connected homes, deep learning, and machine learning are at their peak of inflated expectations. It may seem to many, myself included, that these trains are on the tracks. But that is not the history of Gartner’s Hype Cycle. For instance, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant have already disrupted the original connected home vision of a central control system. Equally exciting are autonomous vehicles, cognitive computing, and blockchain that have passed their peak of disillusionment and are sliding into the trough of disillusionment. That seems about right. Just last fall new agreements for autonomous vehicles and driverless trucks were being deployed in numerous settings. They are now being pulled back and slowed down, an indicator of the trough of disillusionment.

R&D Spending Triggered: Edge computing, quantum computing, 5G, human augmentation, and 4D printing have just hit their innovation triggers, the first phase. Lastly, the newest technology to trigger into the Hype Cycle is “smart dust.” According to Wikipedia, it is a system of many MEMS devices with a wide range of RF sensing and identification capabilities. Invented in 1992, it made a cameo appearance in the Hype Cycle in 2003 and did not return until 2013, and remains the most speculative entrant.

Which of these technologies is likely to be part of a possible technology boom in the early 2020s? All things being equal, focus on technologies that are at or past their peak of disillusionment. Seven or more years of consistent spending and some, maybe all of them, will appear in your workplace and product pipeline.

About the Author

Bradford Goldense | Contributing Technical Expert

Bradford L. Goldense is founder and president of Goldense Group, Inc. [GGI] (www.goldensegroupinc.com), a consulting, market research, and education firm focused on business and technology management strategies and practices for product creation, development, and commercialization. He has been an adjunct faculty member of the graduate engineering school at Tufts University's Gordon Institute for 19 years. Goldense is a Certified New Product Development Professional [NPDP], a Certified Manufacturing Engineer [CMfgE], a Certified Computer Professional [CCP], and is Certified In Production & Inventory Management [CPIM]. He holds over 200 registered copyrights and is a recognized subject-matter expert, including appearances on PBS and CNBC. He has consulted to over 250 companies and over 750 manufacturing locations on four continents since founding GGI in 1986.  Goldense holds an MBA in Accounting from the Cornell Johnson School and a BSCE from Brown University. For more information, please see Brad's LinkedIn profile or visit GGI's home page.

Sponsored Recommendations

The entire spectrum of drive technology

June 5, 2024
Read exciting stories about all aspects of maxon drive technology in our magazine.


May 15, 2024
Production equipment is expensive and needs to be protected against input abnormalities such as voltage, current, frequency, and phase to stay online and in operation for the ...

Solenoid Valve Mechanics: Understanding Force Balance Equations

May 13, 2024
When evaluating a solenoid valve for a particular application, it is important to ensure that the valve can both remain in state and transition between its de-energized and fully...

Solenoid Valve Basics: What They Are, What They Do, and How They Work

May 13, 2024
A solenoid valve is an electromechanical device used to control the flow of a liquid or gas. It is comprised of two features: a solenoid and a valve. The solenoid is an electric...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Machine Design, create an account today!