Can a tiny device help save retail?5 minutes
Sensors make things smarter, and they’re also changing how industries and people operate
In their search for novel ways to bring customers into brick and mortar stores, retailers are turning to a technology that’s also cropping up in amusement parks and movie theaters. The same Virtual Reality that gives people the chance to fight monsters and travel to the future via elaborate simulation in cinemas and theme parks is also being used to create shopping experiences.
Retailers are introducing VR to teleport shoppers to magical places where their products play a starring role. The opportunities are endless. Imagine VR devices with vital sign-tracking sensors that monitor things like pulse, body temperature, breathing rate being used to customize experiences. The sensor measuring low bio signs in a customer shopping for sneakers, for instance, might trigger the VR appearance of a celebrity athlete to generate more excitement.
Sensors are shrinking in size, and increasing in capacity and capabilities. Not only are they beginning to shape entertainment and shopping—providing enthralling experiences as well as important data to operators–they’re also crucial to the auto industry as well as everything from healthcare devices and home appliances to toys and street lights. Sensors make these products smarter and more connected. Car rental companies are able to use sensors to track their vehicles’ locations at all times. In aviation, data from sensors mounted on jets help forecasters deliver more accurate weather.
Trillion-sensor world grows
A few years ago, when experts began to add up the number of sensors already embedded in the IoT of networked objects, a phrase emerged, “the trillion-sensor world.” Since then sales of sensors have increased and so has their contribution to production and consumption of goods and services, in short, the overall economy. Sales of sensors grew 14% in 2016 to a record-high $7.3 billion, surpassing the previous annual peak of $6.4 billion a year earlier, according to a recent report by IC Insights. The market research firm forecasts total sensor sales to reach $10.5 billion in 2021.
Panasonic’s Jeff Howell talks about "tech days" as a way to see emerging technology.
In “Winning with Digital Confidence,” a recent article in Strategy & Business, authors discuss hotel rooms of the future. Today, even if you’re staying at a five-star beach resort, when there’s an issue with the air conditioning, you have to call maintenance and usually hang out until they show. Soon the same hotel room will be wired with sensors and connected devices that will see problems before you do, report them and fix them before you even know something’s awry so you stay cool and comfortable.
Already, in some places sensors are detecting the presence of a person in the hotel room and triggering the heating or cooling system to keep the occupant comfortable. The authors go on to say that this smart building technology will impact not only hotel operations, but also the way people do their jobs. I’d argue that the same holds true in many other industries—sensors, and the data they provide, will shape future operations and careers.
What’s fascinating is to think about how sensors will be used in the future, and how they will impact our work and lives. A recent report from the firm EY makes the point that insurers who leverage new data sources, such as sensors and wearable tech, gain enormous potential to disrupt their competition. A walk through the halls of CES always turns up interesting ideas on novel uses of sensors. Some people travel to Silicon Valley or to Tokyo to see how sensors and other technologies may shape the future of their industry. I like “tech days” where Panasonic brings in innovators from R&D labs to talk about some of their most promising ideas.