Event Recap: The Art of VR – June 2017

Last month, the Lab attended The Art of VR event presented by the VR Society. The two-day event hosted at Sotheby’s NYC brought together leaders in the VR industry to discuss the future of the space from creative, production, media, and advertising perspectives. The day was split between panel discussions ranging from realistic human avatars to the future of media and many different demos illustrating the wide range of VR applications today.

VR’s Growing Pains

It is no surprise that the VR space is still in its infancy. While there has been rapid adoption of the Samsung Gear VR – almost 5 million headsets have been purchased – and mobile VR, overall, the VR space is stilling lacking content and users. As we observed in our 2016 Outlook report:

“While early adopters and hardcore gamers are starting to buy virtual reality gear with the launch of Samsung Gear VR and the upcoming Oculus Rift, Playstation VR, and HTC Vive, creation of content that will spur real adoption is only beginning. It’s a chicken-or-egg problem: Why buy a headset if there’s little content and why invest in content if so few can see it?”

The Indie VR panel only reinforced this point. The industry is starting to gain traction, however, the final format for VR is still unknown. Panelists suggested that there needs to be weirder experimental content to test out what VR can truly be.  

Realistic Human Avatars

One of the most interesting concepts that is starting to solidify are realistic human avatars within VR. Companies like Loom.ai, Wolf3D, Macinnes Scott, and Facebook’s Oculus team are all, already working on the technology. However, it begs the question – who is actually going to use them?           

If we look back, videos games have been offering a level of personalize/stylization for years. Players are able to customize facial features, skin tone, height, clothing, gender and more. Fast forward to October of 2014 and the launch of customizable avatar platform Bitmoji took personalized avatars even further. Now people are able to create human-like social avatars to be shared on different social messaging platforms. Bitmoji was so successful that Snap Inc acquired Bitmoji’s parent company BitStrips for $100M. Looking to the future, Macinnes Scott is looking to create hyper realistic avatars for celebrities and allow such avatars to be licensed out for mind-blowing VR content creation.

Takeaways for Brands

Three major takeaways from this event for brands that is curious about exploring VR:

1). At its current stage, VR excels at storytelling, so don’t expect to sell large volume of products in VR but rather focus on driving brand loyalty and awareness instead.
2). Be mindful in choosing the type of VR content to integrate with — they needs to be able to align with brand products in a natural way.
3). The analytic tools are here today to measure the success of a VR campaign, but brands will need to use their own judgements as to which ones they want to use.

The Lab team have been shouting from the rooftops that the best use case for VR is storytelling. VR is the perfect realm to tell stories and engage with a user in a way that has never been possible before. From a brand perspective, we envision brands integrating into VR experiences where their products fit organically .VR is exciting because the experiences are built within gaming engines that make integrating branded 3D objects simple. Brands can have their product built directly into a game’s environment and allows game publishers to bring this additional layer of realism to their game (as well as generate some extra revenue). Overall it is a win-win scenario for both VR content creators and brands.

Well-placed product ingratiation within a suitable VR experience doesn’t mean anything to a brand unless real tangible insights can be produced. That is where VR analytics companies like CognitiveVR come into play. They allow brands to track a multitude of rich interactions within a VR experience including; how a user moves within the game, gaze (where a person is “looking”), number of branded object interactions and time spent. There is no consensus on what metrics will be the most useful to measure campaign success, which brands will have to decide for themselves on a case-by-case basis. However, the tools are available today to provide real tangible insights for brands.


What To Expect From 2017 Google I/O Conference

Google is set to kick off its 2017 I/O Developer Conference on Wednesday to announce some of its latest software and hardware news. As with years past, the Lab has been keeping a close tab on Google, with special interests in the developments Google Assistant and Google Home. Here’s a round-up of all the news Google has announced so far, along with what we expect to see from this year’s Google I/O event.

Android-Powered Connected Cars
Google is teaming up with Audi and Volvo to ship car systems running on Android operating system. This means cars running Android infotainment system will also include Google Assistant, allowing car owners to use voice command to carry out various tasks such as searching on the go, asking for directions, and making phone calls. Google is expected to show off live demonstrations of the operating system running on the Audi Q8 and Volvo V90 SUVs at the I/O event.

Conversational Interfaces And Voice Assistant
In addition, Google has also updated Allo, the messaging app it introduced last year that has yet to gain much traction among mobile users, with selfie-generated stickers. Google is also making it easier for Allo users to add people to group chats by supporting QR codes for groups.

