Business | 29.04.2014

How innovation will shape our lives in the future

Innovation is a very loosely used term today. Personally, I like the absurdity of the unknown, a concept that was brought to my attention at our sister agency PHD’s annual thought-leadership conference, BrainScape. A point of consensus is that we really have difficulty predicting what is to come and “the people who do have an idea, are under an NDA not to spread the word” (poetically put by Dan Zeff, CEO of content specialist agency Evidently). In this day and age, once we innovate, it quickly becomes the expected norm.  One of my friends recently told me a funny story that best illustrates this. Someone on a London to New York flight with him was in complete hysterics because his Wi-Fi was not working in the air. Imagine that.  No Internet when you are at 10,000 feet above sea level.  A year ago, Internet connectivity on board was not even an option – no matter what class you were flying in. We have quickly come to rely on ‘being connected’ and now feel uncomfortable when we are not. Innovation and the future have been key subjects of events in Dubai over the last couple of weeks.  In addition to PHD’s BrainScape, I also attended the Global App Summit and GITEX Technology Week.  Although each approached the subject matter differently, the common thread was innovation and its many forms.

In this blog post, I would like to highlight the wide variety of topics that stood out at these conferences on what we should expect in the future.

Smart Cities

There is no clear-cut definition of a smart city, so it means something different to everyone. It really depends on the problem they’re trying to solve. With Masdar City, the UAE has taken a more green technology-based approach to it. The government is working with specialists to create the space, but I was amazed at how complex the smart city ecosystem is and the number of people involved.  With Wi-Fi becoming increasingly available all over town (be it in malls, on public transport, along downtown Dubai’s Emaar Boulevard or otherwise), this is only the beginning.  Silicon Oasis has taken a very interesting stance on becoming fully “smart”. The area is already considered the test zone for many of these innovations.  It currently boasts Wi-Fi for everyone in the area, and there’s a lot more to come.  It has even created a division that focuses purely on developing the latest innovations.  Most of you have already seen what a smart city will look like, but no one can really understand how simple or complex (depending on which side of the fence you are standing on) these new experiences will feel like. Nevertheless, I for one look forward to being immersed in these cities of the future, especially as the level of connectivity between the different facets increases and our capabilities are enhanced.

Wearables

Wearable tech is extremely interesting in the number of ways it is developing. With that said, the most daunting question remains- how many wearables would we care to wear or “embed in our bodies”? And what happens when the wearable you are using is no longer the product of choice? Take Nike Fuel for example. As most of you know, Nike decided to discontinue the Fuel Band and focus more on the software side of wearables. So what happens to all the data I have accumulated over the last 18 months? I recently noticed that most people are no longer syncing their information. Or perhaps I should say they are no longer using the product altogether.  The social element has completely vanished.

The gamification element behind these wearables struggle due to the lack of adoption or continued use.  It has been stated that a wearable today has a shelf-life of 12-18 months.  Will there be one player that dominates the market? This is important when it comes to consumer experiences, but also for institutions and brands that are eager to get involved and leverage all the data being collected. The more this data is connected with other applications and used in our day-to-day tasks, the more efficient they will become and our experiences enhanced.

We are actually entering a phase where the wearable manufacturers are creating APIs that developers can leverage. Apps that are embedded within wearables can leverage the user data in an optimized fashion, especially if the adoption rate of wearables increases.

“Out with the old and in with the new”

A lot has been discussed about the power of beacons so I will not elaborate on them here.  What I would like to share however is the way sensors are now benefiting products that already exist. At the GITEX Tech Week, SAP shared their new capabilities for vending machines. They particularly focused on how logistics can be managed in an automated way for operators to offer a customized experience for the end user.  As a consumer, once my phone is recognized via the RFID signal transmitted, the machine welcomes you, fetches your purchase history and the interface pushes the products that you prefer.  It also allows you to send the product to a Facebook friend in the form of a gift. I think we can all agree that this will change the way we interact with vending machines from now on.

As an operator, imagine if you could understand stock levels and, with limited logistical effort, digitally locate the closest distribution truck, understand the stock levels available in the truck itself and then dispatch  to the respective vending machine. By understanding the speed at which products are being purchased, all of this can be forecasted and automated. Even the maintenance of these vending machines can be managed using this SAP platform.

The most exciting future innovations could be in the form of simply updating old fashioned products. Again, the integration of connectivity between our personal devices and day-to-day tasks will transform the way we function, making them a lot more effective and efficient.

The future of Robotics

Ever thought about the fact that the growing population of older people around the world would be what pushes the evolution of robotics further? This perspective offered by Nigel Gwilliam at PHD’s BrainScape was very enlightening.  Say “bye bye” to crutches and “hello” to a robotic leg instead. This robotics evolution is rapidly gaining ground in markets like China and Japan where the aging population is growing at a much faster rate than other places. A prosthetic hand is getting closer and closer to replicating the functions of a real hand.  What used to exist only in science fiction movies is quickly becoming a reality. This could be innovated further by building intelligence that adapts to users’ unique behaviors and traits. Once again, the future will be about enhanced experiences and greater levels of effectiveness, thanks to higher levels of connectivity. And as I mentioned earlier, as soon as this technology is mainstream, it will quickly become the expected norm.

To summarize, innovation takes on many different forms.  Be it smart cities, wearables, vending machines or robotics – stronger levels of connectivity will augment our experiences and make us more efficient in the future. ‘Back to the Future’ promised us flying cars and hover boards by 2014.  Although there has been some exploration on that front, the future seems to be taking a slightly different route.  An exciting one at that.

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Nadim Khouri
Head of Content and Experiences at OMD