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When I spoke in Oman last November, I spent a little bit of my time on stage talking about artificial intelligence. It caught the attention of the folks from Gulf Construction, the most prestigious publication in the Middle East when it comes to the construction industry. They asked if I might put down my thoughts on the role, impact and timing of A.I. and robotics within the industry.

AI in construction? It’s simply the next step in the digitisation of the industry. As we go down the technology path, we follow its inevitable result.

 


AI In Construction – Massively Transformative
In an exclusive article for Gulf Construction, JIM CARROLL, futurist, trends and innovation expert, highlights the far-reaching impact of artificial intelligence on the construction industry.
Gulf Construction News, January 2019 (link)

Artificial intelligence (AI), the very phrase conjures up images of futuristic mechanical brains doing all kinds of intelligent work. Scare stories abound – AI and robots are going to take away all of our jobs! Science fiction scenarios paint a picture of enslaved humans being subjected to the evil whims of smart computer technology.

What’s driving the push to AI in the construction sector? Ongoing labour shortages due to a hot global economy is certainly one of the key issues. The marriage of robotics has been a pathway to dealing with this challenge, but the marriage of AI to robotics take us to the next step in this complex voyage. In addition, it’s simply the next step in the digitisation of the industry. As we go down the technology path, we follow its inevitable result.

So let’s put into perspective what’s been happening, and where AI fits in.

Digitisation of PM

As in many other industries, the construction sector has already been on a path to digitisation with the acceleration of technology. Computer-aided design (CAD) and building information modelling (BIM) concepts have accelerated the design and build process, but these have been but baby steps in a complex voyage.

AI takes us into a world in which we can apply automated, intelligent routines in the many calculations, assumptions, testing and analysis of the ideas we are using in the architecture and design process, as well as detailing the methodologies that will be used to put those designs into actionable steps.

Consider, for example, what we have been doing with efforts involving the digitisation of the project management (PM) process. We need to carefully manage the ordering and procurement, fabrication and assembly of millions of individual components, and manage extremely complex projects. What if we could automate some of this, kick out the exceptions for analysis, and ignore the rest?

Some companies are already exploring this idea. Canada’s Fluor Corp is working with IBM’s Watson AI system to explore how to take existing digitised projects and analyse the data within for insight on rising costs, schedule delays, supply chain problems, or errors in estimates, forecasts and project risks. Consider it BIM on steroids!

Robotic methodologies

It’s when we marry AI concepts with robotics that things become really interesting in the construction sector. Robotics is already making its way felt in the sector in a very significant way.

We have been busy automating the building process itself. Certainly the entire process of the automation of the construction process has been moving quickly within the residential sector.

The UK-based Legal & General, for instance, has been aggressively working to disrupt the business of home construction through the ability to manufacture homes on high-tech production lines that when completed, are ready to live in, with carpets, curtains and white goods already in place. What they are really doing is disrupting the concept of construction by moving away from building in sites with blocks, to building utilising robots in factories with subsequent assembly on site.

This isn’t just ‘pre-fab’; it’s the arrival of disruptive methodologies.

And therein lies the rub. Much of this construction process involves a regular series of iterative processes, repeated over and over again. If we can automate this with some type of intelligent process management capability, and then examine the quality of our work, we have achieved something of significance – and that is where AI is taking us to. As in project management, we utilise AI to provide for better automation of the process, and examine the exceptions.

These new methodologies will be driven by the fact that they provide significant productivity gains. In Australia, Fastbrick Robotics has developed technology that can build a home in three days using a sophisticated, automated bricklaying system – forever changing the way the industry operates.

Other companies around the world are working on similarly sophisticated methodologies, and it is inevitable that these advances will leak into the industrial and commercial construction space.

3D printing

Add to this mix recent advances in 3D printing capabilities in the construction sector, particularly with concrete and other materials. In Dubai, we’ve seen the 3D printing of an office facility. It took but 17 days to print a building that was 20 ft high, 120 ft long, and 40 ft wide.

Key fact? The project was overseen by a single engineer, and saw a cost reduction of 50 per cent compared to traditional methods.

3D printing is another example of a routine, iterative process, and you can expect to see AI capabilities brought to this fast-moving sector as well. But it’s not just 3D printing.

