Future Digest - April 27th
This Future Digest delves into IKEA embracing AR in retail, governments and businesses accelerating the sustainability transformation, the growing Techlash and what it means for brands, VR finally finding a path to mainstream adoption, remote robot workers, decoding whale language and the implication of a digital yuan.
With its IKEA studio app the company and its innovation studio Space10 are raising the bar in terms of using AR to unlock value for customers. The app lets people capture complete 3D room plans with measurements, including windows and doorways. It also detects your existing furniture and places white boxes on the plan where your current chairs, tables, sofa are. From there you can place furniture, shelving systems, decorations and change wall colours, then export your design in both 3D and 2D and share it with others. The models can also include ceilings so you can add in virtual suspended light fittings. Other new features include being able to interact with items, such as turn AR lamps on and off, and place items on top of each other, say a lamp on a sideboard for example.
Earth day became earth week this year and was filled with bold commitments for governments all around the world - including those that are more apprehensive about taking action to stop the climate crisis such as Russia, Brazil and India. The US pledged to cut its CO2 emissions in half by the end of this decade – a drop of almost 52% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. The UK set a new legally-binding target to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels. The European Union has adopted new climate targets and has pledged to make them binding. Under the new legislation, the bloc will have to cut carbon emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels.
PepsiCo is scaling up its efforts to become a regenerative business. They will work together with all the farmers in their supply chain to shift towards regenerative agriculture by 2030. This would help PepsiCo eliminate at least 3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
Business Insider reports LVMH has started selling unused fabrics from its high-end brands, including Louis Vuitton, at bargain prices. The luxury group launched a separate e-commerce brand called Nona Source to enable business owners to shop for the fabrics. A spokesperson for LVMH confirmed that all of LVMH's fashion brands would provide fabric. Currently, the store is Europe-only and only open to certain business owners, such as fashion designers.
The Techlash continues to gain momentum as governments globally are looking to reign in the powers of big tech corporations. China fined Alibaba a record $2.8 billion this month for anticompetitive practices and ordered an overhaul of its sister company Ant group and warned other technology firms to obey Beijing’s rules. The European Commission plans to unveil far-reaching regulations to limit technologies powered by artificial intelligence. In the United States, President Biden has stacked his administration with tech sceptic regulators. Also, in a statement of intent this month, the US Federal Trade Commission announced plans to go after companies using and selling biased algorithms.
Prada, LVMH and Richemont are joining forces in the Aura Blockchain Consortium, to promote the use of a single blockchain solution open to all luxury brands worldwide. The participating brands will offer consumers direct access to a product’s historical data, proof of ownership, warranty, and maintenance service record.
Later this year, HTC is set to announce its new VR heard set The Vive Air. With the new device, HTC hopes to capture and boost the emerging VR workout market. The headset is built from fast-drying knitted fabrics inspired by sports shoes, which are supposed to be lightweight and breathable. A quick-release design allows these “ergonomic soft components” to be removed for washing.
Video games can now come on prescription. Doctors are testing whether a video game can help with the long COVID19 'brain fog' problems. Akili Interactive, is the first game developer to have a video game approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the US as a medical treatment. Their game EndeavorRX cleared as a treatment for kids between the ages of eight and 12 with ADHD. Now a neuropsychologist believes the game could benefit other people as well.
The HBR after hours podcast discusses how delivery apps are changing the world of hospitality. In an environment that is highly filtered based on location and type of food, some restaurants are splitting their menus and developing separate brands in order to be higher ranked in the apps search algorithms.
Wired reports on the emerging job category of remote robot workers. In the hospitality industry, service jobs are starting to be done by robots, effectively replacing humans. However, this is not the complete picture as robots still need human support. As a result, the blue collar job of the future might be somebody working remotely, supporting a fleet of robots in case they need human assistance.
Currently, Industry 4.0 is still emerging with most businesses in the pilot test phase. Siemens and Google Cloud are looking to change this and want to help businesses implement AI and machine learning more broadly in their manufacturing processes. The collaboration combines Google's cloud and AI/ML expertise with Siemens longstanding knowhow in industrial automation, enabling businesses to quickly scale the technologies quickly across their manufacturing processes.
Joe Biden sees broadband as the new electricity and defines it as an essential commodity for people to be able to participate in today's connected society. Therefore his infrastructure bill lists broadband expansion as a top goal, earmarking $100bn to bring affordable internet to all Americans by 2029.
Do you speak whale? Scientists have embarked on a five-year-long project called CETI (Cetacean Translation Initiative) to decipher the “clicks” sperm whales make to communicate. CETI will start by capturing and cataloging millions of morse-code-like whale vocalisations. Video and audio tools will be used to collect the data which will be analyses and decoded using natural language processing (the technology that brought us Siri and Alexa). Cues from captured video will provide context to the conversations and, if all works according to plan, will bring researchers closer to a breakthrough than ever before.
China launched the digital Yuan and has also started to position it as an alternative to the dollar. Offering an alternative to the dollar will leave Washington weaker with less power to sanction countries and could give anti-Western regimes such as Iran or North-Korea more access to capital. Russia, which has been on the receiving end of many of Washington's sanctions has already expressed its support for the internationalisation of the digital Yuan and trials are under way in China, Thailand and UAE.
Giant airships might be making a comeback for short distance travel. Hybrid Air Vehicles in the UK has been working on a new type of aircraft, reminiscent of airships. While the aircraft would only makes sense for regional travel, the maker believes by 2025 it could provide a very good alternative mode of travel. Not only is it greener compared to conventional flight, it can also take off virtually anywhere making the boarding and ground operations much simpler.
IKEA shows how AR can bring significant value to customers as a tool in retail. As we discussed in previous newsletter, brands using AR in a retail context have been able to inspire customers more, thus increasing their basket size and help people get the right product, which has led to significant less returns. Now is the time for businesses to explore how AR can help transform their customer experience and boost the bottom line.
The efforts we need to make in order to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celcius are enormous. As such governments continue to ramp up their commitments to significantly decrease GHG emissions. Businesses need to act now to transform their business to avoid having stranded assets and still be able to access capital.
If governments are serious about regulating big tech and algorithms, it would significantly change the digital environment from how we know it today in many ways. For brands, the biggest impact will be in figuring out how to reach consumers in a world where consumers are more protected, more sceptical and more dispersed across different platforms.
VR has been searching for a valuable consumer application that will help it gain mass adoption. Like with other technologies, the pandemic has provided an additional boost for VR adoption. As people spent more time at home, both gaming and at home exercise saw a big lift in terms of engagement. Both categories that have a great fit with VR. Simultaneously, remote working platforms and health start ups are exploring the benefits of VR. With wider adoption of VR brands should explore how to use the technology to create a richer experience.
While gaining insight into whale speak might seem trivial, new insights into animal cognition, emotion and social life might very well trigger stronger protection for both wild life and animals used for consumption.
A decoupling from the dollar would lead to a less predictable world as this situation would force the West to seek alternative measures to punish countries while China and its allies would be emboldened to pursue their own agenda.