A new service bot called Ava is leading the way for ever-more sophisticated chatbots with increasingly human characteristics. New Zealand-based artificial intelligence (AI) start-up Soul Machines says Ava is modelled on the facial scan and voice recordings of actress Shushila Takao. The bot is the result of a collaboration with American design software maker Autodesk.
Ava is part of a new era of voice activation and automation sweeping through retail. In this environment, humanised forms of digital communication are evolving that more effectively reflect and mimic human subtleties. Ava even expresses human flaws – like facial muscle twitches. Such concepts can supplement and even replace human customer service staff.
Soul Machines used computer-generated image technologies, neuroscience and artificial intelligence to create its real-time-responsive digital customer service character. Scheduled to make its debut in mid-2018 on Autodesk’s website, Ava will handle more than 50,000 subscriber requests each month using IBM Watson. It will cognitively match questions with a catalogue of answers, and also scan facial expressions via laptop or mobile cameras to gauge feelings and answer empathetically.
Ava can comprehend nuances in people’s tone of voice (typed or spoken) to better understand what kind of mood they are in. Ava’s creators also emphasise that it is incapable of ‘feeling’ anger. Equipped with a virtual nervous system, Ava receives a hit of virtual dopamine when it detects that a person has smiled, triggering a similar response.
Voice is on the verge of becoming a primary tech interface, according to speakers at the Advances in Speech Technology MIT Enterprise Forum in New York (February 15).
Key areas of development include the emerging field of "conversation design" – creating personalised and context-sensitive dialogues between humans and machines – and the rapidly advancing area of intelligent speech transcription. We round up the highlights:
See 10 Tech Trends to Watch in 2018, CES 2018: Home Electronics and IFA Berlin 2017 for more on the rise of talkative technology. For an overview of voice-first marketing developments, read Advertising in the Alexa Era.
Multinational corporation Visa has created a range of gloves, stickers and commemorative pins embedded with payment technology to enable fast, contactless transactions at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
At the event, Visa is showcasing the future trajectory of monetary exchange, whereby users pay for goods and services via embedded tech, leaving their credit or debit card at home. This is made possible through the continued development of near-field communication (NFC) chips, which enable any object to process payments when within a four-inch radius of a receiver.
Visa has released three different payment-embedded items suited to the conditions and culture of the Olympic Games. The commemorative pins are inspired by the custom of both spectators and athletes collecting pins as souvenirs of the event, while the stickers serve as flexible micro tags that can be attached to any surface for easy use. The gloves allow users to pay for transactions while keeping their hands warm in Pyeongchang’s cold climate.
Each device purchased is pre-loaded with a monetary value that the user wishes to spend, avoiding the need for the merchandise to be connected to their bank account. During the event, Visa’s merchandise is available to purchase from on-site stores as well as from vending machines located across the Olympic grounds.
Read NRF 2018: Tech-Driven Retail for examples of how emerging tech is shaking up the retail environment and creating seamless check-out experiences. For more on how digital innovations in packaging are transforming products into services, see Digital Packaging Futures.
In a season notable for swansong collections, Christopher Bailey devoted his razzamatazz Burberry finale to the LGBT community – seamlessly meshing A/W 18/19’s emerging trends with looks inspired by street tribes of the 80s and 90s.
The mood was playful and heartfelt, bringing together the disparate worlds of working-class culture and luxury. It was a reflection of where Burberry stood when Bailey first joined 17 years ago, and the iconic check was the hallmark of the football terraces.
In a genius move, the designer combined that check with the rainbow colours of the Gay Pride flag for his final collection for the house. They appear on everything from hi-top trainers to striped puffas, pieced tees and the dramatic, floor-sweeping shearling cape worn as a final exit by Cara Delevingne.
But at the heart of the collection was Bailey’s tribute to youth culture. There were nods to the 90s rave movement in the rainbow-hued, tie-dye tees, and a salute to grunge in the oversized, graffiti-patterned sweats. Meanwhile, scarf-print shellsuits and ballooning track tops paid homage to the way in which sportswear has become the driver for fashion trends – here as luxe hoodies coupled with taffeta ball gowns in a tongue-in-chic take on high-low culture mixes.
