At any given moment, there are a handful of new trends and hot startups that have everyone in tech excited. Some of those companies and sectors take off. Others fizzle.
Given that virtually every new company in every industry qualifies as a tech company in one way or another, and given that most industries are directly or indirectly regulated by government, it also means many new trends and hot startups are going to need regulatory approvals, government granted licenses and legislative changes to succeed.
Here's an evaluation of the regulatory prospects and timelines today's five hottest tech trends will face:
1. Autonomous Cars and Trucks
Current Status: Competition and accelerating technological progress from a broad range of large companies like Google and Uber as well as pretty much every major automotive company (Ford, Mercedes Benz, GM, Tesla); insurgent players like Otto and Cruise are quickly being acquired by large companies looking to create competitive advantages or accelerate their internal programs.
Regulatory hurdles: USDOT has established safety guidelines for manufacturers of autonomous vehicles, largely leaving operating regulations (licensure, law enforcement, insurance, liability, and more) to the states. Some states, such as Florida have given broad blessing for autonomous vehicles to operate freely beyond pilots and product testing; others have taken a more cautious approach (like California).
Likelihood: It's already begun. The question is whether it's a patchwork of state/ local regulations or one federal standard.
Timeline: States will continue to pass laws every year, and likely take a reactive approach to issues such as insurance and liability as more autonomous vehicles are on the road (and in the courtrooms). Federal preemption will take much longer (5-10 years most likely).
2. Commercial Drone Package Delivery
Current Status: Amazon and Google have been leading the charge, along with smaller insurgent players such as Zipline and Flirty.
Regulatory hurdles: The FAA has done a good job being proactive on drone regulations, and that will hopefully continue under the next administration; in particular, they are preparing to allow for exemptions with regard to line of sight requirements (which are the largest impediment to viable drone delivery). There is an open question about state and local authority to regulate low altitude flight, but at a minimum states will have influence over privacy laws that can dictate flight paths and possibly even licensure and other requirements for a delivery service to operate (as they do with other local businesses within the state).
Likelihood: Very high - this will happen.
Timeline: Some of it is already moving forward, overall, 3-5 years.
3. Cannabis Delivery and On Demand Availability
Current Status: Cannabis is a well suited product for on-demand services due to the frequency of use by consumers and ease of transport for providers (lightweight, shelf-stable, high transaction value).
Full legalization is on the ballot in five states, including California. Polls indicate a likelihood of passage everywhere. That would mean roughly 25% of the United States population live in states where you can legally buy recreational marijuana.
Even today in California, a number of companies such as Eaze and Meadow have established businesses for medicinal marijuana delivery, and that is likely to accelerate as the medical requirements are removed.
Regulatory hurdles: Beyond the overall availability of cannabis at the state level (via referendums) or at the federal level (via DEA classification), delivery is a special case that is explicitly banned even in legal states (like Colorado). California permits delivery (and would continue to permit it under the ballot initiative) but allows municipalities to ban it.
Likelihood/ Timeline: Two-thirds of states will get to recreational legalization in the next five years. The remaining third (very conservative states) will take while. Reclassification of marijuana as a Schedule 2 drug would make a big difference in tech and services around cannabis, and should happen in the next administration (Hillary has endorsed this).
4. Esports and Daily Fantasy Sports
Current Status: Fantasy sports and most games of skill are legal under federal law but their status is different in each state.
Regulatory hurdles: Passage of individual laws in states allowing daily fantasy sports (needed in some states, not all). FanDuel and DraftKings have already won approval from nine states including New York. Esports hasn't hit most regulators radar yet, but will soon.
Likelihood/ Timeline: Eventually, every form of gaming - skill and chance - will be available online and legal everywhere. But it'll happen over the next decade, with fantasy sports moving the fastest (next 18-24 months).
5. Moving Healthcare Online
Current status: Telemedicine exists and more fields within medicine are moving to online service delivery.
Regulatory hurdles: Licensing is determined by state boards, who are typically controlled by the existing industry (which isn't eager to be disrupted).
Likelihood: Eventually, all fifty states will have to permit telemedicine both intra-state and interstate. Not unlike issues like same sex marriage, this may be faster to solve through the courts than individual state battles.
Timeline: 5-10 years to see full telemedicine available anywhere, to anyone.