Consider the impact of rebar-tying robotic technology such as the TyBot from UK-based Brayman Construction and its subsidiary Advanced Construction Robotics. It’s an automated process that will change bridge construction.
Why is this significant? Because these accelerated methodologies are based upon a series of rules and patterns and AI is simply all about rules and patterns.

Virtualised construction

Let’s toss another trend into the mix – the acceleration of autonomous technology.
While everyone is focused on the opportunities of self-driving cars and trucks, they are missing the really big picture, and that is the forthcoming massive virtualisation of physical work.

A few years ago, while I was in Sao Paulo to keynote the global WorldSkills conference, I actually operated a welding machine 3,000 miles away while using a virtual headset. We know this type of technology is coming to the world of manufacturing, and it will come to the world of construction as well. So while the first phase of global outsourcing and offshoring saw the movement of office work to the Philippines and India, the next phase will see the virtualisation of construction and other work.

But let’s not stop there. Equipment manufacturers are aggressively developing autonomous capabilities. Audi and others have prototype vehicles without doors and windows that can be driven by someone thousands of miles away. Komatsu, following this same path, has a bulldozer that can be remotely controlled by an operator on site, linking to the physical facility through cameras, sensors and other data.

Is it farfetched to imagine the automation of the repetitive parts of this type of routine through AI? Should we get used to the concept of a future, unmanned construction site. Farfetched?

Not in my mind. What’s really happening is we are shifting the construction industry from one of construction, to one of manufacturing. AI is but a part of the mix of this new disruptive business model. AI can accelerate our capabilities in significant ways, including better inspection for faults and errors; more streamlined methodology, and all kinds of automation of routine work. The fact is, we are seeing rapid advances in the use of robotics in home construction, and it is inevitable that this fast pace of development will quickly come into the commercial and industrial construction sector.

Smart buildings

Last but not least, the arrival of intelligent, smart buildings concepts will accelerate opportunities for AI.

We are at early days yet when it comes to the concept of smart buildings. Yet the Internet of Things (IoT) is already having a significant impact on how we manage, deploy, operate and monitor various aspects of our facilities such as energy usage.

Once we add machine learning and AI to the mix, we will be able to streamline those activities even more.

Consider, for example, the concept of predictive diagnostics; the ability to determine in advance when a particular part of component is going to break down, and doing preventative maintenance to avoid the downtime that comes with it. Automotive and trucking companies, as well as medical device companies and jet engine manufacturers, have been implementing predictive diagnostics for quite some time.

And it’s now coming with rapid developments with IoT in HVAC and energy systems, security infrastructure and other aspects of smart buildings. If we enhance our ability to interpret and analyse the vast amounts of information coming from our intelligent building subsystems, we can reduce downtime and problems even further.

Impact of other industries

So clearly, we are on a high-tech voyage in the world of construction. So why will AI become real? Because advances in other industries will accelerate the leakage of AI concepts into construction!

And then there is the arrival of disruptive AI concepts such as the emergence of AI marketplaces.

One company in the medical AI space has launched a ‘storefront’ that allows for ‘one-stop shopping’ of particular AI capabilities or skills. Browse through the store and you will find algorithms that will help you analyse chest X-rays for a cancer diagnosis, calcium build-up in arteries or cornea images for eye disease.

The same type of thinking might lead to a virtual AI marketplace for analysis of construction faults or smart-building algorithm analysis!

When will it arrive?

The biggest challenge with all of these concepts is not ‘if’ they will happen, but ‘when’. And that is where the Gartner Hype-cycle comes in. How do you determine when to invest in AI trend?

Years ago, the global research company suggested that any new technology goes along a curve – it appears, hits the time of excessive hype and expectations. That is followed by the inevitable collapse of enthusiasm as people realise that it takes a lot of time and effort to implement the technology and determine the opportunity that comes from it. But inevitably, both the expectations and technology itself matures, and it becomes a key component for innovation and so much more.

You can take any technology and place it on the curve. Consider e-commerce: it appeared, and people got carried away with the potential during the dot.com era of the late 1990s. However, that involved a period of rather excessive and ridiculous hype, and so we had the inevitable dot.com collapse.

Now consider the explosion of new technologies around us today: 3D printing, IoT, virtual reality, self-driving cars, and AI. A key component is figuring out where they are on the curve, and hence, what you should be doing with them in terms of an innovation strategy.

But what will we be able to do with AI in the construction sector? While it’s early days yet, we are really only limited by the boundaries of our imagination.

