Google's parent, Alphabet, Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOGL), held its annual shareholder meeting earlier this month. The gem of the event for investors was when Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt discussed the "most interesting" tech innovations that he believes are going to take off over the next five to ten years.
Schmidt's views are worthy of consideration, as he's part of the trio along with the two co-founders that controls arguably the most innovative tech company in the world. Under their leadership, Alphabet investors have done very well, with Class A (voting rights) and Class C (no voting rights) shares up 27.5% and 30%, respectively, over the one-year period through June 22, and up 1,320% -- more than nine times the S&P 500's total return -- since the company's 2004 IPO.
1. "Meatless meat"
Entities will increasingly find ways of using plants and cellular organisms to produce foods that are virtually indistinguishable from real meat, according to Schmidt. Alphabet isn't directly involved in this area, however, it's been widely reported that the company tried to buy start-up Impossible Foods last summer.
The burgeoning meatless-meat industry is a positive for the environment, since about 10% of global warming comes from raising cattle to produce beef, said Schmidt. Moreover, it's a plus for human health, as most traditionally produced meat is loaded with hormones and antibiotics.
Impossible Foods, slated to launch its plant-based Impossible Burger this year, is a company to watch. It's raised a meaty $183 million from powerful backers including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
2. 3D printing of buildings
3D printing has been a hot topic for several years, particularly in the aerospace, auto, healthcare, and entertainment industries. Schmidt called out the use of this innovative tech in architecture as possessing the potential to significantly bring down the cost of designing and building structures. "Imagine if we can get the cost of those buildings down by a factor of three or four or five using new materials...," he said. "There are people working on this."
There are no publicly traded companies listed on major U.S. stock exchanges that sell 3D printers that can print buildings. Start-ups involved in this space are mostly foreign companies.
3. Virtual reality & augmented reality
Google's efforts in VR are aimed at bringing down the cost of this pricey tech, said Schmidt. The company, which is developing a suite of VR products, believes the tech will be a very large future revenue stream for it in the entertainment industry for applications such as sports and games. Google recently unveiled Daydream, its Android-based mobile VR platform and headset design, which will roll out to Daydream-ready phones in the fall. It's also working on developing AR products. The failed Google Glass was "a first attempt" in this space, with "much more coming," according to Schmidt.
Other notable publicly traded players with a presence in these out-of-this-world realms include Sony and Facebook, which was an early mover in this space thanks to its 2014 acquisition of VR-headset maker Oculus VR.
4. Smartphones & wearables in healthcare applications
"It's pretty clear that the mobile phone is going to be ... your primary health monitoring device," said Schmidt. He then discussed some projects that Verily, Alphabet's life sciences subsidiary, is involved in within the red-hot wearables category.
The use of smartwatches and other such devices for health and fitness monitoring is an exploding space in which the company is joined by fellow tech behemoth Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)and many others. Unlike most players, like pure-play Fitbit, for instance, Verily is working on developing more heavy-duty applications for use in healthcare settings, such as hospitals, rather than just the consumer market. It's also been developing a battery-powered contact lens for monitoring glucose levels of diabetics. Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis licensed this "smart lens" tech in 2014.
5. Self-driving cars
Alphabet's self-driving car tech is ready, as are the techs of other companies, and it's time for this technology to take off so that it can help save lives, said Schmidt. (Legislation is the hold-up.)
The company's self-driving cars, which are being tested in four cities, have logged more than 1.5 million miles, with an incredibly safe record. In May, Alphabet announced that it partnered with Fiat Chrysler to add about 100 new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivans to its fleet, marking the first time it has worked directly with an automaker to produce its vehicles.
Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) and most of the major automakers have also entered this space. Apple hasn't officially confirmed that it's working on self-driving car tech, but there's overwhelming evidence that Cupertino is in this race.
Investing in companies that produce advanced driver-assistance technology, such as leader Mobileye N.V. (NYSE:MBLY), is another way to play this theme. Mobileye is most well known for powering Tesla's autopilot feature, which the EV-maker rolled out late last year. While not a pure-play like Mobileye, Nvidia Corp. (NASDAQ:NVDA), whose core business is producing GPUs for video games, is a promising newer entrant in this category. Nvidia's tech also powers in-car entertainment and navigation systems.
6. Machine learning in education
The future of education involves teachers using machine learning -- which moves beyond AI by "teaching" machines to learn -- to help them deliver more individualized lesson plans to students, according to Schmidt.
Alphabet, Apple, and the other big tech players are deepening their involvement in machine learning, in general. However, IBM is the tech giant that's already taken steps to apply this tech to education via its Watson platform.
7. Search to suggest
Transitioning its focus beyond search to suggest is a hugely important goal for Google, said Schmidt. The company wants to build systems that assist users in everything they're doing.
To that end, it's begun incorporating its voice-activated Google Assistant into products. At its Google I/O conference in May, it introduced Allo, which goes beyond just a typical instant-messaging app. It also introduced a voice-activated smart speaker called Google Home, which reportedly will be available later this year, that uses the same tech. This home device allows users to interact with Google's search engine and its other services, and acts as a smart-home hub, controlling various digital devices, such as TVs, thermostats, and smoke detectors.
Apple and Amazon also have their sights set on "owning the living room." Amazon's Echo, which has generally garnered good reviews and has been widely described as a "sleeper hit," has a head start of about a year-and-a-half on Google Home.
Alphabet has initiatives that fall into five of the seven categories (all but Nos. 1 and 2) discussed, some of which will likely pay off big for the company and investors. Looking beyond Alphabet, tech investors in general might consider using Schmidt's list of techs that are likely to take off in the next five to ten years to help mine for potential current and future investments.