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Published: 15 Dec 2017

Self-Heating Ceramic Cup


LA-based start-up Ember has launched a smart mug that allows the drinker to control the temperature of their beverage via a corresponding app.

Devised in collaboration with US design studio Ammunition, the mug uses Bluetooth to connect to the user's smartphone, through which they can set their preferred temperature up to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. The mug will then maintain that temperature using embedded sensors that relay temperature to a microprocessor in the base. This connects to a heating element to boost the heat or dial it back.

The mug, made from unbreakable double-walled steel with a ceramic shell, automatically turns off if it remains stationary for more than two hours. To recharge, the cup is placed on a matching conductive coaster.

The Ember Ceramic Mug is available via Starbucks and the ember website and retails at $79. For other recent examples of at-home beverage tech, see Ultrasonic Tea-Making Machine, Scented Cup Simulates Flavour and Teforia Smart Brewing Device.

For a deeper investigation into personal food technology beyond the confines of the kitchen, read our report Post-Kitchen Lifestyles, part of our Kitchen of the Future Industry Trend.

Published: 14 Dec 2017

Battle of the Brands: Conquering Platforms

Burger King vs. Taco Bell

To see out the year, we are looking back at some of 2017's most impactful marketing campaigns. And, because we can, we're pitching brand competitors against one another to see who did it best.

In April, Burger King Spain added a team of professional video gamers to its food delivery service, bringing its product straight into consumers' nightly gaming sessions. The global fast-food chain's Burger Clan of nine professional gamers entered weekend online sessions of FIFA '17, Call of Duty and other popular titles, giving recreational gamers the honour of playing with them before taking their food delivery orders at the end of the session.

In July, Taco Bell went all out with a finishing touch for the late-night reveller's journey home. In collaboration with ride-hailing service Lyft, the US chain introduced Taco Mode to Lyft customers' riding experience. Passengers had the option to activate Taco Mode in the app en route, adding a stop at a Taco Bell to their journey – including one free taco.

Burger King's limited run was an elaborate project that built brand loyalty by introducing hobby gamers to pros. But Taco Bell's Lyft partnership came with a frictionless user experience that slotted more naturally into the customer's day – who wouldn't want a taco after drinks? Such consideration for an organic overall experience makes Taco Bell the winner.

For more on in-the-moment engagement, see Third Spaces: Targeting the Transitory. To stay up to date with digital platforms and gaming culture, follow our Pop Culture Round-Ups.

Published: 13 Dec 2017

Facial Recognition Tech: 2018 Could Be Crunch Year

Facial Recognition

The use of in-store facial recognition technology to target customers has moved on a step, although a welter of concerns about consumer privacy may make its broad adoption problematic. We expect it to be a talking point across retail in 2018.

In the latest move, Facebook has submitted a patent for in-store facial recognition tech that provides retail staff with customer information drawn from social media profiles, delivering a hyper-personalised service.

The biometric algorithm links to in-store cameras and matches their images of shoppers with those on Facebook in order to identify them. Retailers gather info about facially recognised shoppers via a dashboard. Facebook has also patented technology that can identify shoppers’ moods by their faces, analysing their emotions and sending push notifications to staff – see also Reflexive Retail: Live, Emotional & On-Demand.

Facial recognition technology is already used by some retailers, including American department store Saks Fifth Avenue, enabling the cross-referencing of shoplifters against databases.

Facebook is also currently trialling a log-in feature with US focus groups. Users who have forgotten their log-in details can scan their faces via smartphone cameras, with the results matched against profile images to grant access within seconds. It could be rolled out to Facebook’s two billion users (Facebook, 2017) from 2018.

But privacy legislation – as well as public wariness about data-capture technology – remains a major obstacle, with some 67% of US consumers finding facial recognition creepy (RichRelevance, 2016). Meanwhile, EU legislation is a barrier for adoption in Europe.

An ongoing American biometric privacy lawsuit is perceived as a major test case. If Facebook loses, it could have to seek users’ consent to make, use, trade and decode biometric data sets. 

Published: 12 Dec 2017

Plant Life Balance: AR Gardening App

Plant Life Balance

Australian non-profit Horticulture Innovation Australia has created an app called Plant Life Balance to encourage more people to surround themselves with plants and improve their physical and mental wellbeing.

Released in October 2017, the app lets users check their home's current "plant life balance" rating based on the number and size of their plants, and helps them find out how healthy their space makes them. It then suggests different plants that would suit the space and, using augmented reality (AR), lets people see what they would look like in their home.

