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Published: 14 Aug 2018

Google Goes Medical with Temperature-Tracking Earphones

Nick Fewings

Seventy-five per cent of Americans think that technology is important to health management (Accenture, 2018). Google thinks so too, as it patented a pair of "In-Ear Health Monitoring" earphones in July. By using a reward system to encourage daily readings, Google hopes to tackle global health concerns, one wearer at a time.

While wearers consume their usual audio content via smartphones, tablets and smartwatches, Google's new biometric earphones collect data such as their body temperature. To complete a reading, they simply need to listen for the duration of a temperature equalisation period – the time it takes for the device to take an accurate reading. Through frequent use, the information tracks the wearer's bodily norms.

The log of information has real potential for early detection of illnesses such as contagious diseases. For example, if the body were to show abnormal readings against the existing database, such as a higher body temperature, the wearer would be alerted to possible infection.

As 90% of current wearable health technology users are happy to share their device data with their doctor, this could enable swift diagnosis (Accenture, 2018). Early detection is key to survival rates during health epidemics such as the 2013-15 Ebola breakout, where diseases have protracted incubation periods (WHO, 2018).

The patent suggests that Google will include incentives such as access to media content, financial compensation and discounts to encourage users to record their body data regularly.

With consumers showing a growing interest in monitoring their health via wearable devices, brands should invest in innovative technologies and product interfaces to facilitate this demand. For more on health tech, see Wearable Technology Show.

Published: 9 Aug 2018

Brands Supporting Menstrual Health Set to Succeed


New brands and products are emerging to support women during their menstrual cycles. The most noteworthy target the pill's unpleasant side effects, offer tailored subscription services, and facilitate supportive, stigma-slaying communities.

US menstrual health start-up Hello.Me launched its Top Up Tonic in July 2018. It comprises a 30-day supply of vitamin capsules to combat pill-related nutrient deficiencies which cause bloating, headaches and poor mental health. Brands are beginning to address the latter in particular (see Moody: Tracking Menstruation & Mood). It's a smart strategy: 25% of US women stopped taking the pill or considered doing so because of its negative side effects (Cosmopolitan, 2018).

Products that challenge lingering taboos regarding periods and mental health are set to succeed, given that around one in 20 British women's premenstrual symptoms are severe enough to stop them living their normal lives (NHS, 2017).

Meanwhile in New Zealand, subscription service Luna offers a monthly delivery of pads, liners and tampons, depending on which stage of life the user is in – from first-timers to menstrual veterans.

Each of Luna's four 'phase' product bundles caters to the changing needs of women throughout their menstrual experience. For example, the New Moon phase – for young women experiencing their first period – contains a selection of products so users can experiment and discover what suits them. Customers can purchase one-off bundles or sync a monthly delivery with their personal cycle.

Launched in February 2018, the service is supplemented by a menstruation FAQ blog, LiveChat and a supportive mailing list community – all aimed at busting myths and offering period-related education.

For more on the services helping us tune into and manage our natural rhythms, see Rhythm of Life: Brands in Tempo. To read about the tech treatments empowering people with mental health issues, see Nurturing Mental Health.

Updated: 7 Aug 2018

Amazon’s New Feature Promises Stress-Free DIY

Barn Images

Worldwide, 37% of people enjoy constructing items for their home, but 21% fear starting a project over concern they'll be unable able to finish it (Ikea, 2017). Amazon's new Part Finder feature streamlines DIY projects by solving the snag of missing parts.

Launched in July 2018, Amazon's Part Finder is a visual search tool available on its app that simplifies DIY by recognising and sourcing vital missing pieces – such as screws, nuts and bolts – without a visit to the hardware store.

Users select the camera button on Amazon's search bar and position any screw or similar on a flat surface next to a penny for size reference. After the phone is tilted to ensure the whole item is effectively captured, Amazon analyses the object with computer vision technology to identify it. The recognition technology accurately matches the scanned item with options from Amazon's extensive product database, removing the worry of buying the wrong item online. The feature is currently available on iOS and will expand to Android soon.

Despite 79% of US consumers using the internet to shop, 64% indicate that they prefer buying from physical stores to online shopping (Pew, 2016). Amazon's Part Finder tech provides a user-friendly interface that has the potential to make online shopping more appealing than a physical store experience when it comes to DIY.

