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DON’T KNOCK IT

by EN

New technologies always seem outlandish, until they don’t, says Simon Clayton, chief ideas officer at RefTech.

The recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas has just prompted a whole range of reactions from the press – ranging from the ‘wow’ to the fairly sarcastic. One article highlighted the array of technology created, ‘to solve a problem that just isn’t there’. It criticised the tech industry’s current obsession with sensors to record pretty much everything we do from sleep patterns to the fitness of our pets (I kid you not).

 

People who read my columns may think that I would echo this sentiment, but I don’t. Sometimes what’s not relevant for one person is actually very useful to another. For example, one journalist was rather scathing about a device designed to monitor sleep patterns – ‘How do I manage to go to sleep at night without knowing my bed is monitoring my heart rate?’ – but that device could prove very useful to someone with life threatening sleep apnoea.

 

There’s also a lot to be said for pushing the boundaries and experimenting even if the return on investment isn’t immediate. As the president of 3M once said, you can’t stumble unless you are moving.

 

The barcode was invented 20 years before the technology to read it. The Apple iPhone was only possible due to the advancement of individual components coming together at the same time. But it has to be fit for purpose.

 

A beauty manufacture has recently come under fire for creating a hairbrush that reads your hair, telling you how dry it is, how tangled etc. It sounds plausible until the $200 price tag is revealed, and then it could sound ridiculous, unless of course it’s bought by a salon that can use the brush to analyse clients’ hair and then recommend further treatments. This way it becomes a tool to sell more treatments or products – which totally changes the value proposition.

 

There’s some great technology being used right now to track Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals in all sorts of public places – from shopping centres to airports and even the London Underground.

 

Dublin airport is a prime example where they are tracking passengers’ mobile device’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals to measure the length of time it takes to go through security.

 

The issue of privacy has been raised though. Dublin airport claim they are only listening to the addresses of the devices which wouldn’t reveal any personal information. This data is also in the public domain and you can easily stop this data collection by turning off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on your devices.

 

The problem is that our phones can also leak all sorts of private information if companies listening to these signals are less scrupulous. There is a huge lack of awareness around this issue – most people simply don’t realise that their phones are leaking data this way. Once they have tackled the privacy concerns, this could be a great use of technology, but only because it’s a regular day-to-day issue. They can constantly review variances from their baseline data and judge how things are trending over a long period of time.

 

So often technology like this sounds amazing, but just isn’t applicable for events. When you are holding one or two relatively short events per year there isn’t time to get baseline data to make variances meaningful. Even if you had enough data, what are you going to do with it? Visitors take different paths around the show but the hotspots within a show are always going to be where the most interesting stands are (or where there is free food and drink!).

 

While interesting, I can’t see this type of technology being used in events yet. Despite the hype, ibeacons haven’t made any tangible impact on events, but I’m keeping a careful eye on all of this stuff. I’m a gadget freak and I love technology, but I am totally against tech being used with no proven justification or ROI.

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