Speaking of Google Assistant, the company is also reportedly working on bringing the voice assistant to iOS devices by adding it to the Google Search iOS app. It would be a similar tactic that Amazon deployed to get Alexa on iOS, and although it likely won’t guarantee much increase in usage, it does significantly boost the accessibility of its AI-powered assistant service for iOS users.

For this year’s event, we expect to see major updates to Google Assistant as well as new its hardware partners, as Google continues to duke it out with Amazon in the smart speaker space. So far, Amazon is leading that emerging market with a 70% market share, thanks to the first-mover advantage it scored with the Echo products. Google Home is a distant second with a 23.8% share, which means Google still has a lot of catching up to do.

Standalone Daydream VR Headset
Outside the conversational assistant and smart home space, we also hope to see some updates regarding Google’s Daydream VR. First launched at last year’s Google I/O event, the Daydream VR system has not gained much momentum in consumer adoption, largely hindered by the limited number of mobile handsets supporting it. Google is reportedly going to demo a “standalone Daydream VR headset” at this year’s I/O event, according to Variety.

Beyond these key areas of interests, we also expect to see more announcements on the next generation of the Android OS, Chrome OS, Instant Apps, Android Wear, and Android TV.

Please check back later this week for the Lab’s in-depth analysis of all the things marketers need to know from Google’s I/O conference event this year. Follow us on Twitter @ipglab for our live updates.


Sources: As linked in the post


Fast Forward: South By Southwest 2017 Trend Recap

Editor’s Note: As a general version of our actionable intelligence products, this version only includes generic suggestions for brands. For industry-specific versions, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]).

  • New use cases for conversational UIs broaden the design of brand experiences
  • Artificial intelligence in training for the spotlight and may guide behavioral changes
  • New VR and AR demos heralds the next level of immersive and reality-bending experiences
  • A display of global culture and communities reflect the open nature of new media channels


Last Friday, the Lab team descended upon Austin, Texas to attend the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival. Over the course of five days, we met with clients and promising startups, chatted with industry insiders and thought leaders, and checked out some innovative exhibitions that companies set up all over town. This year’s SXSW may not have a breakout new trend or app, as Twitter once was in 2007 and Meerkat in 2015, nevertheless, it underscored some of the ongoing trends in consumer technology and marketing with a few new spins that all brands need to look out for.

Conversational Interfaces Test New Narratives

Led by the explosion of interest in voice-based digital assistants, conversational interfaces are having a moment, underscored by Alexa’s take over of this year’s CES. SXSW was no different, as many exhibitors, such as meal replacement maker Soylent and China’s Mobvoi proudly showed off their latest conversational products and integrations. However, we also saw some new products that have the potential to expand the design and narratives of conversational experiences.

For example, Capital One, a “super sponsor” of the festival, brought their newly launched SMS bot Eno to SXSW to showcase the future of conversational banking. Capable of natural language processing, the Eno bot can help customers handle basic tasks such as checking for balances or making payments via text. It can even understand emojis and allow you to send a “thumb up” or “smiley face” as confirmations. Eno is also notably designed to be gender-neutral, bucking the ongoing trend of predominantly female personas among popular digital assistants. When asked if it is a boy or a girl, the bot will wryly reply that it is “binary.”

More innovatively, perhaps, startup Novel Effects brought a new idea to voice-based conversational products, as the founders demonstrated at the SXSW Accelerator pitch event. Instead of making a device that simply reads the bedtime stories for your kids, its product aims to enhance your own story-telling, using voice recognition to listen for certain keywords in the pre-vetted kid’s books and play sound effects and musical cues at the right moments. The experience that Novel Effects envisions is less about back-and-forth conversations, but rather using natural language processing to support storytelling, amplifying the message with environmental and contextual audio cues.

Training AI & Using It To Guide Behaviors

No tech or marketing event in 2017 would be without the buzz surrounding artificial intelligence, and SXSW was no exception. Behind the intensive discussions on its potential applications and ethical issues, the core message is clear – we are on the verge of another industrial revolution led by the deployment of AI-powered robots and services, and everyone, from brands to agencies to media owners, needs to get ready for it. Personal data abound thanks to the increasing adoption of wearables and other connected devices, and by plugging them into AI engines for insights and recommendations, brands may be able to unlock the abilities to guide behavioral changes.