Individually, any trend is disruptive. Combine them together, and suddenly, they’re massively transformative!

The life of a speaker is always kind of interesting, because you get approached by all kinds of people who try to convince you to fly to the other side of the world and share your insight – barely for the price of a cup of coffee!

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but over 25 years on the stage I’ve seen it all. The most common approach is when you get a client who tries you to convince you that the mere opportunity of allowing you to speak to *them* will be great for your “exposure.” Um, exposure? Excuse me, have you seen my global client list? I don’t need exposure.

It does happen all the time though. Yesterday a global luxury brand approached me ; they were having a critical leadership meeting, and wanted my insight into fast moving trends in their industry. But they couldn’t meet my fee requirements; as in many cases, I was out of fee range.

And of course, I said no. At this point in my career,I seem to be turning away 5 to 10 keynote requests *per week*. If you are a luxury brand, you stick with your value proposition!

Is this a gripe? Not at all – the situation often seems kind fo funny to me. Here you have a brand whose entire value proposition is based on the quality of the brand image, and the value of the product they deliver. High-end stuff.

So it is too with some of the leading futurists in the world. We know what’s coming next, and we can share our insight with you, but it will take an investment! (-;

 

The folks at Farm and Dairy Magazine interviewed me on trends to watch in 2018 in the world of agriculture. It’s a good read – you’ll find it below!

On stage in New Orleans, I spoke about the idea of Spock having a medical tri-corder on the farm. It’s not as crazy an idea as you thinK!

As I write this post, I’m down in San Antonio, where I’ve got two events where I’ll speak about the future of agriculture to several hundred dealers for a farm and ag supplier about future trends.

I love talking to farming groups – it’s one of the most innovative industries that I know. Watch this video for the reasons why!

5 agricultural trends to watch in 2018
Farm and Dairy, January 2018

SALEM, Ohio — The top five trends to watch for in 2018 are sure to keep farmers on top of their game.

With an increased number of events causing hysteria, with the rise of “fake news,” an overload of news in general — thanks to the world being at our fingertips — farmers have to work harder to tell their story, said Jim Carroll, futurist.

Continue Reading

Are you ready for 2018?

You need to be. Change is fast and furious, and it’s everywhere. Watch this to understand what comes next — and what you need to do!

 

Production note: ‘green screened’ in my basement with my new iPhone X. The video quality of this phone is staggering! Awesome video edit done by my partner in Moscow, Armine Simonyan, aka Alexandra. Her work is wonderful!

The folks at New Equipment Digest interviewed me a few weeks back for an article on manufacturing,  ahead of a major keynote I had earlier this month.

You’ll have a 50-year old guy or lady in the factory, and you bring these tools to help streamline processes and they say, “Oh my God! This is terrible that can take my job away. I’m done; I’m toast.” And somebody in their 20’s is going to say, “cool.” It’s a much more agile workforce, much more willing to try new things.

It’s but one talk I do in this sector; on Monday, I’ll headline the International Asset Management Council on future manufacturing trends. They’re the folks from Fortune 1000 organizations who make the decisions on where to locate future factories, logistics locations and supply chain investments.

INDUSTRY TRENDS
Futurist Says “Fast & Furious” Changes Coming to Manufacturing

Forget your Magic 8-Ball or fancy-schmancy predictive analytics. Futurist Jim Carroll knows what lies ahead for manufacturing and technology, and we have the scoop for you here. Bet you didn’t see that coming.
John Hitch | Sep 21, 2017

Jim Carroll, a former accountant and current author/corporate speaker, is confident he knows what’s going to happen in the world of manufacturing. And the world renowned Canadian futurist doesn’t need a flux capacitor or any other sci-fi MacGuffin to make bold claims in front of millions about what technologies they need to adopt now, and what the world will look like for our children after we’re rocketed to our Martian retirement homes — where our corpses will no doubt be used as fertilizer for space yams. (You’re welcome, Elon.)

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Half of the events I do as a futurist and innovation expert are spent at corporate leadership events. I’m frequently engaged by a CEO or other senior executive for a global Fortune 1000 company to come in and challenge their team as to how to align to a fast paced, disruptive future. After all, the reality is that speed is a new success metric.

There’s a lot of work and customization that goes into each and every talk — just last week, I met with 20 executives in the nuclear industry, and spent a lot of time updating myself as to trends in the energy and nuclear sector so that I could guide and challenge their thinking in a powerful way.

