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Is technology becoming less disruptive?

Do Not UseDo Not Use 13/05/2016
Start-up alley Tech Crunch © Getty Images Start-up alley Tech Crunch

The Brooklyn Cruise Ship Terminal opened in 2006 - the same year that Twitter launched.

TechCrunch Disrupt was held at the Brooklyn cruise ship terminal: TechCrunch Disrupt New York was held at the Brooklyn cruise ship terminal © BBC TechCrunch Disrupt New York was held at the Brooklyn cruise ship terminal

So, you'd think that when one of the tech sector's biggest events - TechCrunch Disrupt New York - moved to the birthplace of hipsters, that cutting-edge development and a good amount of facial hair would be on display.

Tony Xu founder of Door Dash speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt © Getty Images Tony Xu founder of Door Dash speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt

But this year's New York Disrupt didn't seem very disruptive.

SeaDrone: The creator of SeaDrone is trying to disrupt the farmed fishing market with a novel use for drones © Getty Images The creator of SeaDrone is trying to disrupt the farmed fishing market with a novel use for drones

TechCruch's biggest Disrupt conference in San Francisco, its London version, and past New York events have always attracted innovative technology developers.

Cujo is a device that keep your data safe by protecting all your connected devices at home © BBC Cujo is a device that keep your data safe by protecting all your connected devices at home

Jordan Crook, senior writer for TechCrunch, was unconcerned by what seemed to be a slow burn in the sector, even in areas like virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

Sock Club is disrupting the typical tech swag market by replacing the ubiquitous tech company t-shirt with branded socks. © Getty Images Sock Club is disrupting the typical tech swag market by replacing the ubiquitous tech company t-shirt with branded socks.

"It's easy to see with hindsight that what seemed to be a slow transition was really a massive shift," she says.

Lumenus sells cycle gear to protect rider on dark roads © BBC Lumenus sells cycle gear to protect rider on dark roads

Take the technology for drones, which started as toys. Over the last year this has shifted and drones are being used for farming and policing and are being tested by companies like Amazon for delivering packages.

Dag Kittlaus demonstrates Viv and its AI capability: Dag Kittlaus demonstrates Viv's AI capability © Getty Images Dag Kittlaus demonstrates Viv's AI capability

SeaDrone, a finalist in Disrupt's start-up battlefield, is using drones to improve fishing.

Beam founders: Beam a platform that allows crowd sourced gaming won the start-up competition © Getty Images Beam a platform that allows crowd sourced gaming won the start-up competition

But along "start-up alley" many companies seemed focused on disruptive ideas from the past like dating apps, search engines and coffee-makers.

Tony Xu, the creator of delivery company Door Dash, pushes back on the idea that there is limited disruption going on.

"You need to understand your segment of the market," he tells the BBC.

His company connects people looking to order food from local restaurants with "dashers" - ordinary people who can collect and deliver food from restaurants that don't typically offer this service.

"Delivery isn't novel, but we claimed this space," he adds.

Since 2013 Door Dash has given the 85% of US restaurants that don't deliver, the opportunity to participate in this market. Mr Xu points out disruption doesn't have to be totally new, simply changing the way we think a certain industry operates is enough.

Uber for X

Ever heard of Uber?

Connecting riders with taxis didn't seem that novel when it launched. Uber's success - connecting drivers and passengers in a given area and allowing them to pay via their phone - has spurred hundreds of businesses to copy the model for other industries.

K. Kavi Raj, founder of app development company On Demand Bay, saw this as his chance for innovation.

"When Uber became big we got a lot of requests for similar apps, so we thought we should come up with something ready-made," he explains.

His company has sold mobile platforms to companies all over the world, helping to launch an "Uber" for tutors, for delivering alcohol and for musicians.

Disrupting the everyday

One of the most disruptive things about tech start-ups has been their ability to change the way we do everyday tasks and there was a big focus on that at the conference.

For example, Dog Parker offers dog owners peace of mind for a small fee. The company puts dog houses outside shops so owners can ensure their pets are safe while they are inside.

Peloton is looking to break into the fitness industry with a stationary bike that allows users to follow a gym class on a tablet screen in real time at home and to track and compare their performance.

For cyclists keener to be out on the streets, Lumenus is looking to solve the issue of limited visibility. The company sells jackets and backpacks with LED lights linked to the user's smartphone. The lights flash to indicate where the cyclist will be turning, based on directions from Google Maps.

Big news

New York's Disrupt was not devoid of exciting announcements.

Dag Kittlaus, the creator of Siri, launched his newest project Viv. The artificial intelligence (AI) platform acts like a digital assistant acting on voice instructions.

With an instruction like "order flowers for Mother's Day" Viv would find mum's address in the contacts list, figure out the date of Mothering Sunday, connect with flower delivery sites and send them a customer's payment details.

The winners for the start-up battlefield, Beam, found their niche in the gaming industry.

The company hopes to capitalise on the growing market of gamers who watch each other play online. Its founders developed a platform where users can interact directly on the games they are watching through crowdsourced controls.

"While this may seem like a slow burn I think it's just another step and we will look back at 2016 and say this was the year of a lot of development," says Ms Crook.

It is worth remembering too that New York is not the best barometer of transformation for the tech sector. Start-ups in New York tend to focus on the industries already established in the city.

But it is too soon to tell whether 2016 turns out to really be a year of transformation or if the time of disruption is over.

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