At Retail’s BIG Show, a panel moderated by Pano Anthos, founder and managing director of XRC Labs, discussed new technologies that are seen to have the potential to make a significant difference in the way we conduct our daily lives. Panelists included Sentient CMO Jonathan Epstein, Leif Jentoft, co-founder of RightHand Robotics, Sandra Lopez, vice president of the new technology group with Intel, and Loomia founder Madison Maxey.
The session began with a brief presentation by each panelist on the technology they were representing and the potential that technology has for life-changing impact in the coming years.
Leading off, Epstein described the impact artificial intelligence is having on retail websites. “The e-commerce conversion rate is 3 percent,” he said. “We’d shut down a store with those statistics. AI can solve that problem.”
The problem with retail websites, he said, is that they have not evolved significantly in the past decade. They tend to be built with a hierarchical decision tree structure that requires the consumer to walk a slow and tiresome path to find the products they want. Artificial intelligence applications, which query the shopper and quickly narrow down the range of products offered, can streamline and personalize this process. Websites using AI personalization, Epstein said, are racking up 40 percent conversion rates and 16 percent increases in basket size.
“Wearable technology,” said Lopez. “Are wearables here? Yes. The transition we are making is from a world of wearables to a world of wantables. By 2020 there will be 50 billion connected devices, and they will interact. It’s all going to be driven by 220 billion overall sensors.”
A key question, she said, is what kind of use will be made of the resulting tsunami of data. “There are two possibilities,” she said. “One is that data is pollution. The other is that data is the new oil.”
RightHand Robotics makes robots, which Jentoft said are at a transition point. The technology has been around for decades, but it has been largely limited to very structured, very stable environments, doing the same thing — welding two parts together, picking up and moving heavy objects — over and over and over.
The new generation, however, can operate in unstructured environments doing variable things; Jentoft demonstrated with a video of a robot picking and sorting products from baskets on a conveyor belt, identifying what it wanted from each basket and distinguishing the wanted objects from unwanted ones. “This,” he said, will enable robots to move from B2B to B2C.”
Loomia is in the business of moving from smart wearables (chip-bearing shoes, etc.) to making what we normally wear, i.e. clothing, smart. “Imagine a future,” Maxey said, “where wearables are actually, well, wearable. This future needs robust and reliable smart fabric to become a reality. Our smart fabric conducts electricity in patterns, making a fabric into a circuit. These sorts of smart fabrics mean an exciting future for not just apparel, but also furniture, industrial wear and even wristbands. To create this future, we’re mixing up stretchable and flexible conductive materials to bring energy to fabric — literally. We make enabling technologies to help brands, manufacturers and makers bring electricity to their products.”