The app also offers seven professionally styled "living looks" that fit different tastes and needs. For example, Sharehouse Heroes is designed for those who live with housemates and need low-maintenance plants. Users can virtually try the different plants in their homes, receive analysis on their benefits and add the ones they like to a shopping list to take to their local nursery.

The company worked with scientists at RMIT University in Melbourne and found that a single plant can improve indoor air quality by 25%, as it removes airborne toxins. They also found that plants increase mental wellbeing by improving mood and concentration.

In the past decade, internet searches for "best air purifier" and "air-quality index" rose by more than 750% (Nissan, 2016). People are increasingly surrounding themselves with plants to relax and escape tech overwhelm. For more on urban gardeners and the brands that respond to their needs, see Nature Embracers.

Published: 8 Dec 2017

Baidu Launches AI Accessories for Chinese Home


China’s largest search engine Baidu has released its own voice-activated smart speaker – the first in an upcoming range of artificially intelligent (AI) home tech – called the Raven H. The device is better able to decipher and communicate in the region’s languages than its competitors.

A bright, multicoloured stack of square segments, the Raven H looks quite unlike other connected home products on offer, which are decidedly minimal in design.

The speaker will be welcomed by the Chinese market, which has not yet been firmly claimed by Western leaders in smart home tech such as Amazon and Google – partly due to Google services being restricted in the country. It also has access to Baidu’s extensive data bank of online resources to play music, report on the news and weather, and connect to local services – such as Chinese ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing

The Raven H marks Baidu’s entrance into AI home technology following its acquisition of Chinese appliance company Raven earlier this year. The device will be followed by the Raven R – a smart robot with six moveable joints to better express human-like emotion; and the Raven Q (still in development) – expected to be a home assistant robot with security-monitoring capabilities that responds to visuals and audio.

Read Internet of Home Comforts for more on tech integrating home environments to offer consumers unprecedented security and control. For more on emerging visual trends and digital enhancements in home entertainment technology, see CES 2017: Colour, Material & Finish.

Published: 8 Dec 2017

Retail: New Store Navigation Tools

Gatwick Airport

With consumers turning to their phones for information (83% believe this makes them more knowledgeable than store associates – Tulip Retail, 2017), shrewd brands are making mobile the default in-store interface. We highlight 2017’s best innovations for product detection and route navigation.

  • Lowe’s In-Store Sat Nav: American home improvement brand Lowe’s has partnered with Google’s advanced augmented reality (AR) technology Tango to upgrade the indoor navigation tool on its shopping app. This uses camera devices to overlay images onto a physical space in real time.

    The Lowe’s Vision concept uses motion tracking, area learning (where the tech ‘sees’ and ‘remembers’ key visual features of a physical space) and depth perception to boost search in two US stores based in Sunnyvale, California and Lynwood, Washington.

    Users simply input products into the search bar; the phone then guides them to the right spot by overlaying directional prompts onto what they’re seeing in their camera’s viewfinder. This part of the app is only accessible to those with Tango-enabled smartphones (currently Asus ZenFone AR and Lenovo Phab 2 Pro).

    See also Gap x Tango: Advanced AR Dressing Room Concept and US Homeware Brands Embrace AR
  • Text, Visual & Speech-Triggered Search: American DIY brand The Home Depot has launched a search tool on its app that allows consumers to search its physical and online inventory in real time, guiding them to in-store items on a map. This means shoppers can buy the products online if they’re unavailable in-store. 

    It understands both text and visuals – pictures can be taken via the in-app camera function, or uploaded from the user’s camera roll. If there are no direct matches, it will recommend items closest in appearance. There’s also voice search; users can either say their requests as usual or, somewhat amazingly, mimic the noise the tool would make. See also Redefining DIY.
Lowe's X Google Tango
Lowe's X Google Tango
The Home Depot
The Home Depot
The Home Depot
  • Bluetooth-Enabled Self-Steered Shop Navigation: German electronics brand Saturn has also integrated in-store product locating into its mobile app. Powered by Bluetooth technology, a map shows users’ positions in real time and by choosing a specific product, offers a route directly to the right shelf. It’s currently being trialled in its Ingolstadt flagship in Germany.