It was that same high-low vibe that gave the collection its celebratory youthful verve. Bailey mixed camouflage prints with hand-beaded lace, throwing the emerging trend for punkish mixed plaids into the melting pot of amplified colour and pattern, along with thrift-shop-inspired upcycled patchwork knits, and graffiti-splattered satins and silks.
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Global FMCG giant Mondelez has leveraged the ongoing partnership between its cookie brand Oreo and Google to create The Great Oreo Cookie Quest – an augmented reality (AR) treasure hunt.
The mobile game app sets users on mini missions to find virtual Oreos in the real world around them. As opposed to geolocation-based AR games like Pokémon Go, The Great Oreo Cookie Quest uses image recognition to unlock rewards. Players receive riddles and clues for everyday items to hunt down and scan into the app to unlock the virtual cookies. Points are awarded depending on how difficult individual tasks were to master.
As they compete on the global leader board for prizes like Google smartphones or a trip to the company's headquarters in San Francisco, players can compare themselves to friends linked via social media accounts.
Such interactive formats turn passive audiences into active participants in brand campaigns. With the mobile AR user base expected to crack the one billion threshold by 2020 (Digi-Capital, 2017), there are huge brand opportunities in figuring out how AR games and interfaces can nudge consumer behaviour, drive them to real locations, and create physical brand experiences at scale.
Capitalising on The Business of Wellbeing, luxury British beauty and lifestyle brand Bamford is launching a Wellness Week featuring one-day workshops designed to help visitors better establish balance in their busy lives.
Hosted at the Bamford Haybarn Spa at Daylesford Farm in the Cotswolds, the week (March 19-25 2018) will focus on sleep, gut health and ‘unplugging’ – three core sectors of the wellbeing economy.
The Unplug workshop is designed to quieten the mind, and a talk by anxiety expert and hypnotherapist Chloe Brotheridge will arm visitors with techniques to aid calm in everyday life. Gut Health will explore how bacteria in the gut affects our immune system, ageing and hormonal health.
The Sleep Healthy workshop was inspired by the growing number of consumers who don’t get the recommended seven hours of rest a night. More than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis (CDC, 2016). The expertise of yoga instructors, psychologists, therapists and nutritionists will feature throughout the day, which will include crystal bowl sound healing and one-on-one reiki sessions.
Sleep (and the lack of it) is a growing concern for consumers. Americans will spend an estimated $52bn on sleep aids by 2020 (BCC Research, 2016). For more on beauty sleep opportunities, see Beauty 360 and Brands Boost Beauty Sleep.
Bamford’s initiative cleverly propels it into the lucrative wellbeing space – establishing the brand as a pillar of education and self-improvement. For more on this, see Monetising Mindfulness and Neom Organics' Wellbeing Schools.
French tech start-up Aveine has developed a digital, smartphone-connected wine aerator that instantly aerates the wine to the user's liking when poured from the bottle.
The spout, which fits over the top of the wine bottle, works by pushing a controlled amount of air through the wine as it's poured, regulating how much air touches the liquid's surface. This produces the same chemical reaction normally achieved by slowly decanting.
The aerator allows the consumer to select up to 24 hours of equivalent decanting time via a digital display, and shows the wine temperature. Consumers can also scan the wine label using a corresponding app to receive a suggested aeration time for the specific variety and vintage.
The Aveine Aerator will launch in March 2018 and cost $200.
It's the latest in a host of innovative product launches for enthusiastic but time-poor at-home foodies, as discussed in-depth in our report Activating At-Home Foodies – part of our Kitchen of the Future Industry Trend.
See also Fluid Flavours, Reframing Wine and Alcohol Trends 2017 for a wider look at developments shaping the beverage space, as well as Wine-Preserving Decanter and Letterbox-Friendly Wine Packaging for other recent innovations.
Reinforcing its reputation as a bold activist brand, California-based outdoor apparel label Patagonia has launched Patagonia Action Works, a micro-site that connects consumers with grassroots environmental organisations and helps them donate, volunteer or otherwise get involved.
Over the past 35 years, Patagonia has donated nearly $90m to activist groups and trained many young activists, says founder Yvon Chouinard in a video describing the new tool. Now the company is enlisting consumers as collaborators, urging them to “Sign up. Show up. Take action”.
