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The rise of robots, virtual reality coming soon

Humanoid robots named Pepper, developed by SoftBank Corp.'s Aldebaran Robotics unit, stand during a Softbank developer's workshop for students and robot enthusiasts in Tokyo, Japan, March 4, 2015.
Akio Kon | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Box CEO: Predictions for tech in 2016
Box CEO: Predictions for tech in 2016

Virtual reality and robots could soon become more commonplace in U.S. homes if recent predictions for 2016 play out.

Technology improvements, new gear rollouts and lower costs are expected to spark greater interest in virtual reality technology from Facebook's Oculus, Google as well as Sony, HTC and others, according to Juniper Research.

Two consumer devices are already available: A VR headset made by Oculus for Samsung Galaxy smartphones, and Google Cardboard, which works with any smartphone. Juniper expects those devices and competing gear to get even more popular over the next five years.

"The technology is now poised to transform the entertainment industry, including games and video, in the next few years, whilst offering the potential to quickly expand into other markets such as industrial and healthcare," according to a recent Juniper report.

And that could be good news for start-ups.

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More immersive experiences

"We might get to a point where there's enough ubiquity of virtual reality where you can really build a company in this market today," Box CEO Aaron Levie said in an interview with CNBC. Levie's firm sells enterprise software for content management and file sharing.

There are already more than 200 companies developing virtual reality technology including hardware and software, and they're worth a combined $13 billion, according to research from VB Profiles.

And at some point, consumers could find virtual reality tech especially useful when they're shopping, according to recent research by Ericsson ConsumerLab.

That firm said that half of the smartphone users it surveyed would want a 3-D selfie that can be used as an avatar to try on clothes online, and 64 percent would like the ability to see an item's actual size and form when shopping online, according to a report from that firm.

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Rise of the robots at home?

As Softbank's Pepper, Buddy from Blue Frog Robotics and other robots become more widely available in 2016, consumers may be more likely to welcome robots into their homes, according to Juniper.

When Pepper was released in Japan this past June, the first 1,000 robots sold out in less than a minute, according to Softbank. The company plans to sell 1,000 per month at $1,600 a pop next year, Juniper noted. Pepper is considered a social, humanoid robot and can sense human emotions, according to the company.

The more affordable Buddy is also a social robot, according to its maker. It can serve as a personal assistant and a fun companion for kids, according to Blue Frog. That robot is expected to be available starting July 2016 for $649.

Advances in 3-D printing

There are already a number of 3-D printers on the market, from simple printers that work with plastic to complex machines that print using human cells. But sales of those printers are expected to grow substantially in 2016 and beyond as improved technology will allow for printing in an even wider range of materials, according to research firm Gartner.

A build-it-yourself 3-D printer made by Deltaprintr prints a three-dimensional object made of plastic.
Althea Chang | CNBC

Companies that make 3-D printers will continue to advance technology that facilitates printing in nickel alloys, carbon fiber, glass, pharmaceuticals, biological and other materials for various industries, and will ultimately be able to print using mixed materials, according to Gartner. That firm expects to see a compound annual growth rate of 64.1 percent for enterprise 3-D printer shipments through 2019.

On the consumer side, half of smartphone users surveyed by Ericsson ConsumerLab said they'd want a 3-D printer to print household objects like spoons, toys and spare parts for appliances, according to that firm. About 44 percent said they'd even want to print their own food or nutritional supplements, according to Ericsson ConsumerLab, which conducted an online survey of 6,649 urban iOS and Android smartphone users ages 15 to 69 in 13 major world cities in October 2015.

But in the near term, S&P Capital IQ analyst Angelo Zino has a more conservative outlook.

"Overall when you look at the 3-D printing space, expectations going into 2015 were extremely high and clearly [sales] haven't lived up to those expectations," Zino said in a phone interview.

Zino said he expects 3-D printer sales to really get a kick-start in 2017, following HP's anticipated entry into the business in the second half of 2016. Until then, he expects 3-D printer sales growth to remain sluggish.

Mike Cagney, CEO of SoFi.
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More crowdfunding expected for start-ups

For many tech start-ups, crowdfunding is expected help fuel major growth in the coming year vs. 2015, according to Juniper Research.

"Crowdfunding, where people invest small sums in projects, be they charitable causes, local projects or businesses, reportedly reached $16 billion in 2014, and is expected to more than double this year. Look out for the emergence of an array of new crowdfunding sites dedicated to tech start-ups in 2016, offering would-be investors equity in the company or alternative rewards," Juniper researchers wrote.