Various keynote presentations and panels this year are AI-themed, including “AI: How Tech’s Next Revolution Will Change Lives” where Diane Bryant, executive vice president of Intel’s Data Center Group, shared her vision for AI innovations, and “Using AI & Machine Learning to Extend the Disney Magic,” where a panel of Disney executives talked about how to apply AI and machine learning tools to storytelling and animations.

In terms of exhibitors, IBM had a big showing by renting out the entire Brazos Hall for four days to demonstrate the various use cases of its cognitive computing service Watson. Guests at the “Makers’ Garage” could use Watson’s cognitive capabilities to design a T-shirt, remix a song, or even create a bot. One particularly interesting activation used Watson to recommend beers based on that participant’s answers to four generic questions that help to discern individual tastes and preferences. Participants were then encouraged to taste the three choices that Watson presents and offer feedback on whether Watson chose the right beers. The goal, IBM says, is to train AI to ask the right questions and improve the accuracy of its recommendations.  

Beyond using the SXSW crowd for AI training and educating the event-goers about the revolutionary potential of AI, we also saw an exciting implication that AI could bring to marketing. Bento is a connected device maker that makes sleep monitors for babies and parents, which come with a built-in algorithm that can recommend the optimal nap and sleep time for babies based on their sleep patterns so that the parents can get some rests as well. The potential of the increasing amount of personal data has quantified our sense of “selfhood”, and AI solutions will help people make sense of that data, extract actionable insights, and help guide them to form new habits and make better choices.

Setting The Next Stage For VR & AR

Virtual reality and augmented reality are prominently featured at this year’s festivals as expected. Though nothing groundbreaking was announced, the immersive activations nevertheless demonstrated the advances VR and AR technologies has made in setting the stage for a more socially connected and interactive user experience.

Sony’s Future Lab division demonstrated a multi-person VR game of tag called Superception that allows up to four players to share their perspectives with each other in real time. Built with a network of interconnected VR headsets, the game is to figure out where the other players may be by analyzing all four perspectives.

Viacom’s R&D unit Viacom Next debuted “The Melody of Dust,” a VR experience that is in equal parts VR gaming and interactive composition. Working with the sounds provided by electronica musician Hot Sugar, participants are encouraged to generate their own version of the music video by interacting with different objects in this room-scale VR experience.

On the AR side, advances in facial recognition and tracking have enabled more precise augmented experiences. Philm applies artistically rendered live filters to your photos and videos, whereas AR startup YouCam worked with e.l.f. cosmetics to create a smart mirror that can apply virtual makeup to your face and let you switch between different looks. AR headset maker Meta brought its latest hardware Meta 2 to SXSW, which is positioned as a cheaper yet equally powerful alternative to Microsoft’s HoloLens.

Sony showcased an impressive AR installation with an update of its projector-based touchscreen technology. By combining it with unique user interface design, the new set-up allows users to control holographic objects with their hand gestures. While this may not be ready for the consumer market any time soon, it nevertheless points to a future where mixed reality technology blurs the line between the physical and the digital without the need for a headset or a screen.

Global Culture On DIsplay

SXSW may bear the name of a regional event, but make no mistake, this event is nothing but a globally inclusive display of culture and technological advances. There were more than a dozen of panels and events that showcased the global point of view on tech and creativity.

At the New Dutch Wave house, Dutch media company Talpa reflected on the success and learnings from building The Voice from one hit reality show in Holland into a global phenomenon. By working with local production companies that licensed the show’s format, Talpa was able to tweak the show to fit with the regional realities while maintaining its core elements that transcends cultural differences. The public voting system, for example, has to be altered at times due to smartphone adoption rate in certain global markets, but the chair-turning blind auditions stay consistently the same.  

The open nature of the internet has made it possible for content platforms to reach customers across national borders, and the proliferation of smartphones has granted internet access for more customers than broadband ever did. These new digital mega channels, many of which were present at SXSW such as Twitch or Spotify, reflect an increasingly globally homogenizing consumer culture and interconnected communities.

What Brands Need To Do

For brands, the main challenge prompted by the ongoing trends which SXSW underscored comes down to two big questions: how are you designing the user experience, and  how do you make use of the customer data?

Whether it’s conversational interfaces or immersive interfaces powered by VR/AR technology, brands have new ways to design their user experiences. The rise of voice-activated home assistants has opened up a new channel for brands to design audio-based experiences to reach customers, and offer a hands-free user experience that is preferable in certain contexts such as driving or cooking.