It's also likely to appeal to the 27% of US consumers who consider themselves DIYers (Mintel, 2016), and who are looking for ways to make light work of home-improvement tasks – as discussed in Impatient Upskillers.

As people show growing interest in getting their hands dirty and 'hacking' domestic spaces, brands should offer customisable furnishing options or tools that support at-home projects. For more on strategies that target people prioritising DIY home improvements, see Here Come the Homebodies.

Published: 2 Aug 2018

Citymapper Improves Urban Journeys with ‘Floating Transport’


A new kind of public transport with no set stops or infrastructure is simplifying the daily commute. UK journey-planning service Citymapper has added dockless cycles and scooters to its app in a bid to improve urban journeys with what it calls 'floating transport'.

'Floating transport' refers to new travel options that complement existing urban transportation. Among them are station-free bike-sharing companies including Ofo, Mobike, Lime and Jump; electric scooter rentals such as Bird and Spin; and car-sharing services like Car2Go. Travellers are charged by the minute and vehicles are tracked by GPS – allowing them to be left anywhere thanks to automatic locking when a trip ends. The vehicle is then reactivated once a new user unlocks it with the company's app.

Citymapper is integrating such services into its journey-mapping app in a multimodal way. For example, a user will be able to see whether it's quicker to take an Ofo bike or the bus, based on how far the nearest bicycle is, and which is the most cost-efficient option. This could increase the use of existing infrastructure by solving the last-mile problem of public transport. "If the trip to the local train station goes from a 15-minute walk to a five-minute scooter ride, then it improves access," reads Citymapper's blog.

A whopping 67% of non-car owners in London believe there's no need to own one, regardless of their age or where they live (UCL, 2018). It's a good indicator that floating transport is here to stay, so it's crucial that cities find ways to seamlessly integrate these companies within their urban mobility networks. See Smart Cities: High-Octane Hubs and Digital Disruption:Wired Live 2017 for more on the transformation of transport.

Updated: 30 Jul 2018

New Smartphones Set to Make Blockchain Mainstream


Smartphone manufacturers are racing to bring blockchain-driven benefits to consumers. The latest devices are set to make the technology mainstream by using it to boost security, enable easier crypto trading and offer entertainment.

Available to pre-order from Q3 2018 for around $1,000, HTC's Exodus is the first blockchain phone from a major phone manufacturer. The phone's key selling point is its elevated security, as owners are able to secure their data – including blockchain currencies – on the device instead of the cloud, where information is easier to extract or tamper with. Its arrival is well-timed, given the current scrutiny for security and data privacy, as outlined in Safeguarding Security.

In another bid to bring blockchain-powered applications to the masses, the company plans to add the blockchain game CryptoKitties to its devices, starting with the soon-to-be-released (non-blockchain) phone HTC U12 Plus.

"Blockchain will not go mainstream until it's about entertainment. It needs to delight consumers," said Charles Silver, chief executive of US advertising platform Algebraix, at this year's Blockchain Expo. HTC's inclusion of this form of entertainment will not only build anticipation around the Exodus launch, but also promises wider adoption of blockchain in mobile devices generally.

Another game-changing example is blockchain-powered phone Finney from UK start-up Sirin Labs, announced prior to the Exodus. Due for release in November 2018 for around $1,000, it allows owners to manage their cryptocurrency trading and storage more easily, and acts as a tamper-proof e-wallet. This will be a particularly popular feature, given growing interest in trading cryptocurrencies. In the US, 38% of male millennials would rather invest $1,000 in Bitcoin than the stock market (Blockchain Capital, 2017).

Along with blockchain's potential, it's important that companies are aware of its pitfalls, too – see 5 Key Blockchain Questions Answered, Blockchain Summit 2018: The Future of Crypto and Blockchain Expo London 2018.

Published: 25 Jul 2018

US Cities Push for Age-Friendly Businesses

The global population aged over 60 is expected to double by 2050

By 2035, Americans aged 65-plus will outnumber children – accounting for 23.5% of the population, compared with 15% today (US Census, 2018). Readying for this demographic shift, savvy cities are pushing local businesses to understand and adopt age-friendly practices.

These include training staff about ageism and respectful communication, creating accessible and safe spaces with clear signage and good lighting, and ensuring materials (menus, for example) are easy to read.