As detailed in Retail’s Activist Brands, an activist stance is becoming an attractive brand attribute. According to a new US and UK study by global PR group Weber Shandwick, consumers have embraced ‘buycotting’ – supporting a brand by intentionally buying from it. Eighty-three per cent of respondents (all of whom were selected for being ‘consumer activists’) agreed that “it’s more important than ever to support companies that do the right thing by buycotting”, while 59% said the same about boycotting brands. The ‘buycotters’ polled had made on average 5.7 supportive purchases over the past two years.
In recent years, Patagonia has published a book called Tools for Grassroots Activists and backed activist documentaries such as 2016’s Unbroken Ground. Last year, to protest US president Trump’s scaling back of public lands in Utah, Patagonia led a successful campaign to move the Outdoor Retailer trade show away from the state (see Stylus’ event coverage). The company declared “The president stole your land" on Instagram and its website, stating it would sue Trump’s administration (see blog).
For more on why consumers are demanding corporate activism, see Brands Take a Stand.
Thailand's cabinet has approved a new Smart Visa in a bid to attract investors, start-up entrepreneurs, high-level executives and skilled professionals.
The Smart Visa does not require a work permit and will give recipients a four-year visa instead of the current one-year option. It also gives dependents the right to live and work in the country and extends the standard 90-day reporting period to immigration to an annual check-in.
According to officials, "the Smart Visa is intended to increase knowledge transfer and skill development in desirable fields such as technology and medicine". Eligible applicants will need to prove a minimum monthly income of 200,000 baht ($6,258). Applications for the visa began on February 1.
Other countries in Southeast Asia are also making efforts to attract digital nomads. Working in partnership with Malaysian urban regeneration group ThinkCity, the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC) is aiming to repopulate Kuala Lumpur's centre by creating co-working spaces that will attract foreign and local creative workers.
"Digital nomads will come in and bring new ideas," said Duncan Cave, ThinkCity's programme manager. "The synergies between them and local Malaysians should be great."
The Work/Life Revolution is gaining momentum across the globe. For more on the flexible workers who are swapping the nine-to-five for a nomadic lifestyle, see Tomorrow's Wandering Workers and Digital Nomads.
US start-up Uplift has launched an app that helps travellers alleviate jet lag naturally, according to the scientists behind the system.
Based on acupressure and neuroscience research, the app offers video tutorials showing users how to activate key points involved in setting the body's circadian rhythms. By performing a 10-minute series of exercises upon arrival, frequent travellers can hack their internal clock to remedy jet lag's draining effects.
An algorithm provides a customised wellness itinerary based on the user's points of origin and arrival, as well as their departure and arrival times. The app identifies two pressure points to press on either side of the body, with most spots located between the elbow and wrist or the knee and ankle. A timer ensures individuals perform the exercises for the correct duration.
Uplift's team of scientists and engineers trialled the service with over 600 frequent travellers, with 92% reporting that engaging acupressure points reduced or alleviated jet lag. An introductory video supplies a crash course on how to harness these pressure points, reducing human error.
The app requires an annual subscription of $9.99 to unlock unlimited access to personalised acupressure itineraries.
Swedish design studio Glimakra’s new Limbus furniture collection explores the use of noise-cancelling acoustic fabric for added functionality in home and office environments.
The label’s Barn design, revealed at Stockholm Design Week 2018, is inspired by the architecture of Finland’s northern Lapland region. Repeating horizontal panels of sound-dampening material mimic timber logs and extend upwards and over to form a wall and ceiling, giving the piece the appearance of a rudimentary hut. The Barn is designed to be used in both a corporate or public setting as an intimate meeting and working area within a larger space.
The brand also exhibited its Greenframe plant holder and room divider. The refined rectangular frame, crafted from timber, features three raised circular platforms to hold potted plants. The top horizontal beam is embedded with lights to accentuate the foliage and imitate the look of a window, offering a soothing biophilic element to the indoors (for more on biophilic design, see Natural Relations in Materialising Modern Work). The frame is the exact length and height as Glimakra’s acoustic partitions, enabling users to interchange plant storage and acoustic panels for a unique and flexible interior landscape.
Glimakra was awarded the gold prize in both Furniture and Office Furniture at this year’s Ambiente consumer goods fair. Stay tuned for our upcoming coverage of the event, publishing on February 22.