    Similarly, in 2016, luxury London department store Harrods added a beacon-powered store navigation tool to its mobile app. It connects to a user’s phone or tablet through Bluetooth, highlighting their location on the interactive map. In this instance shoppers search by brand, with the software tracing a relevant line for them to follow through the store. It was developed by British technologists Pointr Labs.
  • Text-Based Wayfinding Tool: Also playing on the ability to navigate spaces autonomously is French DIY retailer Leroy Merlin’s Maia, launched in 2016. The text-message-based chatbot responds to customer questions about the location of products when a staff member isn’t available, or when shoppers prefer not to navigate the store alone. The helpline number is displayed on the brand’s website as well as on in-store graphics and staff jackets. The tech was developed by French digital agency Phoceis
  • AR Compass for Airport Retail: London’s Gatwick Airport has introduced an AR wayfinding tool to help travellers navigate its terminals. Also developed by Pointr Labs and currently embedded in the airport’s app, the phone’s camera is used to view directions laid directly over what they’re seeing on screen to find check-in areas, departure gates and baggage belts. A roll-out of the technology to other airline apps is planned for 2018.

    Powered by beacon technology, this presents a key marketing opportunity for retailers; its geo-aware capacity means it could send travellers that have opted in ads or real-time offers when sensing they’re close by. The concept is highly applicable to mall retailing. See also Travel Retail: Trends & Innovations and New-Wave Airports.
Leroy Merlin
Gatwick Airport
Published: 5 Dec 2017

Mitipi: Virtual Roommate Prevents Crime


Zurich-based start-up Mitipi has created a smart device that prevents burglaries by simulating human presence in your home, even when you are away.

The device uses acoustics to give the impression that a place is never empty. It can copy everyday noises such as phone calls, barking dogs, conversations, showers and cooking sounds.

Mitipi features a lamp that projects moving shadows onto walls to further imitate human presence. It can also control light fixtures, turning them on and off to mirror the way people move through their homes.

Users can remotely control the device through an accompanying app. Although still a prototype, the device will go into production in 2018.

Burglaries are still a big issue: more than 400,000 burglaries took place in the UK in the past year (Office of National Statistics, 2017). However, consumers expect smart home technology to change that, with 73% of millennial women in the US seeing these smart devices as a way to protect their homes (TecHome Builder, 2016).

For more on smart home technology and the devices that cater to our everyday needs, see the Internet of Home Comforts.

Published: 4 Dec 2017

Sous Vide Meal Delivery


San Francisco start-up FirstChop is launching a new meat-based meal-kit delivery concept for enthusiastic foodies that draws on the sous vide cooking technique.

As of this month, customers can buy a starter kit that contains a sous vide wand (a device that heats and circulates water) and ten frozen and vacuum-packed portions of meat.Choices include braised short rib (pre-cooked for 16 hours), black garlic pork loin, petit beef medallions and Peruvian grilled chicken.

To prepare the meat, home cooks simply need to place it in hot water along with the wand for the specified time.

The starter kit costs $139, while a family box of 24 servings costs $129 and a box of 14 portions can be ordered on a month-by-month basis for $79.

This is the latest in a series of new meal kits based around a specific device, with US start-up Tovala's cloud-connected countertop oven and meal-delivery kits offering another recent example of this thinking.

For more exciting kitchen-tech developments and meal delivery options for enthusiastic at-home chefs, see Activating At-Home Foodies – part of our Kitchen of The Future Industry Trend.

See also Meal Kits for New Mums, Hershey Taps US Meal Kit Growth and Natal Nutrition for more examples of brands tapping into niche consumer demographics to consolidate their place in a crowded meal kit market.

Published: 4 Dec 2017

Singapore to Use Self-Driving Buses by 2022

Singapore's self-drivng buses

Singapore is set to introduce driverless buses to three neighbourhoods by 2022. The autonomous vehicles (AVs) will provide first- and last-mile connections for commuters who live in these neighbourhoods.

The Singaporean government has already implemented policies to promote public transport, which has resulted in less traffic congestion compared to other cities in the region. It recently announced that from 2018, no more new cars will be added to its roads, extending this ban to buses by 2021. This explains why the country is striving to become a leader in driverless technologies, with at least 10 companies testing AV technology in Singapore.

Transport minister Khaw Boon Wan expects that the driverless buses "will greatly enhance the accessibility and connectivity of our public transport system, particularly for the elderly and the less mobile". He also announced that piloting AVs in these three areas would provide insights into how to plan for their future safe mass deployment, since "the biggest challenge for AVs is not the development of the technology, but how we can safely incorporate it into our living environment".

