Can technological “connectedness” solve our problems and make life a lot easier for us?
That was the overriding theme of a thought-provoking session at THQ’s (The Female Quotient) Girls Lounge in Las Vegas that I attended this week. The session was led by Joanna Peña-Bickley, who heads creative and design for IBM iX and Josh Golden, editor of Ad Age.
We discussed the potential behind all of the innovations leading to "the connected human," and Johanna stressed the importance of finding ways to use connectedness to solve problems and actually simplify consumer’s lives.
As part of our immersion into this brave new world of products, I then toured CES (Consumer Electronics Show) with 100 women in tech, including high school girls who built a cool robot, led by Johanna and TFQ leader Shelley Zallis, a futurist in her own right. We girls definitely stood out in the male-dominated kingdom of technology!
The opportunities and products at the show are overwhelming as more than 150,000 attendees scramble to discover the next “best thing.” However, several big trends stood out, including:
1. Communication (IOT) Internet of Things -- was hyped last year at CES, but it appears to be more of a reality this year because the products are interconnecting and talking to each other. They are getting smarter (let’s hope we are, too). In the past, I always felt like the devices were for the cool tech kids, not for me. This year, I started to see how they could make my life easier, and also better for others. One example: Whirlpool integrated Alexa into its refrigerator so that it alerts you when you are low on milk, and will automatically reorder it for you (assuming you want her to). Now there’s a refrigerator you can talk to (when no one else will listen) and that can organize your household by running your family calendar! A number of the smart devices offer exciting possibilities for our health from managing diabetes without shots to item recognition for the blind. If only they would develop a refrigerator that would lock itself up when I get the munchies!
2. Mobility (autonomous cars and drones) -- While the concept cars were cool, what fascinated me was the bigger vision auto makers have for mobility. Hyundai created an exoskeleton walking device for handicapped and elderly people. Multiple modes of mobility are being catered to as well. I saw a fold-up bike that fits into a back pack! The super connected Chrysler ‘Portal” minivan, which has set its sights on frisky Millennials, was also a hoot. It’s an all-electric, hyper-designy, semi-autonomous, configurable “third space” between work and home. I could see my Millennial kids going for it! It’s so cool, I can see myself in one, too.
3. LG’s wallpaper TV was also a big hit. It is thinner than an iPhone, weighs only 17 pounds and can be hung by magnets (so you could actually move it around.)
4. Energy (renewable) -- Whether managing your own energy grid (including solar) or making healthier decisions for the planet, this trend has also gained momentum. My favorite was Whirlpool's WLabs award-winning home composter, the Zera. The size of a slim-line trash can, it composts your week of food scraps in 24 hours into something that looks like coffee grinds and has no odor. Their Indiegogo campaign is starting today with a pre-order price of $699. No doubt they will make $$ on the accessories (like razors and razorblades). Europe is ahead of the U.S. – they charge people for garbage pick-up by weight, so it makes sense to lighten your garbage load (and carbon footprint)! Some cities like San Francisco require composting. Sales should be brisk there! My husband Paul actually introduced a solar powered hat for recharging all of your devices when on the go. Their start-up booth has been packed with visitors from around the world.
I don’t know if technology can solve all our problems, but it’s encouraging to see if it can solve a few of them!