The new activations and demos from SXSW point to a bright future where VR and AR technology are interactive enough to allow customizable content that offers customers options and social enough to allow the immersive experience to be scalable. As the hardware continues to develop, VR content is quickly emerging as a medium that brand marketers should explore to attract consumer attention with innovative storytelling, whereas AR is positioned to have even bigger implications for marketers by blending digital elements into the physical world.

Besides the obvious opportunities, brands should also consider building audio-based and immersive experiences to augment and support existing marketing efforts. For example, an auto brand may consider developing a voice-based digital assistant for dealerships that can chime in to provide statistics and funny one-liners to support the sales pitch. A retailer, on the other hand, may find it useful to develop a seasonal interactive VR experience to help draw people into stores during holiday sales events.

Beyond designing new user experiences, brands also need to learn to leverage the power of AI to harvest the huge potentials hidden in their customer data. Many companies have launched branded chatbots to reach customers on messaging apps, and they will only get smarter and more helpful as AI technology advances. But few has yet to plug AI into their CRM systems and marketing creatives to deliver personalized user experiences that enhance your brand messages, as well as data-driven, dynamic recommendations that can help modify customer behaviors.

AI is a key driver in the development of autonomous vehicles. But beyond that impending auto revolution, AI can be used to analyze purchase patterns and market trends so as to help brands across industries identify the key moments in consumer journey and reach them with personalized messages. If your brand has yet to consider the potential of AI solutions in transforming your business and marketing practices, now would be the time to start.

How We Can Help

While some of the trends we dived into here are still in early stages of development, areas such as conversation interfaces and VR content are ripe for in-market brand activations. If you’re not sure where to start, the Lab is at your service.

We have extensive experience in building Alexa Skills and AI-powered chatbots to reach consumers on conversational interfaces. The “Miller Time” Alexa Skill we developed with Drizly for Miller Lite is a good example of our expertise. We developed Dialogue, a dedicated conversational practice backed by our stack of best-in-class technology partners and an insights engine that can help you build the optimal conversational experience and extract business intelligence from conversational data.

As for VR, our dedicated team of experts is here to guide marketers through the distribution landscape. We work closely with brands to develop sustainable VR content strategies to promote branded VR and 360 video content across various apps and platforms. With our proprietary technology stack powered by a combination of best-in-class VR partners, we offer customized solutions for distributing and measuring branded VR content that truly enhance brand messaging and contribute to the campaign objectives.

Additionally, if you want to learn more about how to employ AI beyond conversational interfaces and how to effectively reach a global audience via new online channels, we have more strategic insights on these topics that we are happy to share and customize for your brand as well.

If you’d like to know how the Lab can help your brand figure out how to tap into these tech trends manifested at SXSW to supercharge your brand with digital solutions, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]) to schedule a visit to the Lab.

SXSW 2017: All The Cool Stuff That You Missed Over The Weekend

As with years past, the Lab team descended upon Austin, TX on Friday for the annual media, art, and tech bonanza that is South by Southwest. Over the weekend, we have been busy meeting with promising startups, industry thought-leaders, and clients, but we have also taken some time to check out what’s on exhibition this week. Here is a roundup of some of the coolest innovations coming out of SXSW that you missed over the weekend.

As with last year, VR experiences are everywhere at this year’s SXSW. One that stands out from the pack is the “Zero Gravity VR Experience” that Universal set up to promote its The Mummy reboot. Working with Positron, a startup that specializes in making motion-simulating VR chairs, the movie studio created a powerful VR experience that adds a new immersive dimension to the actions. While most branded VR initiatives still rarely dare to move beyond simple 360-degree videos, VR experiences like this one point to some exciting direction that immersive media content could be headed for.

Chinese electric car brand NIO debuted its new NIO EVE autonomous EV concept car, which is equipped with an “artificial intelligence engine” called NOMI for the passengers to interact with the vehicle. The company noted that it plans to bring the car to the U.S. market by 2020. As self-driving vehicles continue to develop, we are excited to see how that will the transform future of transportation and supercharge the auto industry.

NIO EVE autonomous EV concept (click image for full size)
NIO EP9 EV (click image for full size)

Levi’s announced at the SXSW that the smart jacket it is collaborating on with Google on now has a release date and a price tag. The connected jacket uses conductive fabric to turn a jacket into a connected remote that can communicate with your smartphone and send commands, such as tapping your sleeves to pause a song. Levis says it will be available this fall and will set you back around $350 a piece.


