Five technology trends to watch out for in 2021

Neo-ecology and XR among this year’s main trends – companies in Hamburg also in mix
13 January 2021
VR headset on a lawn

The year 2021 is likely to be marked by change and the coronavirus pandemic is acting as a catalyst of extraordinary digital transformation. Remote work and hybrid events have become the new norm. The Hamburg-based Future Candy agency has identified this year’s top five technology trends. Hamburg News presents companies and projects in Hamburg that are already honing tomorrow’s issues.

1. Extended Reality (XR)

The term XR tops the list. Extended Reality covers all immersive technologies that combine the real world and virtual elements. While augmented reality (AR) focuses on an extension of the real world, virtual reality (VR) enables immersion into a purely virtual world. Future Candy predicts that XR will be increasingly used in public areas and especially in healthcare and education to reduce the risk of  infection. People working from home can now use the technology to experience a new, interactive meeting culture. AR headsets can create digital meeting rooms in which employees work together as avatars. Nick Sohnemann, CEO of Future Candy, expects mobile phones to become the linchpin of AR and XR and will go hand in hand with a "huge reduction in costs". The new 5G network, which is vital for implementing AR and VR applications smoothly, will also boost this trend.


Spice VR, Spherie, Noys VR and VR Nerds based in the Virtual Reality Headquarters Hamburg (VRHQ) in the Speicherstadt are pushing ahead with virtual reality applications. A technology playground was built in the Square Innovation Hub on St. Pauli in co-operation with Microsoft, which combine research and teaching around disruptive technologies such as AR and VR.

2. 5G 

The new 5G mobile communications standard promises data communication in real time, with a latency of a mere milliseconds making the technology crucial for digitalisation in Germany. According to the agency, 5G can be applied mainly in networked infrastructure (vehicle-to-vehicle communication), Internet of Things (IoT), mobile media (transmission of live events, VR applications), networked industry (smart factory) and mobile broadband. The technology is considered particularly promising for Industry 4.0 in terms of  industrial automation and smart factories.

Screenshot of an avatar
© Screenshot l Future Candy
Avatars in a digital meeting room

Basic research in HafenCity will drive the development of wireless technologies such as 5G and IoT in the coming years. To this end, an innovation complex called the "German Centre for Future Mobility" is to be built in Grasbrook from 2021, funded by the German Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI).

3. Autonomous driving, drones and robotics

Mobility of the future is multifaceted and autonomous driving, for instance, is gaining momentum. "The great efficiency in terns of cost reduction is convincing especially in the logistics and public transport sectors," said Sohnemann. Drones are indispensable for transporting vital medicines and foodstuffs in Hamburg. Service robots are increasingly being used in healthcare and hold great potential for the retail and catering sectors where they increase efficiency and minimise the risk of infection.

Autonomus HEAT mini bus

Around 150 transport projects are transforming Hamburg into a test laboratory for intelligent transport and logistics solutions. This comes as Hamburg gears up to host the ITS World Congress from October 11-15, 2021. The autonomous e-shuttle bus HEAT (Hamburg Electric Autonomous Transportation) will be presented to the global public at ITS. The minibus first took passengers aboard when it traversed roads in HafenCity last autumn. The length of the route is to be doubled in 2021. Hamburg has also been a model of Urban Air Mobility (UAM) since 2017. The Medifly project, funded by the BMVI, is now testing the transport of medical goods by drone while robot butlers can be experienced up close in the Edel-Optics store in downtown Hamburg.

4. New Work culture

The coronavirus-induced crisis is pushing the New Work trend higher up the agenda. According to Sohnemann, New Work consists of five micro-trends: Freedom of ... time, location, tools, tasks and hierarchy. The lessons learned will likely anchor the culture of New Work in companies. However, rigid structures sometimes impede New Work and the new 5.0 working world requires both flexible supervisors and employees who are willing to perform. All this hinges on a trusting relationship. The Hamburg-based career network Xing has gauged the mood among employees in German-speaking countries regularly since May 2020 for its so-called Corona Barometer. Although 2020 was perceived as "more strenuous and challenging" than previous years, 55 per cent of respondents in Germany are optimistic about the future.

5. Neo-ecology 

Many technologies consume far too many resources and often cannot be recycled which does not make for sustainability. But this is likely to change in the coming years as the focus turns increasingly to a circular economy and "real sustainability". Technology will become sustainable based on the formula "economy, ecology and ethics", Future Candy has predicted.

Hamburg is also becoming a fab (rication) city. This global initiative seeks to close urban material cycles by means of digital and local manufacturing. The keyword is 3D printing. Local Fab City Labs are due to be set up in 2021. Several Hanseatic startups also focus on sustainability nowadays. The founders of Kushel, for instance, have developed sustainable textiles from beech wood fibres. The event industry is also mulling change backed by the Green Events Hamburg network.