For more on the changing perception of silence as a marker of luxury, read Basement Bourgeoisie. For further inspirational examples of noise-cancelling product reimagined in hand-crafted designs and biodegradable fibre, read Blueprint for a Better Workplace.
From mobile app games to retail pop-ups, Chinese New Year (CNY) 2018 is full of inspiration for retailers and brands alike. We highlight some of the best.
Celebrated by one-quarter of the world, CNY is a hugely important trading period for retailers across Asia and tourist hotspots globally. 2018 is the Year of the Dog – prompting a host of canine imagery and influences.
Falling just two days after Valentine’s Day, CNY (February 16) sees Asian retailers and international brands operating in the region focusing on the New Year rather than Valentine’s Day. Retailers and brands engage consumers with pop-up activations, limited-edition products and interactive mobile campaigns to leverage enthusiasm to spend at this time of year. In China alone, total retail sales exceeded $133bn over six days in 2017 (IGD, 2018).
International scientists and researchers are exploiting the capabilities of nanofibres and nanotechnology to produce a new generation of high-performance yarns for clothing and protective armour.
For more materials addressing the need for strength, durability and high performance, see Super Materials: New Innovations. For technical developments within sports apparel and equipment, see ISPO Munich 2018.
Boldly claiming to stimulate and amplify the personality of the wearer, a new range of luxury fragrances by British brand St Giles offers scent profiles that seek to convey the stereotypical traits associated with specific careers.
The five fragrances in its inaugural collection are The Tycoon, The Actress, The Writer, The Mechanic and The Stylist. According to the brand, each unique scent combination reimagines an archetype associated with a career. Influences are also drawn from the founder’s social circle – for instance, The Writer is inspired by Nicola Moulton, the former beauty and health director at British Vogue.
The Writer is sold as a perfume for consumers looking to encourage social change via the written word. The fragrance is designed to bring focus and inspiration to the wearer by incorporating rosemary, which stimulates memory performance. Ginger is used as a top note to enhance the brain’s functionality.
Conveying an array of different personalities through scent is an emerging trend for fragrance houses, with more brands in this category combining multiple sensory pathways to create a novel experience. A good example is Canadian start-up Parfums Jazmin Saraï, which merges a range of musical genres with fine perfumery.
With each of St. Giles’ perfumes evoking a distinctive olfactory experience, users are encouraged to experiment with wearing the scents for different occasions. For instance, creative director Michael Donovan recommends The Actress for those looking to feel glamorous and elegant. For more on this idea, see The Rise of Fragrance Wardrobes.
This clever concept can also be adopted by mass-market brands. US retail giant Target’s new vegan fragrance line is inspired by four personalities: Confident and Charming, Good and Grounded, Vibrant and Playful, and Cool and Collected.
For Valentine’s Day, Swedish beauty tech start-up Foreo has launched a limited-edition gift set exclusively for same-sex couples, offering a refreshingly modern approach to LGBTQ-targeted Valentine’s Day marketing and gifting strategies.
With the launch of its His & His Foreo Issa 2 gift set (which includes two black silicone sonic toothbrushes), the brand is tapping into its inclusive roots. Foreo is short for “for everyone”, with its products aimed at all consumers – regardless of gender, race, age or sexuality.
This all-embracing strategy has been harnessed by brands in the past via advertising campaigns – see & Other Stories’ Valentine’s Campaign and Same-Sex Tiffany Ad Fuels Wider Rebrand. However, the brand asserts that this is the first product launch dedicated to same-sex couples. For more on tapping into the LGBTQ market, see Retailers Capitalise on LGBTQ Pride Celebrations, Marketing to LGBTQ Consumers and Make-Up for the Trans Community.
The silicone toothbrushes themselves showcase innovative design, with flexible heads that adapt to every tooth while gently cleaning teeth and gums. Users can also choose between 16 different tempos, although each speed offers 11,000 high-intensity pulsations per minute to break down plaque gently.
The Valentine’s Day promotion also allows customers to try out the toothbrushes at a discounted rate before their full global release on February 22. For more Valentine’s retail innovations, see Valentine's 2018: Best Digital & In-Store Strategies.