Portland, Oregon – where over-65s will increase by 106% to more than 500,000 by 2030 (AARP, 2018) – has launched the Age-Friendly Business Awards. These are supported by AARP, a US non-profit working to empower people aged 50 and up.

Boston's new Age and Dementia-Friendly Business designation offers qualifying local businesses certificates and decals to advertise their inclusive policies. Boston is aiming to become the best US city for older adults within three years. Other cities, including Columbus, Ohio, are creating age-friendly business directories.

America's ageing population mirrors the global trend: the 60-plus cohort worldwide is expected to double by 2050 (United Nations, 2017). Catering to this population is becoming a business imperative, requiring meaningful understanding about the limitations and realities of ageing.

Many improvements, like using larger fonts, are easily implemented. Chinese e-commerce brand Taobao's senior-friendly app is a good example of how to appeal to members of the ageing population who are keen to participate in the digital economy.

For standout strategies on senior-friendly store design and inclusive services, see Empathetic Brand Engagement. Refer to the Silver Settlers section of New Metropolitans to explore how ageing cities are giving brands opportunities to create new business models.

Published: 24 Jul 2018

What Happens After Robots Take Our Jobs?

As many as 1.8 billion jobs that exist today are likely to be replaced by robots and AI in the future

Research indicates that half of today's work activities could be automated in the next 20 years (McKinsey, 2017). Brands need to prepare for this new reality by investing in human soft skills – such as problem-solving and creativity – to complement the growing number of robotic workers.

A July 2018 paper from the Center for Global Development explores the impact of artificial labour – including artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics – in the labour market and suggests ways to adapt. Highlights include:

  • Decline in Job Security: As many as 1.8 billion jobs that exist today – or two-thirds of the total jobs in developing countries – are likely to be replaced by robots and AI in the future. Contrary to popular narrative, rather than causing mass unemployment, this is more likely to decrease wages in low- and medium-skilled jobs, as these are the roles that will face the most competition from automation
  • Automation-Reversing Policies: Brands should note that some developing countries are expected to impose measures that would reverse the trend of automation – for example, taxes and regulation making the manufacturing or importing of products made by robots prohibitively costly. These measures, termed "quasi-Luddite" in the paper, are not likely to be sustainable though, as they would make the economies of these countries non-competitive in the global market.
  • Invest in Skills: To bolster the effects of automation, companies should focus on developing the quintessentially human skills of their workers, as explained in Career Pioneers. As automation increases, the ability to keep learning throughout life becomes critical. It's never been a better time for brands to position themselves as educational allies, whether by creating platforms to connect consumers to super-mentors or igniting creativity through next-gen tech.

For more information on the impact of robotics and AI on the future of work, see Empowering Tomorrow’s Workforce.

Published: 20 Jul 2018

Consent Wearable Targets Assault in US Colleges


There is an epidemic of alcohol-driven sexual assault in American college campuses. New wearable blood-alcohol monitor Buzz helps college students stay safe while having fun, by digitising consent and alerting the wearer's chosen contacts when assistance is needed.

Created by US design firm New Deal Design and OB-GYN Dr. Jennifer Lang, the Buzz wristband analyses the wearer's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) through their skin and records it on an accompanying app.

Wearers build a community of friends on their app, creating a ready-made support group in case of over-intoxication. The wristband physically alerts the wearer to elevated levels of intoxication via vibrations and flashing lights. Additionally, it sends notifications to the wearer's friends through the app, alerting them if there is a risk to their friend's physical wellbeing.

Buzz wearers can link their device to a date's while on a night out by bumping them together. From that point, both their BAC levels and locations will be monitored, and they can control the pace of interaction through messages sent via the device. For example, a triple tap on the band sends a "good vibes" message, while a tap and hold sends a "back off, we're moving too fast" notification.

Planned for release in 2019, the band will be free with a $1/month app subscription fee.

Buzz taps into a user's biology to provide a personal service to the wearer – an evolution of the consent-tech apps and digital contracts discussed in our Female Sexuality in Focus report. Considering some consent-tech applications have been criticised for victim blaming, the safety device's emphasis on the health and wellbeing aspect of wearers is a smart strategy.

