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.
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.
In a bid to solve China's parking problem, Alipay – the world's largest mobile payment platform – launched MoveCar within its app last month. The programme enables people to anonymously contact the owner of a parked vehicle that is blocking their car, and ask them to move it.
MoveCar's Chinese name translates roughly to "move a car with a code immediately" – which is exactly what the programme does. Drivers create a custom QR code, print it out, and place it on their windscreen. If a car is blocking someone's way, anyone can scan the QR code and contact the driver to let them know they need to move it.
By using a QR code, both parties remain anonymous and the car owner does not feel as exposed as they would if they'd provided their phone number instead, for example.
Chinese cities are famous for their traffic jams, but parking is an even greater problem, with an estimated shortage of 50 million spaces. With MoveCar, Alipay is aiming to tackle part of the issue. Consumers are already on board – the tool attracted 40,000 users within 10 days of its release.
For more on transport innovations, see our CES 2018: Automotive report.
California-based start-up Nuro has designed an autonomous cargo vehicle specifically for delivering goods from local businesses.
Unveiled last month, Nuro "is a self-driving vehicle designed to run your errands for you", co-founder Dave Ferguson said in a statement. "It is poised to change the way that businesses interact with their local customers."
The self-driving vehicle is fully electric, completely unmanned and its top speed is 35mph, which means it will stay off highways. It's half the width of a passenger car, to enable the vehicle to move around narrow streets easily, as it's designed to move goods between and among businesses, neighbourhoods and homes.
Nuro's interior can be customised to meet the needs of each business. A grocery delivery company, for example, could opt for a refrigerator and shelves, while a drycleaner could include a hanging rack. By automating these services, Nuro could help small local businesses compete with giants like Amazon.
Nuro was founded by two engineers who used to work for Google's self-driving car team, now known as Waymo. The start-up has raised $92m in venture capital, which means that it could drive the disruption of last-mile delivery.
For more on the future of autonomous cars, see our report on CES 2018: Automotive.
Ad agency McCann Worldgroup has released a revealing study called Truth About Britain – a survey on the mood of the UK that splits Brits into three cohorts.
New York-based multicultural communications agency Bold Culture has published The Black Paper – the first in a series of white papers to educate industry professionals about the importance of diversity in advertising.
Released in January 2018, The Black Paper focuses on the underrepresentation of black people in the media, marketing and advertising, as well as their huge influence in popular culture. Key points from the US report include:
For more ways to create and communicate a culture of diversity, see Diverse Talent, Superhero Staff.
Female boomers (aged 53 to 72) in the UK are refusing to grow old in the way that previous generations did. Brands need to take an age-agnostic approach when targeting this cohort, according to new research from global marketing communications agency J. Walter Thompson.
Released in January 2018, the report named this group of women the Elastic Generation to capture their resilience, strength and potential. Key findings include:
Two French designers have created Papier Machine – a booklet of interactive electronic paper toys designed to help people understand the mysteries of electronics by revealing circuits and letting people play with them.
Papier Machine is printed with silver ink, which conducts electricity. These electric circuits can then be easily manipulated by drawing on the pages in pencil, as graphite is also conductive. Vol.0 – the first of a collection the designers intend to publish – is themed around sound.
People will be able to create paper electronic instruments or sound games using just the contents of the booklet. Six activities are included: Resistance, Gyroscope, Playing Track, Wind Sensor, Writing Track and Tilt Switch. These are brought to life by using the accompanying button cells, metallic marbles, piezoelectric sensors and sound components.
The project has received multiple awards, including the Red Dot Design Award and Audi Talent Award. Its Kickstarter campaign was launched in January 2018, with the first booklets expected to ship in July 2018. Prices start at €45 ($56).
The GroBox One requires no soil, controls its watering schedule and air flow, and is more sustainable than other gardening methods. It also features LED lights that mimic natural sunlight, which makes it possible to grow plants even when the weather wouldn't normally allow it.
In addition, it automatically monitors and manages temperature, humidity, nutrients and pH balance in order to maintain the ideal conditions for growing healthy plants, without the use of pesticides.
Users only need to add water and fertiliser once a week, and adjust the greenhouse's settings according to the plants they choose to grow. No prior knowledge or experience of gardening is required.
The GroBox One's Kickstarter campaign has already surpassed its funding goal of $10,000, raising more than $75,000 at the time of writing. The greenhouse can be pre-ordered for $999 and will start shipping in October 2018.
The hydroponic equipment industry has grown at an annual rate of 4.4% over the past five years (IbisWorld, 2017). More people are aware of the health benefits of organic produce and are willing to cultivate their own vegetables, while marijuana legalisation across several US states has fuelled rising interest in hydroponic growing methods.
French start-up Walkoo is developing an app to encourage urbanites to slow down and explore their city on foot.
Users create a profile detailing their interests, with the app then providing personalised suggestions based on their tastes. The app, which is expected to launch in March 2018, provides city maps featuring off-the-beaten-track destinations – from street art corners and secret green rooftops to organic grocery stores and restaurants.