While researching and preparing, or while delivering my insight, I’ve noticed an increasing number of organizations are seeking to set their innovation energies on fire by encouraging their younger, interactive generation to explore opportunities for the digital, disruptive future through what I’ve come to call an Xbox room!

Why? Because this generation gets-it, knows how to innovate, and is the most powerful force for change in our world today. Consider the reality:

  • half of the global population is under the age of 25
  • we know they are globally wired, entrepreneurial, collaborative, and change oriented
  • and they are now now driving rapid business model change, and industry transformation as they move into executive positions

With that reality, organizations are realizing they should allow this generation to light their creative energies on fire, even if they aren’t sure as to what they might do or where their efforts might go!

The idea is to set them up with an innovation facility by which they can explore and accelerate the adoption of leading digital tools throughout the organization that can accelerate innovation efforts, provide for better collaboration and so much more.

Case in point: I spent some time in St. Louis with Amsted Rail: they manufacture the ‘bogies’ which are the wheel-undercarriage assemblies found on railcars. It was a thrill for my wife and I to have a tour of their manufacturing facility before my talk to see what they are doing to realign themselves to opportunities for innovation in manufacturing.

And the tour included what they call their iLab — or, what I would call for the fun of it, an Xbox room! In this facility, they are continually examining a variety of ideas as to how to continue to move the organization forward. This includes exploring a variety of ideas and technologies, including:

  • state of the art brainstorming centres to facilitate ideas colliding from all corners of our company
  • real-time employee collaboration tools across geographically diverse sites (to promote “a collision of ideas”)
  • how to use connected SMART Boards to simultaneously write/draw/share over any application using “digital ink”
  • 3D scanning/modelling systems to enhance product R&D and quality capabilities
  • advanced tensile testing techniques for enhanced product strength & durability

I had a chance to chat with the young fellows in the Xbox room — and listen to their ideas. It’s obvious its a rocket engine for innovative thinking!

That’s but one example: the more I witness what organizations are doing to accelerate innovation, the more I discover some sort of ‘Xbox room.’ I recently keynoted a major conference on the future of trucking in Phoenix.

While on stage, I spoke about a company in Winnipeg, Canada — Bison Trucking. They’ve set up a facility to encourage younger staff to explore how to align the fast pace of technological change in trucking to opportunities for digital technologies — read an extensive blog post about their efforts in the post Trend: In Trucking, Aircraft Control Towers Are the New Offices.

There’s plenty of others – Xbox rooms seem to be springing up everywhere!

Here’s what you need to think about:

  • you should set up a digital facility with all kinds of ‘toys’ relevant to your industry, and set the creative energies of a group of young staff free to explore
  • don’t set any specific goals, objectives or deliverables on the project — simply set it free to explore!
  • explain the purpose and mission of the group to the rest of the organization, and encourage them to bring unique problems to the group

Go ahead – make an Xbox room!

 

 

Over the last 25 years as a speaker on future trends and innovation, I’ve seen many cases where companies have jumped onto a trend simply because everyone else. Or, they’ve suddenly decided that ‘innovation’ is important, without really defining a purpose or goal behind such a focus.

Rather than by just jumping on a bandwagon and doing what others are doing , try asking better questions as to why you should or should not be doing something!

Innovation that is based on “jumping on the bandwagon” is doomed to fail, for many, many reasons:

  • it’s lazy: true innovation takes hard work. It involves massive cultural, organizational, structural change. It involves an organization and leadership team that is willing to try all kinds of radical and new ideas to deal with rapid change. An innovative organization can’t innovate simply by jumping on a trend. Trying to do so is just trying to find an easy solution to deep, complex problems.
  • it involves little new creativity: by linking a new approach to doing things with a “hot topic” or trend means that people end up shutting their brains down. Creativity is immediately doomed through commonality.
  • it’s just a bandaid: bandwagon based innovation causes people to look for instant solutions and a quick fix, rather than trying to really figure out how to do something differently.
  • it’s misfocused: it involves putting in a solution is sought without identifying a problem. It’s backward in terms of approach.
  • it encourages mediocrity: it reduces innovation to an “idea of the week,” and does nothing to encourage people to really look at their world in a different way.
  • it reduces innovation to sloganeering: truly creative people within organizations are tried of slogan-based management. They’ve seen far too many ‘radical right turns’ and ‘new beginnings’ — and when they realize that their management team has jumped onto the latest hot trend, their faith and motivation goes out the window.
  • it destroys innovation: after the bandwagon effect ultimately fails (as they always do for the reasons above), people end up feeling burned out, cynical, demotivated — and they’ll be prepared to do little when the “next big thing” comes along.