AVs are expected to be part of our everyday life in the future: by 2030, 15% of all new vehicles sold will be fully autonomous (McKinsey, 2016). For more on the latest innovations in transport, see CES 2017: Automotive and Radical Transport.

Published: 1 Dec 2017

Fashion Resale Market Gets Holiday Boost


Holiday resale opportunities are amplifying the already-lucrative thrifting market, with fashion consignment service ThredUp reporting a 34% increase in product arrivals between November 2016 and January 2017– likely due to unwanted Holiday gifts.

More than two million items were sent to the brand from its sellers during the 2016 Holiday season – 200,000 of which still had their tags on. Popular ‘return’ items included designer denim, North Face outerwear and fast-fashion pieces from brands like Missguided – while ‘simple styles’ were resold the least.

The surge in Holiday-focused resale goes hand in hand with a widespread consumer push for more resourceful fashion consumption – a key driver for Gen Z. Bolstered by cool recommerce sites like Depop, these consumers are increasingly utilising the new-found ease of resale – with the market forecast to grow by 11% a year, reaching $33bn by 2021.

For more on sustainable retail solutions, see The New Fashion Landscape 2017 Update: Sustainable 360, Retail: Reframing Sustainability and Redefining (Fast) Fashion.  

Published: 1 Dec 2017

Estée Lauder x Google: Voice-Activated Beauty

Esteé Lauder

This month, Estée Lauder is launching a new venture that will feed personalised beauty advice to consumers via Google Assistant on the voice-activated Google Home device, showcasing an interesting new retail and consumer engagement model. 

The Estée Lauder Nighttime Expert app will offer a chat-based experience to establish a bespoke evening skincare routine through a series of questions and answers. It ends by encouraging users to try the Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Recovery Complex II serum for free at an Estée Lauder counter.

Offering 24/7 tailored assistance at home while simultaneously driving consumers in-store, the platform could be adopted successfully by wider beauty retailers, such as Sephora. Bespoke beauty concepts are known to work best when online and offline experiences are combined – see Decoded Beauty: Engaging Beauty Consumers and Bespoke Beauty: New Retail Strategies for more. 

In a similar move, Amazon is partnering with mass-market derma brand Eucerin, helping consumers find the right product for problematic skin using its voice-activated Alexa home assistant.

Beauty brands that capitalised on personalisation in 2015 alone saw double to triple-digit growth, contributing to a 3.8% increase in sales of cosmetics and toiletries (Kline, 2016). For more on the importance of personalisation, customisation and diagnostic offerings in this industry, see Future Beauty: Perfecting Bespoke.

Published: 1 Dec 2017

Dubai Airport’s Aquarium-Themed Security

Dubai International Airport

Dubai International Airport is swapping its traditional security desks for a 'virtual aquarium' fitted with facial recognition cameras.

As passengers pass through the tunnel and look at the virtual fish, their faces and irises will be scanned by 80 surrounding cameras. When they reach the end, they will either be cleared by a sign that reads 'Have a nice trip', or stopped by a red sign that says 'Wait' – in which case security will be alerted.

According to Major Gen Obaid Al Hameeri, deputy director general of Dubai residency and foreign affairs, this new check-in system will not only add an element of entertainment for passengers, but will also increase the quality of the image taken by capturing the whole face from different angles.

Created in partnership with Dubai-based airline Emirates, the first of the new virtual walkways will open in Terminal 3 by the end of summer 2018. It will be rolled out across the rest of the airport by 2020 to process the 124 million passengers expected to pass through that year.

This is an inventive example of how airports are investing in cutting-edge tech and furnishing terminals with references to nature, as recently discussed in New-Wave Airports.

See also Agile Airlines Reshape Travel for a comprehensive update on innovation across the airline space, as well as The Empowered Customer Journey for more seamless and personalised travel experiences.

Published: 30 Nov 2017

Smartphone Deletes Content After 24 Hours

Swiss manufacturer Zenum Technologies has created Breve, a mobile phone that erases its content within 24 hours to help online communications become more ephemeral.

The phone was created in response to increasing anxiety around the permanence of information shared on the internet. Reframing mobile content as fleeting and temporary enables users to be more impulsive in what and how they communicate online, and to embrace content that is imperfect and candid.

