A bite-sized summary of CW's Future Devices & Technologies SIG Champions' insights on digital transformation. A recording of their recent virtual fireside chat is also available!
The CW Future Devices & Technologies SIG met up for a fireside conversation about the opportunities created by emerging technologies such as IoT, 5G and AI. Drawing on their many combined years of experience, panellists Graham Anderson (Beko), Nadia Aziz (Unbounded Futures Ltd), Zahid Ghadialy (Parallel Wireless) presented their thoughts on the questions posed by the audience and chair, Charles Sturman (Huawei).
The conversation started with technology drivers and, in particular, 5G, one of the buzzwords of the last twelve months. When considering how 5G will drive digital transformation, Zahid expressed the view that people need to think of 5G as just another form of outdoors connectivity; for indoor scenarios, WiFi will still be the preferred option. He pointed out the use case of the Boston Dynamics robot that is currently monitoring park congregations in Singapore and educating locals on coronavirus rules as a fantastic example of the transformation that 5G could enable. It is also useful for giving people access to events where physical presence is not possible – something particularly relevant for 2020/2021! Nadia agreed with this example of XR as a use case for 5G and pointed to Korean pop where virtual events are becoming a “thing”: musicians, dancers and singers create volumetric captures of themselves and project these in real time into a virtual concert scenario. It is a definite shift in the way people are consuming entertainment.
Talking of virtual events: the CW Future Devices & Technologies SIG elbow bump in their own digital conference venue.
And 5G is not just shifting the consumer experience, but manufacturing and industrial operations too. The group reflected on a company who used 5G-enabled drones, Lidar scanners and 3D CAD software to create a virtual representation of their energy network based on the location of electricity pylons, the routes of the cables and positions of underground structures. This representation was used to model scenarios such as the impact of equipment failure. But while increased connectivity combined with higher numbers of more accurate sensors are increasing our capacity to create a realistic digital depiction of the real world, Graham thinks that the main challenge for deploying digital twin technology in actual homes is going to be creating applications that deliver real value to users.
"Having more connected devices, more sensors, things like edge processing, or passing data to a cloud, all will enable us to have a better correlation between a digital world and the world that we're actually living in, especially when it comes to the home, but the biggest challenge is just is to create the actual value to the user in doing all this" Graham AndersonIn the consumer space, the increased availability of cloud computing has potential, for example in rendering HD volumetric XR experiences and multiplayer gaming. But privacy, bandwidth and power consumption issues limit the extent to which the heavyweight artificial intelligence that is possible in the cloud may be achieved, and Graham added that local computing may remain an important element of the smart home in order to limit the frustrations that users may experience through, for example, poor WiFi connections. The last year has seen a lot of change in the way in which society operates and increased demand for smart home technology. People are spending more time in their home, they are asking more from their devices and appliances – and, chiefly, they expect their devices to achieve basic requirements, such as connectivity, seamlessly. Nadia went on to point out that the technology already exists that could help consumers self-solve WiFi issues in the home. Augmented reality techniques currently being trialled by field engineers have the potential to be deployed en-masse, replacing what could soon be seen as a quaint visit from an engineer.
"If you were to empower a consumer to solve a problem in their own house, you wouldn't need to send an engineer there. If you showed people what to do, through AR for example, it would solve the problem. There's big bucks there - that's the market driver" Nadia Aziz
Healthcare could be the leading market opportunity for digitisation, according to Charles, thanks in part to the pandemic, which has driven rapid innovation in particular around management, delivery and operations – for example the almost immediate switch to telemedicine that happened at the start of the pandemic in GP surgeries. Further development in this area would enable GPs to access more data on your vital statistics, for example through your personal wearable device, fitness monitor or even your camera (data protection permitting). However, incoming regulations for medical software will slow down innovation in this area.
In terms of “how” digital transformation will be achieved, a key market driver suggested by Zahid is the “component-isation” of technology: the creation of easily interfacing, drag-and-drop technology components so that no matter what use case a person is building an application to address, their connectivity, artificial intelligence, data analysis and other tools work together seamlessly no matter which they picked.
“You can kind of build together whatever platform you need to deploy whatever service you need in whichever market vertical that you're in and I guess that's where we're going to need to get to in order to really make a truly ubiquitous digital kind of lifestyle” Zahid Ghadialy
There are many different connectivity options available to manufacturers, but the subscription cost to the consumer for cellular connectivity has regularly been a blocker for its inclusion in smart devices. However, Charles has seen a number of operators change their business models and enable manufacturers to purchase an aggregate subscription for their customers and offer, for example, their smartwatch with twelve months free cellular connectivity because the manufacturer has the contract with the operator. This is, Zahid pointed out, entirely dependent on geography and developing countries will have different network operating models that will affect digital accessibility.
“I think that the world of network connectivity has finally woken up and is evolving in the right direction.” Charles Sturman
You can access all the insights offered up by the CW Future Devices and Technologies SIG Champions via the event recording. If you’re interested in finding out more about digital transformation, why not check out the upcoming Location SIG event, Where in the Warehouse? Or, if your organisation is looking to transform its services, chat to the CW team about how we can support you with an Innovation Programme.