 

It’s more important — and more difficult — than that.

Supertramp — a band from the 80’s — had a minor hit with the song “On the Long Way Home,” which featured the memorable line, the line, “when you’re up on the stage, it’s so unbelievable.” It is, quite. And when you’re up there, you realize how lucky you are to be able to share with the audience the wisdom you’ve picked up by observing some of the world’s top innovators. When the PGA of America had me in for the 2nd time, one of my key goals was to lay a foundation for the fact that growth in the game will come from innovation!

Recently, after a presentation to an audience of 3,000 people, I was approached by a CEO who was quite inspired by my remarks. He then asked me a fascinating question: “what would you do if you took over the leadership of my company right now?” We chatted for a while and I believe I provided some pretty succinct insight; but since then, I’ve been thinking about that question. Here’s a part of my answer.

  • maximize your best revenue opportunities. I’d make sure that any existing revenue relationships remain intact, and then some. I’d work on having my team obsess on growing existing high value customer relationships through service excellence. Let’s make sure that we meet their needs. It will likely be easier to keep existing revenue flowing rather than finding new ones, particularly through a time of economic challenge.
  • obsess over time to market. I’d work hard to accelerate product innovation; market life-cycles are collapsing, and I’d make sure every member of the team reoriented themselves to that reality. I’d focus on getting R&D to think in terms of faster cycles; I’d ramp up sales force education so that they were better aware of what’s coming next. I’d have the team thinking in terms of 3-6-9-12 : here’s what will be doing in the marketplace 3, 6, 9 and 12 months from now. I’d layer on top of that some insight into 1-2-5-10: what we might be doing 1, 2, 5 and 10 years from now.
  • reduce product costs through process improvement and better project execution: there is no shortage of innovative ideas, structures and concepts involving process and production methodologies. I’d make sure we were looking at finding those who are doing leading edge work in this area, inside or outside our industry, and learn from them.
  • align to customer oriented innovation: go upside-down, in fact. Take a look around and you will probably discover that your customers are inventing your future faster than you are. View their ideas, strategies and actions not as a threat, but as an opportunity for ideas!
  • reduce structural costs through collaboration: at this point in time, in a global world that allows for instant, smart collaboration among teams, there is no reason for massive duplication of skills and talent throughout an organization. I’d start a rethink those silos, and restructure for a new skills deployment approach. Right off the bat, I’d encourage a few cross-organizational collaboration efforts, to get people used to the idea of tackling fast new problems rather than arguing about structure and hierarchy.
  • focus on the pipeline of talent innovation: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The depth the bench strength is critical to future success. I’d have everyone take a good look at our pipeline, to see if it will meet upcoming needs. If not, I’d get a program in place to fix that fast.
  • relentlessly and aggressively chase costs: I’m not talking about spontaneous slash and burn spending cuts: I’d refocus on transitioning the role of staff from tactical efforts to a strategic role. I’ve spent time with the CIO’s and CFO’s of some pretty major organizations: Hunt Oil, Adobe, J Crew, Under Armor. All of them have provided in-depth insight onstage during customer panels that have focused on the role of IT in the business to run the business better, grow the business and transform the business. There remain countless opportunities for IT oriented innovation to rip unnecessary costs out of the business, and it involves this tactical to strategic transition.
  • enhance quality and reliability of product: Last year, I spoke to 2,500 global quality professionals on the challenges that the high velocity economy presents to the concept of quality. The fact is, new issues hit us in the marketplace faster than ever before. And the global idea loop means that quality challenges can become a sudden, massive worldwide PR nightmare faster than we’ve ever been prepared for. That’s why avoiding quality problems remains a critical focus. I’d take a look at how well we’re dealing with quality issues, and whether we’ve got the agility to respond in this new world of heightened PR challenges. I’d also have a group prepare an immediate outline of challenges and problems with customer service and satisfaction.
  • partner up: no one company can do everything on its own anymore. Take a look t the world of self-driving cars — every single auto company is partnering at a furious pace, because they know that access to specialized skills is the defining success factor for the future!
  • capture new emerging growth markets faster: I’d begin to orient the team so that we knew about which market opportunities might come next, and then spend time aligning ourselves to innovate faster in such markets. I recently spent some time with one client, and the focus of our discussion was how a new market was set to unfold in the next three months. Expectations were that the market — for a unique consumer product, with potential sales in the billions of dollars — might last for a period of eighteen months, before being eclipsed by the next stage of development. Essentially, the CEO was looking at a situation where they had to figure out how to jump into this new fast market, and make the most of it in an extremely short period of time. That’s a new skill structure to wrap an organization around, and one that every organization must learn to master.