Consumers are increasingly investing in personal safety devices, especially given the growing conversation around the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. For more on this area of growing opportunity, see Safeguarding Security and CES 2018: Female Safety Devices.

Published: 11 Jul 2018

40-Plus Sisterhoods: Women Remaking Midlife

More than 80% of American women over 40 feel younger, sexier or cooler than they'd expected to

A wave of supportive heroine hubs is emerging as Gen X and boomer women reinvent middle age with a positive, open and youthful spirit. More than 80% of American women aged over 40 feel younger, sexier or cooler than they'd expected to (Fancy, 2018). Brands need to catch up to this new reality.

Craving Community & Counsel

We've been talking about the rise of heroine hubs – supportive women-only platforms – for a while (see Power Girls). Now, middle-aged women are filling a void and creating platforms focused on this stage in life.

  • Support Crews: Started as a private Facebook group in 2015, New Yorker Nina Lorez Collins' What Would Virginia Woolf Do? is a "sisterhood of literary minded feminists over 40 who offer each other support, resources, inspiration and humour". Thanks to the recently published companion book, the group tripled in size this year to become a 20,000-plus-strong, highly engaged global cohort. Regional subgroups support local connections.
    Launched this year, CoveyClub is an online/offline lifestyle forum with an upbeat tone. The group is for "women who feel... they are living the best years of their lives" and has an emphasis on career support and midlife reinvention. Founder Lesley Jane Seymour, long-time editor of now-defunct US women's magazine More, is seeking brand partnerships. Paying members gain access to CoveyClub's private Facebook page and discounts on recommended products.
    In the Groove, a lifestyle-focused online venture for "age-defying women", is in the works from Susan Feldman – co-founder of US e-commerce brand One Kings Lane.
  • Menopause Spotlight: A new openness around the menopause, especially in the UK, is fuelling new supportive forums. Meg Mathews, a former face of Britpop, launched MegsMenopause in 2017 to break stigmas and empower women with more information. Its Instagram account has accumulated more than 14,000 followers, and the forum held its first conference in London last month. Meanwhile, Scottish non-profit Menopause Café promotes real-life conversation and community. Since it launched in June 2017, 38 café events have attracted about 500 attendees.
Nina Lorez Collins
What Would Virginia Woolf Do?
Susan Feldman
Covey Club

Smarter Media & Marketing

While boomer women (aged 54 to 72) are 'reinventing life past 50' (J. Walter Thompson, 2018), only occasionally do brands reflect this new reality.

  • Brands Lagging: More than three-quarters of American females say brands play a negative role in perceptions of women over the age of 40 – and 80% say they underestimate their intelligence (Fancy, 2018). Brands need to be more inclusive, stop assuming older women want to be 25 again, and recognise their growing diversity in terms of career status and family (no kids, young kids or an empty nest).
  • How to Get it Right: A savvy take on middle age comes from Chico's, the American apparel chain targeting boomer women. Launched in February, its How Bold Are You? campaign promotes a pivot to more youthful styles and takes a new feisty tone for the brand. A commercial embodies this through music (Bold, by Californian group The Highfields) and on-screen copy such as: 'When they tell me to lower my hemline, I tell them where to go. I'm not growing older. I'm growing bolder.'
    Biannual fashion magazine Renaissance exclusively features models over 40 in unretouched images. The mission is to 'celebrate the revival of midlife' and 'show the beauty of age'. The London agency behind it, Renaissance Creative, aims to help brands engage more meaningfully with 40-plus women. See also Vogue Italia Champions Women Over 60.

In forums such as What Would Virginia Woolf Do? and MegsMenopause, the tone is optimistic and positive, but frank about the challenges unique to this life stage. Women are seeking the same from brands: vibrant, multidimensional portrayals and a meaningful grasp of their difficulties, along with new solutions.

For more strategies to help achieve this, see Mature Beauty: Entering a New Age, The New Fashion Landscape 2017 Update: Diversity Rules and A Fashion A'woke'ning.

Also, look out for upcoming reports The Middle-Aged Gap (publishing July 12) and Gen X: Beauty's Untapped Demographic (publishing July 16) for further insights on attracting this cohort.

