Technology roadmapping is a collaborative foresight process that solicits opinions from various experts to create a best guess of a development timeline for a particular technology. Technology roadmaps tend to look between a few years and a couple decades into the future. Beyond this, prediction becomes very hazy and speculative. Technology roadmapping is a process usually undertaken by consultants to large companies interested in the future of technology in their market niche.
Some technologies may be too expensive to implement as soon as they are conceived, but will bring a return on investment when the cost of the underlying materials or manufacturing processes drops below a critical threshold. For instance, the manufacturers of computer chips realize that eventually the use of photolithography to create integrated circuits will reach a point of diminishing returns, after which it would be prudent to have alternate plans in place for making better chips. Some technology roadmapping projects attempt to do just that, investigating alternatives for chip manufacture including DNA computing, 3D computing, quantum computing, nanotechnology, and the like.
Technology roadmapping is an intuitive phrase which basically means “corporation-sponsored futurism”. Technology roadmaps are expected to be somewhat rigorous and quantitative in nature, combining past trends with educated guesses about capital costs to determine research and development obstacles and opportunities for a particular technology or technology application. Technology roadmapping not only asks how difficult it would be to develop a new technology, but what development path should be taken and within what context the technology might emerge. A spinoff of a technology roadmapping project might be a product roadmap, which focuses on a specific product and the challenges in fabricating it and rolling it out.
Technology roadmapping has been applied to pharmaceuticals, aerospace, manufacturing, nanotechnology, power generation, electronics, and many other areas. No technology roadmapping effort will ever be 100% correct, but many companies consider these roadmaps to be better than nothing and spend millions on developing them.