That’s a good starting point. The key issue: I’d begin by aligning the organization to the concept of “thriving in the high velocity economy.”

Oh, and one of the first things I’d do? I would immediately convene a senior management/leadership meeting, and bring in a futurist and innovation expert to wake my people up to the potential that can come from energizing ourselves towards future opportunities.

One recent client engaged me for a talk for their global team, with the keynote title “Achieving Agility: Aligning Ourselves for an Era of Accelerating Change”. That’s a good example of how I outline the attributes for success in a world of high velocity change. With that, I focus on how organizations and leaders must incorporate four key capabilities: agility, insight, innovation and execution.


Corporate agility concept is perhaps the most critical: organizations must presume that the rate of change today is so fast that product lifecycles are collapsing, business models are relentlessly shifting, and customers are unforgiving and fleeting. To name just a few key trends!

Agility implies that we must innovate and adapt based on rapidly changing circumstances, on a continuous basis.

How do we do that? By adopting several key guiding principles that form the basis for all corporate strategy and activities going forward:

  • plan for short term longevity: No one can presume that markets, products, customers and assumptions will remain static: everything is changing instantly. Business strategies and activities must increasingly become short term oriented while fulfilling a long term mission.
  • presume lack of rigidity: Many organizations undertake plans based on key assumptions. Agile organizations do so by presuming that those key assumptions are going to change regularly over time, and so build into their plans a degree of ongoing flexibility.
  • design for flexibility : In a world of constant change, products or services must be designed in such a way that they can be quickly redesigned without massive cost and effort. Think like Google: every product and service should be a beta, with the inherent foundation being one of flexibility for future change.
  • build with extensibility: Apple understood the potential for rapid change by building into the iPod architecture the fundamental capability for other companies to develop add-on products. Think the same way : tap into the world. Let the customer, supplier, partners and others innovate on your behalf!
  • harness external creativity: In a world in which knowledge is evolving at a furious pace, no one organization can do everything. Recogize your limits, and tap into the skills, insight and capabilities of those who can do things better.
  • plan for supportability: Customers today measure you by a bar that is raised extremely high — they expect you to deliver the same degree of high-quality that they get from the best companies on the planet. They expect instant support, rapid service, and constant innovation. If you don’t provide this, they’ll simply move on to an alternative.
  • revisit with regularity: Banish complacency. Focus on change. Continually revisit your plans, assumptions, models and strategies, because the world next week is going to be different than that of today.

To me, that’s what agility is all about!

As with anything, the opportunity around the idea of the ‘smart home’, and the reality of what will transpire, varies to a large degree. We are in early days yet!

That was the essence of an exchange I had with a potential client in the home/condo construction market; they were looking at me for an executive offsite concerning their plans in this space, and wanted a senior level executive session that outlined opportunities with smart home construction in the future.

My key goal was to get across to them that a smart home doesn’t just involve throwing in some Internet-connected devices;  it’s not just about the Internet of Things; there is a lot more potential, and the scope of the opportunity is pretty significant in the long term. Given that, they really needed to take a substantive approach that involved not just short term goals but some long term thinking.