Sony brought back its projector-based touchscreen technology to SXSW this year and combined it with some unique user interface design to allow users to control AR objects by gesture. The company’s Future Lab program is also showcasing some of its latest hardware concepts at a so-called “Wow Factory” in a converted warehouse. As digital interfaces continue to evolve, brands need to catch up and update the UX design of their online touch points accordingly to deliver a fresh, fun, and functional customer experience.

Adidas says it is looking to collaborate with third-party brands to create a new open ecosystem for its digital fitness products. The company acquired fitness tech company Runtastic in 2015 to boost its fitness tech efforts, but it has lagged behind competitors such as Nike and Under Armour in building out a digital fitness community. This announcement comes just one month after the company’s decision to shut down its MiCoach platform in favor of consolidating that ecosystem with Runtastic’s, and indicates Addidas’ plan for building out its digital fitness offerings.

Check back for more SXSW updates as the festivals go on this week.


CES 2017 Day 3: Under Armour Joins The Sleep Tech Boom

 Earlier this afternoon, Under Armour CEO and founder Kevin Plank delivered the last solo keynote address of this year’s CES. The fast-talking CEO began with a passionate and detailed account of the transition his company has successfully made in recent years from a sportswear brand into a fast-growing athleisure lifestyle brand supercharged by fitness technology, before moving on to introduce a few new products and updates.

The Sleep Tech Boom
As we noted in our CES First Look on Tuesday, sleep-related tech is a hot area at this year’s CES, which even created its first-ever dedicated “sleep tech marketplace.” Startups like Vobot, Motio HW, ZEEQ, and Acesleep come to showcase their products all designed to monitor and enhance your sleep. Sleep Number debuted a self-adjusting connected bed that can fit various sleeping positions and alleviate mild snoring. 

Now, Under Armour is jumping on the sleep tech bandwagon with a new line of sleepwear dubbed Athlete Recovery Sleepwear. The company partnered with researchers from John Hopkins University and star quarterback Tom Brady to design this high-tech pajama line, made with a special fabric that the company claims can enhance your sleep quality by absorbing heat and improving blood flow and cell regeneration.

The company announced on stage that it is partnering with Arianna Huffington’s lifestyle and wellness brand Thrive Global to promote this new line of sleepwear. On the software side, the company is also updating its UA Record app to incorporate its new focus on sleep. New features for this fitness tracking app include generating reports on sleeping cycles and consistency and offering tips on how to achieve better sleep.

As sleep quickly becomes digitalized and integrated as part of our health and fitness data, we expect to see more fashion, healthcare, and sports brand to come out with their own sleep-related initiatives.

Under Armor’s Digital Fitness Strategy
Beyond its new sleep initiatives, Under Armour also updated its MapMyRun app to add a feature called Jump Test, which asks users to do a set of jumping jacks and uses the sensors on its connected footwear line to determine if your body has sufficiently warmed up for a run.

Under Armour is not the only company showcasing fitness-oriented connected apparels at this CES. Two standout examples from this category are Polar’s new connected sports shirt, which comes with built-in vital-tracking sensors that can share data in real time, and the “E-Skin” bodysuit developed by Xenoma, which is embedded with 14 motion-capturing sensors designed to track your full-body movements during workouts.

A big part of the success that Under Armour has enjoyed so far can be attributed to its digital fitness strategy. Looking beyond physical products like apparels and shoes, the company made a series of acquisitions from 2013 to 2015 that beefed up its fitness app portfolio, which includes the aforementioned UA Records and MapMyRun as well as the popular calorie-tracking app MyFitnessPal. By allowing its customers to aggregate and understand the fitness data they generate with their apps and products, the company has fostered an online fitness community of over 160 million users. For other fashion and sports brands, this digital-led strategy should provide some inspiration in how to effectively reach and engage with today’s connected consumers.


CES 2017 Day 3: Healthcare Tech Getting A Boost From IoT Connectivity

What We Saw At CES
Healthcare is getting a strong boost from the recent developments in connected devices and machine learning, allowing medical device manufacturers to create smarter gadgets that work wonders seamlessly. Qualcomm announced it is building an “internet of medical things” upon its 5G network during its keynote session earlier today, and here’s a round-up of the kind of connected healthcare devices that are already on show at CES.

