Discussing Tech Trends: Automation

When it comes to predicting what’s just around the corner in tech, it pays to look at current headlines. As a retailer, having your finger on the pulse of the industry always puts you in a better position to greet the future.

As the world prepares for the later part of 2018, automation looms large as a topic in business and everyday life.

Automation in Retail

A decade ago, retail jobs performed by robots still seemed like the stuff of science fiction—like something from The Jetsons. Now, it’s becoming reality. Last month, McDonald’s announced that self-serve kiosks are coming to each of its locations in the United States. The transition will occur at a rate of 1,000 kiosks per quarter. That averages out to more than 10 per day. Besides the on-location kiosks, customers can also place orders on their smartphones.

The hope is that this will offer a more convenient shopping experience to its customers—while also driving add-on sales. People who order from kiosks also apparently make more selections than those who order from employees.

It can be reasonably assumed that other fast-food establishments will follow this seemingly successful model. You can easily observe similar developments at leading grocery stores like Walmart, where people staff fewer and fewer checkout counters.

Walmart is, in fact, already going a step further. The retail giant is in talks with Microsoft to launch a “smart” grocery store—it would be not only cashier-free, but checkout-free—as a way to compete with the already existing Amazon Go. Then there is the patent recently filed by the same company with an eye toward customer-service drones.

Taken together, these developments all seem to point in one direction. Self-serving, automated and smart technologies converge to simplify the shopping experience.

Automation at Home

One thing to keep in mind about any form of automation is the undeniable benefit of saved human labor. When a machine—or smart technology—performs a task normally done by a person, the person has gained time that can be put to other (hopefully productive) uses.

Think of how this plays out in automation-related products at the level of the home. For example, the Switchmate Toggle instantly snaps over an existing light switch for quick and easy automation. Once activated, it can not only be controlled remotely; it also knows when a homeowner is there. That means the lights automatically turn on when a homeowner arrives home or enters a room.

To provide a more novel example, Dome by Alexa has literally “built a better mousetrap” with its Z-Wave Smart Electronic Mouse, Rat and Rodent Trap. Killing rodents in a quick and humane manner, the trap sends notifications via smartphone when full. Its also eliminates the possibility of contact with the rodent.

While the level of human energy involved in flipping a light switch or checking a mousetrap is small, think of how these various activities add up over time. Saved seconds become saved minutes, hours, days. Life becomes simpler—and who doesn’t benefit from that?

As we noted in our our blog on CES 2018 when the year began, “Many products touted the use of AI or smart home integration. Not surprisingly, one of the big leave-behind impressions … was the inevitable morphing of our world into a connected one.”

Half a year later, this has never been more true. The technological future may be daunting, but it’s also exciting.

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