Here’s what I outlined:

  1. It”s bigger than you think. The smart home of the future will not only play a role in security and energy, but also also a role in economic development, healthcare virtualization, the reengineering of local energy grids and much, much more
  2. We’ve only just begun. Major organizations, such as appliance and other home device manufacturers, are only just starting to understand where they can go with the smart home. This is outlined in my recent post, The 11 Rules of IoT Architecture – they are coming to understand that just as Tesla is building cars that can be upgradable, they can play a role in smart homes that will be upgradable and changeable over time. That’s a pretty big scope of opportunity.
  3. The energy side is much more than just connected thermostats The real smart home of the future will be designed with major energy implications in mind. This will involve @ home energy generation, as well as sharable energy systems and support for local community micro-grids. Catch my video on this, Will the Energy Industry be Mp3’d?
  4. AI will play a big role, but no one is sure what that means yet. We are in early days with home AI devices such as Amazon Alexa and other intelligent assistants. Alexa and other devices have caught the attention of the innovators; someone out there is busy engineering future solutions that are barely an idea yet. We don’t know where this aspect will take us!
  5.  Virtual healthcare in the home is a bigger component of the smart home than you realize. Bioconnectivity – the virtualization of healthcare, is massive. The hospital is being reengineered to incorporate the monitoring of patients from afar. Big, bold thinking in the seniors care and other industries will lead to transformation of the very essence of what we think a hospital is – because the home becomes a part of the hospital. Look to the MedCottage for guidance on the opportunity with this issue.
  6. Making it work is pretty complex. An API has been built, but people are only just beginning to use it. Head over to the site, If This Then That. It’s at the vanguard of where we can go with this massive form of hyperconnctivity. It involves a series of rules -if this device does this, then do that. Talk to your phone to turn on your thermostat. Use your phone to see where you are and define a rule if your garage door should open. The number of companies joining IFTT is staggering — it is likely the World Wide Web for the Internet of Things!
  7. Existing players aren’t necessarily the major players. Google was big and early into the game with NEST, but don’t expect that big organizations like GE, Whirlpool and others will easily give up the potential market. While big companies aren’t necessarily the best innovators, I’m seeing a lot of deep, substantive thinking in these organizations as to the real nature of a smart home eco-system.
  8. The economic implications are huge. In the 1950’s, the modern suburb defined the future of economic relocation – companies made decisions based upon where the employees might live. In the future, smart communities wired by smart infrastructure, particularly those supporting the nomadic worker, will have an economic leg up. Wild card: self-driving cars and economic success.
  9. Architectural / design issues are only just being explored. If we can build ultra-smart, energy efficient, secure homes, have we yet hit an understanding of the design opportunity? In this area, think about the Jetsons – it really provides guidance!
  10. The skills issues are massive! I had one of the first Internet enabled thermostats about 17 years ago. My HVAC contractor flipped out when he saw it, complaining he didn’t know how to wire Ethernet stuff. I said that’s ok, my teenage son will do it — and he did! Its going to take a lot of knowledge re-skilling for the future of the smart home!

For each of these areas, I’ve spent a lot of time in the last 20 years. By way of examples:

  •  I’ve spent time with many of the companies in the home energy sector; all of Honeywell, Trane, and Lennox have had me in for CEO level events or dealer meetings
  • with the era of smart appliances, I just keynoted a session at Whirlpool/Maytag on the implications and opportunities of the Internet of Things.
  • in the energy field, I’ve spoken about the future of micro-grids and shared energy for the CEO of PG&E, as well as many global energy conferences
  • I’ve done multiple keynotes around the future of virtualized, community oriented healthcare, most recently, for several thousand folks in the seniors care industry
  • on the economic implications , lots of talks — I’ve just been booked by the Western Nevada Economic Development Association for a keynote around this theme, by way of example
  • on the architectural / design issues, I recently had a keynote in St. Louis for Alberici Construction…. and others
  • and on the skills issues, a lot of time, including talking about the future challenges for HVAC contractors and others at the WorldSkills conference in Sao Paolo, Brazil!

One of my favourite future phases is from Bill Gates: Most people tend to overstate the rate of change that will occur on a two year basis, and underestimate the rate of change on a 10 year basis. So it is with the smart, connected home. We’re going to be in a different space 10 years from now, but we are only just starting to define that!

Closing comment? Back in the late 90’s, I wrote a monthly column for one of the world’s leading airlines — Canadian Airlines! One of my columns had to do with the smart home of the future. It’s a fun read today – and I was pretty right about the trends going forward! Have a read!

Soon you’ll be programming the drapes
September 1999 – Canadian Magazine
by Jim Carroll PDF

The last few decades have been marked by promised of innovative new technology for the home. The presumption, of course, is that more technology is good for us and that, in the process, our homes will become “smart.” Yet today, as we consider the number of people whose VCRs still flash 12:00, we wonder just how smart our homes have become.