TytoCare created a smart diagnostic tool that goes beyond simply taking your temperature. Equipped with a high-resolution camera, microphones and sensors, this device can check inside your mouth and throat and listen to your heart and lungs for diagnosis. Like other connected devices, TytoHome can transfer the healthcare data it collects to your doctor via a mobile app.

Convincing kids to take their medicines on time could be a taxing job, which is why French startup Meyko created a smart assistant toy for kids with asthma. To encourage kids to stay on schedule with their medication. the penguin-shaped doll is programmed to have “mood swings” that can only be cured by the child taking their medicine. As a connected toy, the Meyko doll will send notifications to parents via its app to report their daily medicine intake and offer advice to reduce exposure to asthma triggers.

Established medical device maker Omron came to CES this year with a smartwatch that doubles as a blood pressure monitor. Named Project Zero Heartvue, the wearable has a blood pressure cuff embedded in the watch’s wristband, making it the first wearable blood pressure monitor.

Beyond connected gadgets, healthcare tech is also showing up in unexpected places at this year’s CES. Both Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz are coming up with healthcare-themed initiatives, respectively, for their new concept cars, leveraging machine learning to gauge and improve the moods and wellbeings of the drivers. Then there is SimforHealth, a VR training tool for doctors and other healthcare practitioners by putting them through simulated scenarios.

What This Means For Healthcare Brands
All these incredible innovations we saw at CES shows the great potential connected devices and machine learning holds in transforming the healthcare industry. To create better experiences for patients and customers, it is up to healthcare brands to explore the huge potential connected IoT has in normalizing the healthcare devices and integrating them seamlessly into our daily life. The connectivity among healthcare devices will also unleash an unprecedented amount of personal health data, which healthcare brands will need to treat cautiously with respect to privacy and find an ethical way to leverage it for researches and extracting behavioral insights.


CES 2017 Day 3: Qualcomm Aims To Connect Everything With 5G

Steve Mollenkopf, CEO of Qualcomm, took the stage at CES this morning to walk us through the ambitious plans the company has for developing and implementing 5G connectivity to power immersive experiences, connecting everything, and transforming industries such as transportation and healthcare. According to a study on the “5G Economy” the company conducted, 5G-related goods and services will generate over $12 trillion in value in 2035 and create over 22 million jobs worldwide.

Powering Immersive Experiences On 5G
In November. Qualcomm unveiled their newest processing chip called  Snapdragon 835, which the company now hopes will work with the 5G network it is building to enable a better and smoother immersive experiences on desktop and mobile devices. The higher data speeds enabled in 5G means faster downloads, which is essential in improving untethered VR experiences. Qualcomm is also working with other media partners to develop VR and AR experiences powered by its processor. The company previewed a Power Ranger-themed VR experience it developed with Lionsgate, as well as a shaper VR livestream of NBA matches that NextVR will be able to deliver over 5G connectivity.

 screen-shot-2017-01-06-at-12-31-38-pm-2Connecting Everything To Build A Smart Future
The enhanced connectivity provided by 5G networks will also enable us turn everyday objects into connected devices. And since the 5G connection will be strong enough to carry a city-wide worth of utility and infrastructure devices, it would bring to life the kind of smart cities that some technologists have envisioned where those connected devices communicate with each other to share data and offer the city dwellers perks of convenience and safety. 

screen-shot-2017-01-06-at-12-41-16-pm-2Transforming Industries With Next-Level Connectivity
Perhaps most importantly, 5G networks, coupled with powerful processors capable of handling that accelerated connectivity, will transform various industries ranging from healthcare to transportation by enabling new tools such as autonomous drones and industrial IoT networks. For example, Qualcomm is working with healthcare companies such as UnitedHealthcare, Novartis, and Philips to create a healthcare network that securely connects medical and healthcare devices over 5G. The faster speed brought by 5G will also be instrumental in the development of connected cars and self-driving cars, according to Qualcomm, which in turn will bring major disruptions for the auto and transportation industries. 

screen-shot-2017-01-06-at-12-55-21-pm-2Key Takeaways For Brands
These innovations that Qualcomm is working to unleash with 5G network will usher in a new reality for consumers and brands, where new immersive formats become the norm, instant connectivity is expected everywhere, and AI-powered automation and data analysis running in the background quietly improves services and customer experiences. To get ready for that future, brands will need to start exploring immersive media formats such as VR and AR to build up their content catalogue, adopt a data-centric omnichannel approach in designing your customer experience to ensure that it stays consistent across platforms, and begin to think about how your brand may incorporate machine learning and AI automation into your products and services to deliver a better customer experience.

