Why Our High-Tech Lifestyles Demand Smarter Products

I need an assistant. Of the virtual kind.

Someone who can keep track of the daily chaos within my household. Someone who can tell me when the pantry is empty, and what I need to purchase at the store. Someone who can remind me of music lessons, karate lessons, theater practice, and my husband’s business trips. I need a gentle reminder to get my oil changed and the furnace checked. And finally, I need someone who’s available whenever and wherever I am throughout the day.

You know, someone Siri-like, but a bit more.

Gone are the days of just using a product. Now we expect to interact with them too. I need my car to get me from music lessons to school, but also to remind me of my next appointment. And then take care of the directions. Because I always get lost.

And while we’re about it, my car should also tell me if I’m running low on gas and point me to the nearest gas station. Or for an oil change.

Some of this technology is already available, and auto manufacturers are hard at work with developers to come up with new ways to impress us and make our lives easier, take a look at vehicle aware apps, for instance.

General Electric calls this new era the Digital Revolution, and for GE it involves building things like data sensors to sift out warning signs that can predict when a product might need maintenance. I like this. One more thing off my always-long list of things to worry about.

Now, about the home. I’d like to inhabit a Jetson’s home for the 21st century. I’d like a virtual, all-knowing assistant to know about our family vacation next month and then suggest some appropriate travel shows to watch on TV. Or how about knowing when I’m only a few minutes from home and turning on the lights and heat for me so we’re not walking into a dark, cold house.

And as long I’m creating this wonderful wish list – let’s not forget the nightly homework saga. It would be great if my assistant could remind the kids of homework due the following day.

Consumers like me are demanding smarter products for their busy lifestyles. But smart products aren’t confined to the consumer market. First Wind, for example, operates 16 wind farms in the United States and is experimenting with software, sensors and controls that will monitor for high winds and shut the turbines down if they begin to rotate too fast, preventing damage. In wintry conditions, these same turbines can detect when they are collecting ice and speed up or change pitch to knock it off.

Pretty cool. Now if only my car could sense when it’s icing up and automatically heat its windscreen so I could avoid the early morning de-icing ritual in the wintertime.

High tech is infiltrating every facet of our lives through the products we interact with and rely upon. Our interactions with technology might not be completely seamless just yet, but we’re getting there, and at lightening speed. Those Jetson-like home appliances, the smart car, the personal assistant – they’re all on my Christmas list for next year.

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2 thoughts on “Why Our High-Tech Lifestyles Demand Smarter Products”

  1. Hi Beth,
    I agree – we already have the technologies to be well connected and automated. For example, many phones and many cars can recognize when you get in the car (assuming you are carrying a Bluetooth phone with you at all times, as many people do). And many of those smartphones have GPS and/or cell tower location services, so they can track your location and movement at all times. With that comes all the capabilities to use location and movement, as well as traditional information like your calendar and phone book, for applications to make a good guess about what you doing at any time.

    (Note: I have an iPhone, Mac computers and iCloud, which give me all the things I mentioned. But I am trying to use non-Apple jargon for the technologies.)

    I think the thing that holds us back the most is our emphasis on “privacy”. If we were all open about our identity, location, movements and actions, applications could tell us a lot of useful things. If we decide to keep this information “private”, then only expert hackers can access this information about us (since we know that the cell phone companies have all this information stored somewhere). Personally, I am willing to share this information in reasonable ways to enable the community advantages of tracking people, cars and their movements.

    If everyone shared their ID, location/movement, and maybe other actions, we would have almost automatic real-time traffic information with precise detail. When we use our credit card, our location could be used to help verify our identity, preventing some kinds of identity theft. All identity checks, like Customs at the airports, could be automated and streamlined (for people sharing their wireless electronic ID), assuming extra checks like fingerprint verification when necessary.

    We have already seen some applications that use ID + location in nice ways: Apple’s Find My Friends, an advertising/coupon app based on interests and location, a watch that tells us when we walk away from our phone. There must be more great app ideas that I missed. It is all dependent on willingness to share our location and movement (assuming “privacy” is managed in some way in each shared online database). The big question is whether society is willing to move that direction. (I am willing.)

    And by the way, I think this topic is very PLM-related. With ID + location information, plus other information already in the PLM systems, applications could infer our coming actions and decisions, and make the right environment and data available to us with a single click/touch at the exact time that we need it.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful reply, George. And yes, I agree that if we consumers want more of this technological nirvana we’ll likely need to give up some of our privacy, or at least be comfortable that the personal information we are willing to share drives more benefit back to ourselves. And like you, I’m okay with that. Time will tell where and how far it goes from here.


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