YESTERDAY

Ever since the 1930s, many industries have predicated a variety of fanciful technologies that would find their way into our homes and make our lives much easier. Most predictions are, in retrospect, hilarious.

Perhaps one of the earliest examples was the introduction of the automatic dishwasher at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. Westinghouse presented a dishwashing contest between Mrs. Modern (using a Westinghouse dishwasher) and Mrs. Drudge (cleaning her dishes by hand). At the close of the contest (you know who won), the moderator commented that in addition to losing, Mrs. Drudge was not nearly as “neat and refreshed as when she started.” Yes, technology would make us feel better!

Washing dishes seemed to be a favourite theme of the World’s Fair: some 25 years later, the 1964 Fair featured the Norge Dish Maker. The appliance washed and dried plastic dishes – and then ground them up into tiny pellets, which it would then mould them into new plates, cups and saucers!

Walter Cronkite got in on the act, appearing on March 12, 1967 in At Home 2001, a half-hour show about the nature of the home at the dawn of the new millennium. He explained, for example, the duties of the host: “When a guest arrives, he just pulls out his inflatable chair – a small pressurized air capsule would inflate it and it would be ready for use. At the end of the evening he’d just pull out the plug and put the deflated chair back into his little bag.” Need to cook for the guests? Simply reach for the ultimate in convenience food. “A meal might be stored for years and then cooked in seconds,” he said, without a trace of scepticism.

Optimism continued to reign. In 1977, the Vancouver Sun reported on a “domestic android” manufactured by Quasar Industries, which could “serve your dinner, vacuum your rugs, baby-sit your kids and insult your enemies.”

There was a common undercurrent to many of the predictions about the “smart home.” We would have push-button control over everything, a “remote control for the home,” that would allow us to draw the drapes, water the plants, turn down the thermostat, and control virtually every other aspect of the house simply by punching a few buttons.

TODAY

Of course, few of us today have such capabilities – and we wonder if we’d be able to use it even if it were available. After all, how many of us could manage that “remote control for the home” when we find ourselves stymied by the typical 50-button VCR remote control?

The industry is certainly trying to deal with the problem. There is no shortage of ‘smart-home” technology available and apparently some people are buying this stuff – the U.S.-based National Association of Home Builders estimates that, worldwide, some $2 to $4 billion is spent each year on smart-home devices that link security systems, lighting, and entertainment communication systems.

Who buys them? John and Missy Butcher of Chicago, for example. They have spent $100,000 on a home automation system, which means that (if they are in the mood), they can click the “Romance” button on their home automation controller and watch as the curtains are drawn and the lights dim, while listening to music designed to get them in the mood. “Our lives are much easier,” they note.

Of course, we might think, anyone who can spend $100,000 on a home automation system already has an easy life.

TOMORROW

Will the smart home remain largely a concept, an expensive curiosity available only to the richest and most gadget-hungry among us? Likely not. This is one technology that is set to explode in terms of the number of customers it will gain and the practical role it will play in our daily lives. There are several reasons for this.

First, many people now have more than one computer in the home. The computer industry recognizes that linking them together into a home-based local area network is going to be one of the biggest opportunities of the next three years.

We won’t simply be linking the computers in our home. The technology will link all of our devices based on the computer chip into a central control panel, bringing us one step closer to the remote control concept of earlier decades. Three years from now, you may be buying a set of drapes with a microchip. Plug them in, program them – and forget about them.

Second, the emergence of the Internet plays a significant role. Though we think of it as a tool to surf the Web and read e-mail, it is also a technology that will one day link our refrigerator to its manufacturer, notifying the company when the appliance is about to break down – and, in the process, taking us through the next step in home automation.

And finally, there is the ever-decreasing cost of technology. The smart home has always been held back by the fact that the minimum investment was at least $2,000, but that figure is dropping quickly.

And, most significant of all, we’ll barely notice the technology as it sneaks into our home! We’ll be buying appliances, garage door openers, alarm systems and other things for our home, unaware that they contain the necessary intelligence to plug into our home network.

It’s not that we’ll choose to have a smart home – one day, we’ll discover that it’s already smart.

Not quite convinced? Let me quote Walter Cronkite, from that 1967 program. “Sounds preposterous,” he told his audience, with a bit of a smile, “but some people are convinced it will happen.”

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