In the US, 80% of 40-plus women say brands underestimate their intelligence
Renaissance Magazine
Renaissance Magazine
Published: 10 Jul 2018

E-Skin Brings Sense of Touch to Prosthetic Hands

'Phantom limb' – the perception of still having a missing body part – is a sensory illusion experienced by many amputees. But engineers at the John Hopkins University in the US have created an electronic skin that will soon make this illusion a reality by giving prosthetics the sense of touch.

As explained in the June 2018 research article, the 'e-dermis' is an electronic skin made of fabric and rubber that's layered on top of a prosthetic limb – such as the fingertips of a prosthetic hand. It electrically stimulates the arm's nerves to recreate the sense of touch on the person's fingertips.

The method used is called transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or Tens, and is non-invasive – but still feels like a real skin. "After many years I felt my hand, as if a hollow shell got filled with life again," said the team's anonymous principal tester.

E-dermis is not yet sensitive to temperature – but it can detect shapes and perceive pain when it touches something sharp. This is particularly useful for alerting wearers to potential damage, particularly to lower-limb prosthetics. With up to 40,000 amputations performed annually in the US, the innovative e-skin could dramatically improve amputees' quality of life (NCBI, 2018).

Accessibility tech that enhances the lives of people with disabilities is a key area of opportunity, as outlined in CES 2018: Personal Electronics and 10 Tech Trends to Watch in 2018. For more on the technologies that empower people with disabilities, see Design for Disability: Transformative Tech.

Published: 29 Jun 2018

Financial Empowerment for Unprepared Retirees

By 2050, the global population of people aged over 60 is expected to reach 2.1 billion

People across the world are not prepared for retirement and financially unequipped for the future. Brands should step in to provide digital services offering reassurance and support.

An ageing population and shift in responsibility to individuals saving for themselves is putting people under financial strain in their later years, according to Scottish investment company Aegon's Retirement Readiness Survey. Stylus highlights the survey's findings:

  • Growing Older: By 2050, the global population of people aged over 60 is expected to reach 2.1 billion, more than 10 times the size it was in 1950. While tech and medicine developments have increased life expectancy by 27%, this is placing a huge financial strain on social security.
  • Burden Shift: Governments and employers used to prepare people for retirement, but now the onus is shifting to individuals. Globally, government benefits have reduced by 38% and only 43% of employers offer a retirement plan that includes an employer contribution.
  • Expectations Vs Reality: Workers worldwide predict they'll need 68% of their current income upon retirement, but only 25% expect to achieve this. One-third of workers have a back-up plan if they need to stop working earlier than anticipated, yet 39% of retirees retired sooner than expected due to ill health.

There's an opportunity here for financial brands to offer intuitive services that help people approaching retirement spend their money more effectively. A good example is US fintech start-up United Income's platform, which provides holistic financial planning and investment management, and creates personalised spending projections with tailored saving recommendations.

For further information on the companies empowering consumers to make better financial choices, see Fast-Forward Finance.

Published: 25 Jun 2018

Next-Gen Giving: App Streamlines Social Good

More than 550,000 people in the US are homeless

Electronic transactions are quick and efficient, but a cashless society isn't beneficial for everyone – especially the homeless, who rely on spare change for survival. US start-up Samaritan is tackling this issue by helping next-gen activists support their neighbours in need.

It distributes Bluetooth-powered beacons to homeless individuals and notifies people via an accompanying app whenever they're near a beacon holder. Passers-by can read the person's story and the financial goal they're trying to reach to escape life on the streets – and offer them money with a simple mobile transaction.

These donations can be redeemed at partnering stores for food, transport and essential items including soap and toilet paper, but not for alcohol or tobacco. This helps increase giving, as many people are reluctant to donate for fear of funding addictions.

Currently in beta mode in Seattle, Samaritan plans to expand to other US cities and has already had 7,000 downloads, raising about $2,500 per month.

More than 550,000 people in the US are homeless (Hud Exchange, 2017) – with the Seattle area spending more than $1bn a year in response to the crisis (Puget Sound Business Journal, 2018). Tech companies like Samaritan could help address such social issues by engaging proactive and energetic next-gen activists, who are eager for new ways to streamline change.

It's becoming increasingly important for brands to cultivate and inspire empathy. For the latest ideas inspiring action for good, take a look at Compassion Culture: Embracing Empathy.