Most importantly, Walkoo users are expected to walk to these places. Using its WalkooMeter, the app measures the distance covered during these walks and rewards users with points that can be converted into gifts from Walkoo's partners, such as a free coffee or treat from a café.
Walkoo's idea is based on the philosophy of the Slow Movement, which advocates a less-is-more approach to life, focusing on the quality of life rather than the speed at which it's lived (see also Essentialist Communities). Walkoo's goal is to help people adjust their lifestyle and take the time to enjoy their city's unique character.
According to Walkoo, urban dwellers "are living the fast life instead of the good life", with research suggesting that they're more prone to depression compared to those living in rural environments (Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health, 2016). The company explains that "the city contains all the antidotes to the poisons of hectic life – all you need is to find them".
Voyage launched its autonomous taxis in a small retirement community in San Jose back in October 2017. However, The Villages – one of the fastest-growing US cities (US Census Bureau, 2017) with 125,000 residents and more than 750 miles of road – requires a higher level of driverless technology.
According to Voyage, The Villages is "the largest deployment (by area size) of self-driving cars in the world". It was made possible after the company raised $20m in its Series A fundraising round last year. Voyage has agreed to give property owners in the community equity stakes of 0.3%.
The taxi service employs human safety drivers to remain behind the wheel in case of emergencies. This is an important move, considering the first customers of its robo-taxis are over-55s – a generation that reportedly mistrusts self-driving cars. In the US, only 12% of boomers (aged 55-64) feel comfortable in completely autonomous vehicles, while 63% prefer assistance technologies that help the driver, but allow them to remain in control (MIT, 2017).
For more on the transformation of personal and public modes of transport, see our Radical Transport report.
London-based entrepreneur Kike Oniwinde is developing a social networking app that aims to connect likeminded black professionals in the UK and elsewhere and help them find support in their careers in order to break the 'glass ceiling'.
Through the Black Young Professionals Network (BYP Network) app, users can not only form friendships but also collaborate professionally and pursue business opportunities together.
Oniwinde created the app following her own experiences as a young black professional in the UK and US. Looking to extend her professional network, she would often go to networking events, but found they were too formal and did not always reflect her own cultural background.
"A lot of young black people I met had achieved some success in their corporate careers or businesses, but many had the feeling of 'What now?'," she said. "They felt like they could do more, but there always seemed to be a limit to what they could achieve due to the culture of the workplace and the so-called 'glass ceiling'."
In 2017, fewer than one in 10 management jobs in the UK were held by members of black, Asian and minority ethnic groups (McGregor-Smith Review, 2017). Oniwinde believes the BYP Network will help black professionals inspire one another to fulfil their potential and ultimately change the public's perceptions of young people of colour.
For more on the importance of inclusivity and diversity in the workplace, see Diverse Talent, Superhero Staff.
Consumer Lifestyle editor Kate Johnson reveals two important trends emerging from CES 2018, the world's largest consumer electronics event.
As the autonomous driving era approaches, car brands are focusing on self-driving vehicles that offer functions far beyond transport alone. Both Japanese giant Toyota and Swiss automaker Rinspeed introduced modular containers on wheels, with cabins that can be switched or redesigned for different purposes.
Toyota's boxy e-Palette concept has numerous interior options, providing services as diverse as parcel delivery, ride sharing, on-the-road stores or mobile hotel rooms and spas. The arrival of this type of customisable vehicle will have a huge impact across multiple industries in the future.
Regarding personal electronics, we've noticed a rise in innovative accessibility tech, with new products designed to help an ageing population and those with disabilities.
A noteworthy example is Graphiti – a device from US non-profit organisation American Printing House for the Blind and tech developer Orbit Research that ensures equal learning opportunities for all. The book-sized product sits on the desk of a visually impaired child and contains tiny pins that rise and fall in changing formations. This allows students to feel pictures that they wouldn't be able to see on the board or computer, such as an illustration of cells in the body, or a graph.
CES ran from January 9-12 in Las Vegas. Look out for our full analysis of the event, publishing on January 22.
This month, Google published a patent application that shows how optical sensors placed in personal devices or everyday objects could monitor and measure cardiovascular function. This would help patients to prevent heart disease and motivate them to adopt a heathier lifestyle.
According to the patent, optical sensors could be used from the patient's smartphone, computer or Google Glass, and could even be placed in their bathroom mirror, where the programme would be able to gather data without any effort from the user. The sensors could measure hemodynamics (the patient's blood flow dynamics) by assessing physical appearance, such as skin colour.
Over time, Google's invention will be able to determine a cardiovascular trend for the patient and share the data with them or a medical professional. It will also be able to make more direct health assessments. For example, a sudden colour difference between the patient's two cheeks could mean they are having a stroke.
Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death globally (World Health Organisation, 2017), but most heart-related diseases can be prevented by making behavioural changes, such as adopting a healthy diet and an active lifestyle. One of the most important potential uses of Google's invention is its ability to motivate at-risk patients to change their behaviours by giving them positive feedback, as existing methods are not only inconvenient, but also expensive.