What are the world’s most exciting innovations? The answer may come from the World Economic Forum’s new class of Technology Pioneers, announced today. The 30 awardees come from seven countries in three continents, and are active in a wide range of industries: from health to agriculture, and from finance to IT. But beyond their geographical and sectorial diversity, they have three crucial aspects in common. They combine innovations, innovate at an ever increasing pace, and work on solutions to global challenges. Here is how they do it.

1. They combine innovations

Whereas previous generations of technology pioneers focused on introducing new technologies as such, pioneers in 2016 are increasingly combining technologies. 3D printing, big data, the internet of things, advanced satellites imaging and drones are innovations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution that are reconstituting various industries and sectors. Pioneers bringing these technologies to the table include:

Orbital Insight: a geospatial big data company that discovers social, economic, and agricultural trends through satellite image analysis. The company’s technology serves as a “macroscope” allowing the study of trends that are hidden, or too large to be seen by the human eye.

Voxel8: a company that 3D prints electronics. Printing a project in one go negates having to make a circuit in advance. This method reduces the number of materials used, simplifies the development of the object and allows perfect integration of electronics, thus reducing its final size.

Cylance: a company that applies artificial intelligence and machine learning to cyber security. By unlocking the “DNA” of malware Cylance gives enterprises the ability to predict and prevent advanced threats.

2. They innovate at an ever increasing pace

Some innovations today are rendered obsolete in a matter of years or even months. Conversely, some companies that were founded only a few years ago are leaders in their fields.

That contrasts with the past, when truly ground breaking innovations took years or even decades to spread. The first industrial revolution, with its steam power and the rise of the factory system, took almost 80 years to develop, while the more recent computer revolution also progressed slowly.

Companies that help bring about this fast-paced innovation include:

Magic Leap: a company that creates a mixed reality. Its virtual retina display and software enables interaction between real things and virtual objects. Virtual images are projected onto the retina, creating the same types of neurological effects as real life objects perceived by humans.

Kensho: a company that provides a next-generation analytics and knowledge platform for investment professionals. Its intelligent computer systems are capable of answering complex financial questions posed in plain English, by combining massively-parallel statistical computing with natural language inputs, big data and machine learning.

PrecisionHawk: a data acquisition and analysis company that combines unmanned aerial systems (drones), artificial intelligence and remote sensing technologies to improve business operations and day-to-day decision making across a wide range of data-intensive industries.

Wrightspeed: a company that produces hybrid-electric powertrains for heavy duty trucks. This technology makes commercial trucks greener and more energy efficient. It uses high-power electric drives with micro-turbine generators for urban truck fleets.

3. They work on solutions to global challenges

Companies have long faced criticism for chasing profits at all costs, without taking into account the larger challenges the world is facing. Today, with the world at a tipping point in terms of climate change and other challenges, that narrow corporate perspective is changing. Many of today’s technology pioneers believe these global challenges need addressing.They include 
Synthace: a synthetic biology company that uses computational modelling and big data analysis to produce novel bio-based chemicals and other products. They harness the ability of micro-organisms to produce products from renewable feed stocks.

Farmers edge: a data acquisition and analysis company. It focuses on precision agriculture and data management solutions. Through the integration of highly accurate data science and services on the farm, Farmers Edge helps growers around the world achieve the highest sustainable yields possible.

WaterSmart Software: a big data and cloud computing company. It uses behavioural psychology and mobile and online tools to help water utilities educate and engage customers to save water and money.

Technology Pioneers 2017