Users can choose whether images, messages or call histories self-destruct, and can customise the number of seconds, minutes or hours (within a 24-hour period) that they wish their content to exist. The user can be ‘full ephemeral’ – opting for all content to be deleted, or ‘half ephemeral’ – allowing some to remain, including contacts, agendas, alarms and maps. Breve can also access their social media accounts and is able to automatically delete images or posts shared online.

Further, the user is able to configure their Breve mobile device to create multiple ‘personas’, with different settings saved according to the user’s specific schedule and geographic location.

Breve is also aimed at commercial clients. Zenum Technologies suggests that by embracing ephemerality, brands can create a sense of exclusivity and timeliness – such as by sharing temporary coupons or discounts that inspire a feverish call to action among consumers.

Read Mindful Automation and Digital Disruption: Wired Live 2017 for more on brands using digital innovation to respond to shifting social and experiential landscapes. For more on integrated technologies that increase user focus and encourage wellbeing, see Circuit.

Published: 28 Nov 2017

GDPR Myth-Busting

GDPR Forum, London

The GDPR Forum in London aimed to demystify GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations), an act coming into force in the EU in May 2018. GDPR imposes new rules around the use of personal data, which includes the sort of consumer data collected and processed by businesses and start-ups. "It's going to change the way you interact both as an individual and as an organisation online," said David Lockie, Founder & Director of UK digital agency Pragmatic.

All the speakers agreed that GDPR offers a big opportunity for marketers to get ahead of the scare stories and use the new regulations as a way of building stronger relationships with consumers.

"[Brands and] agencies have a role to play in safeguarding the people who use the services we build," commented Lockie. "We have a responsibility to help you limit your risks."

Key takeaways for brands in any industry:

  • Put people and process first: "There is no turnkey tech solution to GDPR compliance," said IT lawyer Dan Hedley. As such, brands need to stop thinking that "IT will sort it out" and ensure the implications and opportunities of GDPR are embraced at every level of your business.
  • You may need a Data Protection Officer: Privacy Technologist and Entrepreneur Gilbert Hill claimed there is a shortfall of 30,000 in the UK in the run-up to GDPR becoming law. Brands need to create a space where the DPO "is empowered and has sufficient independence to avoid conflicts of interest," said Hill, and to "foster a culture where data privacy is an inside job, and valued."
  • Don't obsess over consent: Many see GDPR as an obstacle for data-driven marketing, as consent for companies to use consumer data must be "freely given" and "specific and informed." Hedley suggested this is something of a red herring, as there are five other bases for processing personal data that will cover most marketers' activities, including "legitimate interests" (i.e. you have a legitimate business need that necessitates data capture).
  • Be a superhero brand: "Businesses who grasp this challenge [of GDPR] will find that it gives them superbrand powers," commented Hill. They need to be transparent with consumers about what's happening with the data they process, inform them in accessible language (GDPR should put an end to impenetrable T&Cs), and be able to return that data if the customer opts out.

See Dimensions of Trust for more on effective use of consumer data in marketing and advertising.

Published: 27 Nov 2017

Kozhya Air: Reinventing Active Skincare

Kozhya Air

German start-up Kozhya has created a new portable skincare atomiser that uses pressure-based technology to break active ingredients into micro-particles for better skin absorption.

Designed by Russian entrepreneur Yoanna Gouchtchina and manufactured by laboratories in Germany and Switzerland, Kozhya Air is filled with the brand's own serum, with a small nozzle spraying a fine mist onto the skin for two to three minutes. The hands-free application is not only advantageous for users with sensitive skin, but also combats product waste since excess serum is not left on the fingers.

Gouchtchina created a serum in the form of a capsule for use in the atomiser, developing a formulation that contains high-quality EU-regulated natural active ingredients. These include marine algae, which enables skin to retain its moisture content, and antioxidant reishi mushrooms that boost cell turnover and reduce inflammation. According to the brand, benefits include unclogged pores, firmer skin and smoother lines.

Consumers are becoming increasingly mindful of ingredients being absorbed into their skin, and the global organic beauty market is set to be worth just under $22bn by 2024 (Persistence Market Research, 2016). For more on this and how brands must strive for total honesty with consumers, see Transparent Beauty: Valuing Best Practice.

Currently pending a US patent, Kozhya Air hopes to cater to a new era of consumers who are seeking high-tech, time-saving solutions with powerful results – as explored in Battling Busyness. For more on time-saving beauty and portable packaging solutions, see Agile Beauty and Packaging Futures: Fast Consumption.