CES 2017 Day 2: Nissan To Put Cortana In Cars, Plus More Auto News

For the last keynote session of the day, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, along with several other Nissan executives, took the CES stage to reveal their new Nissan Intelligent Mobility initiative, demoed a new concept car with Cortana Integration, and filled us in on its plan for developing autonomous vehicles.

First up, Nissan introduced its Intelligent Mobility initiative dedicated to developing self-driving electric vehicles that aim for “zero emissions” and “zero fatalities.” Part of that initiative is a workaround solution called Seamless Autonomous Mobility (SAM) for the first generation of self-driving cars, which connects the smart vehicles to a command center, where a human manager can help autonomous cars navigate road situations their software may not be able to handle. The SAM system will then learn how the human managers solve certain situations, apply those solutions for similar future scenarios, and broadcast them to other cars within the system.

Nissan-Intelligence-MobilityThe company went on to announce that it will equip the next generation of its best-selling electric model LEAF with the semi-autonomous ProPilot system, currently used in the Japanese-market Nissan Sirena. It also announced a partnership with Japanese ecommerce company DeNA to test driverless commercial vehicles as it hopes to launch a driverless mobility service in Tokyo by 2020.

The showiest part of the keynote was when Nissan demoed a concept car that held a decent back-and-forth conversation with its owner, thanks to an integration with Microsoft’s Cortana. Building on the partnership between Microsoft and Renault-Nissan Alliance, Nissan is aiming to bring AI-powered voice command into its vehicles for a safer, more intuitive driving experience.   

Nissan-CortanaBut Nissan isn’t the only carmaker that’s putting Cortana in their cars. Earlier today, BMW also announced that it will be integrating Microsoft’s voice assistant service into its new models. On a bigger picture, Ford officially became the first auto brand to bring in-car voice assistant to market as it enabled all existing vehicles running the Ford Sync 3 software to connect with Amazon’s Alexa with an over-the-air update.

The competitive race of developing autonomous cars is particularly palpable at this year’s CES, with all major carmakers and some tech companies like Harman and NVIDIA showcasing some sort of driverless concept models and announcing plans to accelerate their self-driving car developments. Hyundai started hosting test drive of its driverless concept car Ioniq for press earlier today, while Honda unveiled a futuristic-looking autonomous concept vehicle named NeuV that is designed for ride-sharing services. BWM announced today that it is working with Intel and Mobileyes to start testing a fleet of 40 self-driving vehicles on the roads in the United States and Europe.

As we’ve repeatedly noted, this wave of self-driving innovation is set to bring a seismic change to the auto and transportation industries. And the arrival of self-driving cars will free up a significant amount of time spent on driving into potential media time that brands should get ready to fight over. Judging by the announcements coming out of CES, voice-activated conversational interface is set to play a major role in the future of in-car media, and it is never too early for brands start preparing for that inevitable future, especially given the quickening pace of development in self-driving cars.


CES 2017 Day 2: Brands Start To Apply AR Tech Across Industries

What We Saw At CES
Yesterday, we rounded up some of the biggest announcement in augmented reality on the hardware front at CES. Today, three in-market example emerged that once again demonstrate the versatility and great potential AR technology holds for various industries. Let’s look at them one by one.

First, BMW debuted an app called BMW i Visualiser that uses AR to create virtual showrooms at local dealerships, allowing prospective car-buyers to check out some of its latest electric and hybrid cars in 360-degree views even when the dealership don’t have those models in stock. Users will also be able to personalize the virtual models to see what they would look like with a different set of tires or in a different color. Built upon Google’s AR platform Tango, the BMW app will be available in select BMW dealerships across the U.S., Europe, China, and Japan, and it will be available to download directly from Google Play later in the year to transport the showroom to wherever the customers may be.

Second, Gap unveiled an AR app named Dressing Room at Asus’ CES press event yesterday in conjunction with the gadget maker’s new AR-ready smartphone. The app, which is also developed with Google’s Tango platform, lets shoppers select a virtual mannequin close to their own body type and try on different sizes of Gap items for comparison. Shopper will be able to discover some details such as how a fabric may drape on the body or the differences in fit between sizes.

