Thursday, December 15, 2005

Back to the Future…

In my last write-up, I had discussed the ‘Technology Timeline’, a report released by British Telecom in August 2005 predicting future technology trends in various areas. In that instance, we had a closer look at BT’s predictions for the ‘Artificial Intelligence’.

As I have explained, BT’s report covers all major areas affecting human life including Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Life, Biotechnology, Health, Business, Education, Home & Office Infrastructure, Life & Leisure, Materials & Electronic Devices, Processing, Memory & Storage, Robotics, Security, Military, Law, Shopping & Money, Space, Telecommunications, Transport & Travel, and Wearable Technology.

This time let us have a go at the predictions relating to the ‘Retail Market Place’

1. In-store positioning systems enable personalised guides (2008-2012), In-store positioning systems with One Centimetre precision (2008-2012)
I think this is an understatement. We do have the technology today itself to set up in-store positioning systems and enable guidance based on the collected position information. The other day, I had a discussion with the CEO of a company named Firetide ( ) based in the Silicon Valley whose mesh network product ‘HotPort’ supports location awareness as a function. You just deploy your wireless mesh network in-store using the product (which uses a proprietary protocol) and connect a bunch of RFID readers to the network; you are kind of operational to locate your loyal customers (through RFID tags) with a few feet accuracy. Then you can provide guidance services (e.g. provide a map to reach some specific shelf), push advertisements on to screens near the person (Narrowcasting and CRM at work) and carry out cross selling and up selling. Is this the best way to do this? Not at all.
If you don’t want to mess with mesh you may use location services from your wireless operator (I am not sure of the accuracy levels though). Even better would be a mesh of detectors which can detect the location by resolving signal strengths at two or more sensors w.r.t something the customer is carrying. I can think of plenty of other technologies as well. To cut the long story short, I can envision this being available with some retailers by the 4th quarter of 2006.

I do agree that the One Centimetre precision would take some more time and 2008 could be just right.

2. Immersive VR shopping booths (2008-2012)
I like this one. I had been an ardent follower of VRML and I believe it did not take off because it was too early to come to the market. The hardware available in circa 2000-2001 just did not have the capability to handle VRML. But today with improvements in graphic processing at the hardware level, virtual reality is probably ready to take centre-stage on common man’s computer. If that is the case what can be better than Virtual Reality malls. I can imagine going through the entire mall sitting in my living room and ordering stuff without stepping out even for a second. (My wife may not be too happy on this). What you would miss is the ‘touch’ and ‘smell’ sensations. For most shopping goods ‘smell’ does not matter and there are plenty where ‘touch’ also does not matter. (A few years down we will have technologies to simulate touch and smell as well, anyway). So get ready to try out all the clothes in Macys on your own body (virtually) before making a purchase decision. This is definitely on and 2008 may be quite in the ballpark.

3. Most books sold on-line (2008-2012)
This is a no-brainer. My extension on this prediction is that by 2009 we would have book like contraptions (with pages which can be turned!!) where the book content can be loaded just like loading a CD in a CD player. Once you finish reading the book insert a different CD (not literally) in and lo and behold! - You have the new book. The instrument will have the same look and feel of a 20th century best seller (in print).

4. Paper and coins largely replaced by electronic cash (2011-2015)
Why so late!!!. Who is using paper and coins anyway for shopping even now? (I am not talking grocery here). If the spread of plastic money in the past and the current growth of mobile phones are indicators, we can safely assume that the ‘Wallet’ software available in most mobile phones would provide the electronic cash support before 2006 end and we will be walking with electronic cash in our phones before 2008 end.

5. Personal taxation at point of sale (2011-2015)
Do you think the tax man will wait till 2011!! Big hope . With the current level of technology it may be available in 18 months time in selected countries in the developed world, I bet!