Life in five years: 10 predictions for 2020

We’re constantly inundated with predictions for the future; from the food we eat to how we power our homes. But with so many ideas about the world of tomorrow, it’s hard to get a true picture of what the world could be like.

In an attempt to get a clearer idea of life in five years, we’ve gathered together 10 predictions about living in 2020.

Same-day cancer treatment

Five years seems like a very optimistic timeframe for this, but data scientists are suggesting that same-day cancer treatment could be a reality by 2020. This would require a change in the way data is processed and shared to achieve, but even if that happens it’s very unlikely to become a reality this quickly.

Self-driving cars on the road

The projections for automated vehicles vary wildly, but 2020 has been marked as the year BMW’s self-driving vehicles are ferrying humans about. This one is worth taking with a pinch of salt, as there’s a huge number of legal and safety hurdles to overcome, but its nevertheless an exciting possibility.

Big cannabis on the up

With more US states expected to legalise cannabis, the industry is expecting to look particularly verdant come 2020. A recent report suggested US revenues would top $35bn, suggesting a transformation of cannabis’ image in just a short while.


26% renewables worldwide

A quarter of the world’s energy needs are set to be met by renewables in 2020, according to a report by the International Energy Agency. Their conclusions are likely to be accurate, as they are based on planned renewable projects worldwide, although it may not be enough to stop the damage done by fossil fuels.

Sensor-enriched soldiers

The soldiers of 2020 will be coated in sensors and equipped with smart glasses and a smart watch, all running from a power supply built into their uniform, according to the UK’s Ministry of Defence. But while the concept military kit, which was unveiled last month, is planned for 2020, the organisation does have a track record of delaying projects. The ideas could well be superseded before they’re ever realised.

China free of poverty

China has announced plans to eradicate poverty in the country by 2020. This would be immensely challenging, with 70 million people in the country living below the poverty line, but the country does have a reputation for getting stuff done. Let’s hope this does actually happen.

Four billion internet users

Despite four billion people online being a UN target for 2015, the global organisation doesn’t now expect that number of users to get connected for another five years. Despite a surge in internet use over the last decade, growth is now slowing as would-be users lack the infrastructure required. It’s possible this will be reached sooner, but only with major investment from governments, NGOs and private companies.


Electric cars without range anxiety

According to Elon Musk, the rate of advancement in battery technology is such that cars will be capable of doing 746 miles on a single charge by 2020, making them easily competitive with even the most fuel-efficient of regular vehicles. Whether that is enough to convince people to buy them remains to be seen.

Virtual reality to be a mega industry

The VR industry is projected to be worth $15.89bn by 2020, according to research agency Research and Markets. This is about half of what the current global mobile app industry is currently worth, and the same as what the worldwide air-conditioning industry is valued at. It’s hard to say whether this is a realistic prediction: it could prove to be accurate, but equally VR could fail to produce the goods and leave a lot of people out of pocket.

Curiosity to get a friend on Mars

Curiosity’s follow-up will be launched in 2020, bringing us never-before-collected data about the Red Planet. Among the various instruments that will be included on the new rover is an oxygen-producing system, an improved camera and a range of improved instruments for the detection of minerals and organics.

DARPA is making self-destructing delivery drones for the military

DARPA is creating an “autonomous, guided, precision” flying vehicle that can deliver goods to a location and then completely disintegrate four hours after dropping the item off.

The defence agency wants to create drones that can self-destruct so that it can drop off military supplies and not run the risk of its technology falling into the hands of an enemy force.

The plan comes under DARPA’s new project ICARUS, thats overall aim is to deliver “vanishing air vehicles” that can make deliveries. As well as military applications, the agency also foresees the technology could be used in disaster environments.

“Vanishing delivery vehicles could extend military and civilian operational capabilities in extenuating circumstances where currently there is no means to provide additional support,” said DARPA’s Troy Olsson

“Inventing transient materials, devising ways of scaling up their production, and combining those challenges with the hard control and aerodynamic requirements to reach the precision and soft-landing specs we need here makes for a challenging and compelling engineering problem.”

Image courtesy of DARPA

Image courtesy of DARPA

ICARUS is set to last for 26 months and have $8m of funding ploughed into its research. Documents outlining the project say that the agency isn’t interested in camouflage materials, but ones that enable the airborne vehicle to be transient.

Those working on ICARUS will be building on the work done by DARPA’s Vanishing Programmable Resources project, which developed electronic components that are able to self-destruct. One of the project’s successes so far has been to create polymer panels that change from a solid to a gas.

At the end of the 26 months, air delivery prototypes will have been developed and the biggest challenges, documents about the program say, will be making sure the vehicle is rigid for flight; making sure vanishing materials can be resilient to a variety of flight conditions and scaling up the transient materials.


A non-vanishing delivery drone. Image courtesy of DHL

The overall project summary says: “ICARUS seeks to design, prototype, and demonstrate an autonomous, guided, precision, vanishing air delivery vehicle capable of delivering a small package (up to 3 lbs.) to a GPS-programmed location (10 m accuracy).

“Following a night drop, the air delivery vehicle must completely, physically disappear within 4 hours of payload delivery or within 30 minutes after morning civil twilight, whichever is earlier.”