Published: 18 Jun 2018

Tiny Off-Grid Holiday Homes Tap Micro-Living Trend

The A45 micro-cabin by Bjarke Ingels Group

A rising number of consumers are banding together in essentialist communities, with the shared desire for a more intentional, minimalist way of living. New York start-up Klein is set to appeal to these consumers with its affordable, self-powered micro-cabins that can be erected in remote locations within weeks.

The company lets people go online to choose and customise sustainable houses designed by architects from around the world. Within six months of ordering, their micro-cabin will be installed in any location in two weeks. Currently available for pre-order, its first prototype is the A45 – a 13-foot-long wood and glass cabin designed by Danish architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group.

Rising real-estate prices and construction costs make it increasingly difficult to own a holiday home. Klein hopes to change this, with planned prices for the houses ranging from $50,000 to $300,000.

The smart idea chimes with the Swedish ethos of lagom – meaning "not too much, not too little", which is inspiring people around the world to enjoy the bare necessities.

"We're seeing more people opting for the tiny life, eschewing larger, family-sized homes for the simplicity of smaller houses," says Kate Johnson, senior editor of Consumer Lifestyle at Stylus. "These so-called 'tiny housers' choose to downsize due to environmental and financial concerns, as well as the desire for more time and freedom."

Such micro dwellings also allow users to reconnect with the natural world – a key consumer desire we explored in Nature Embracers and further unpacked in our A/W 19/20 Design Directions Essence report.

Published: 12 Jun 2018

Microsoft HoloLens Guides Blind People

HoloLens may soon act as a virtual guide for blind people

Microsoft's HoloLens – a headset containing a holographic computer – will soon be able to guide blind people through buildings, thanks to its ability to map spaces in real time and offer audio guidance via speakers.

The mixed-reality headset allows users to see, hear and interact with 3D holograms that are "pinned" in their field of vision. Unlike other augmented glasses, HoloLens holograms interact with the world while the user is moving, as multiple sensors can map the user's surrounding space in detail.

Researchers from the California Institute of Technology have designed an application that allows the HoloLens's features to act as a virtual guide, helping blind individuals navigate complex buildings by restoring vision at a cognitive level. The wearable computer captures images of the surrounding environment, and conveys this information via auditory augmented reality. Its speakers can make sound appear as if it's coming from different points within the space – enabling users to find their way just by following the voice, without the need for any physical aids.

"The combination of unprecedented computing power in wearable devices with augmented reality technology promises a new era of non-invasive prostheses", reads the abstract of the research. Considering that 253 million people in the world are blind or visually impaired (WHO, 2017), this technology could be life-changing for many in the future.

For more on the advances in accessibility tech, see 10 Trends to Watch in 2018, Design for Disability: Transformative Tech and our Diversity Outlook Innovation Platform.

Published: 5 Jun 2018

Business Pessimists: Deloitte Millennial Survey 2018

Millennials’ positive perceptions of business have reached their lowest level in four years

The confidence of millennials (aged 24 to 37) in business has plummeted, which has made them less loyal as employees, according to the 2018 global Deloitte Millennial Survey.

  • Distrust in Business: Millennials' positive perceptions of business have reached their lowest level in four years. Less than half (48%) believe businesses behave ethically, while only 47% think business leaders are committed to helping improve society. There's a mismatch between what millennials believe businesses should do and what they see happening: they see organisations prioritising profit over making a positive impact in society.
  • Low Loyalty: Among the millennials surveyed, only 28% would like to stay at their company beyond five years. Some 43% intend to leave their employer within the next two years, with 62% citing the gig economy as a viable alternative to full-time employment. If companies want to earn the trust and loyalty of young workers, they need to focus on diversity, inclusion and flexibility, and find ways to help the communities they work in. See also Career Pioneers and SXSW 2018: Speaking Gen Z's Language.
  • Unprepared for Industry 4.0: Although we are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution – or Industry 4.0 – only 36% of millennials and 29% of Gen Z (aged nine to 23) believe they have the tools necessary to succeed in this industry – that is, the industry defined by tech innovations such as robotics and artificial intelligence. These cohorts are seeking help from business – not to develop technical skills, but soft skills, such as creativity and confidence.

For more on millennials' attitudes, see Turbo-Charged Consumers: Millennial 20/20 Summit 2018.