Last but not the least, New York Times is jumping into the world of AR with a branded app it developed to promote an upcoming movie from 20th Century Fox. The publisher’s branded content team worked with IBM to create a Pokemon Go-style mobile game to promote Hidden Figures, a movie that tells the real-life story of three female African-American mathematicians who contributed to NASA’s 1950s space race. Except instead of catching animated monsters in the real world, players will be directed to science-focused destinations in 10 U.S. cities, such as the NASA Langley Research Center and Kennedy Space Center as well as some major universities, to unlock special in-app content, including 3D renderings, written histories, and audio and video about historical leaders in the fields of science and math.

What This Means For Brands
As we noted in our Fast Forward analysis on Pokémon Go when the AR-enabled game first blew up this past summer, augmented reality has some potential use cases that could greatly enhances the user experience in retail, home improvement, fashion, and beauty, while the game did a good job introducing AR tech to the average consumers. Thus, it is encouraging to see at CES more examples of brands leveraging the reality-bending magic of augmented reality to better serve their customers. As AR technology continues to evolve and mature, we expect to see more in-market examples like the three listed above.

If you’d like to get some help to figure out how augmented reality can enhance your customer experience and drive new opportunities for your brand, or simply to try out the HoloLens demo we have to experience the transformative power of AR, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]) to schedule a visit to the Lab.


CES 2017 Day 2: Carnival Cruise Showcases The Future Of Hospitality

For the first keynote address of today, Carnival Corporation President and CEO Arnold W. Donald took the stage to tell CES attendees how one of the biggest cruise companies in the world plans to digitize and transform its guest experience with a proprietary wearable device and an entire cloud-based computing system built to support it. Here are the three key components that the CEO highlighted in his presentation that explains how the company aims to provide a truly seamless, personalized, and dynamic cruise experience for its guests.

Ocean Medallion
Front and center in Carnival’s new guest experience is the Ocean Medallion, a small circular fob that guests can wear like a smartwatch or as a pendant. It is assigned and shipped to each guest at home before the cruise begins so that they may start planning and personalizing their trips. Once the guests aboard the cruise ship, the Medallion will work as an all-access authentication and payment chip, replacing the need for guests to carry their IDs, credit cards, and cruise cards.

According to Carnival, Medallion-ready ships will be equipped with thousands of NFC- and BLE-enabled sensors that communicate with each Medallion to allow the guests to use the fob to open room doors, order and pay for food and other purchases, find family and friends on board, and plan their activity agenda. The Medallions also powers on-board gaming, photo-taking, and various other features that require guest identification. All these add up to a truly seamless cruise experience that removes the hassle of using keys and cards, freeing guests to truly enjoy every precious minute of their cruise.

screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-12-07-35-pmGuest-Centric O.C.E.A.N Approach
At the beginning of his keynote, Donald explained his company’s O.C.E.A.N approach, which it uses to create guest-centric cruise experiences that cater to the interests and preference of each individual customers. O.C.E.A.N stands for “One Cruise Experience Across Network,” which refers to the Experience Intelligence cloud computing system that Carnival has developed to power the Medallions and learn about their guests on an individual level from the data collected by the Medallions. As the system learns more about each guest with the data their Medallion collects, their guest profile will grow more robust, allowing Carnival to not only deliver a highly customized trip but also on future trips should the guests choose to return.

screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-12-18-40-pmOriginal Content Merged With On-Ship Experience
On the marketing front, Carnival is doubling down on original content designed to showcase the feel-good experiences their cruises offer and inspire travel. The company already has three TV series in place and it is launching a brand new one called Good Spirits with A+E Network. Unlike its existing original series, the new mixology-themed show will also be incorporated as part of the guest experience on the new Medallion-ready cruise, with special cocktail lounges where guests will be able to sample and enjoy the drinks they’ve seen on the show.

screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-12-46-15-pmTakeaway For Travel And Hospitality Brands
Altogether, Carnival Cruise’s guest-centric approach offers a good look at the future of travel and hospitality, where wearable tech and cloud computing will work together in the background to deliver a seamless, effortless, and highly personalized experience for each guest, guiding them through each stage of their travel. Once a user profile is established, it will continue to grow and learn new things about the guest each time they return, offering an incentive to establish long-term customer loyalty. As AI and wearable tech continue to advance, their capability to transform the travel and hospitality industries is just starting to emerge, and brands would be smart to start exploring the vast potential they hold and try incorporating them into your guest experiences.