These Tech Trends Are Set to Dominate the Retail Space in the 2020s

The Jetsons promised a future filled with flying cars, robot maids and convenience around every corner. It’s taken a while, but that automated, high-tech vision could be close at hand, according to the Consumer Technology Association’s vice president of research.

“A lot of the things that we attribute to science fiction today are going to become reality in the next 10 years,” Steve Koenig said Monday at the Consumer Electronics Shows hosted by the association in Las Vegas.

Here are six tech trends to watch for in the decade ahead.

Consumerization of AI

The future as it unfolds in the 2020s will be led by the “consumerization of AI,” Koenig said of artificial intelligence’s animation of virtually every product coming to market. “Artificial intelligence is just permeating every facet of commerce and culture, and consumers are right in the middle of this,” he added.

The way the Internet of Things (IoT) defines AI is shifting away from IoT to focus on intelligence as “connected intelligence” becomes the name of the game. If the 2010s revolved around connecting myriad devices and systems, then the 2020s will double down on infusing products and processes with AI, Koenig said. And that could signal a leap forward for Industry 4.0, which leans heavily on making manufacturing smarter through sensors, computer vision and connected machines.

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Advancements in voice

Though companies across the spectrum have struggled to make sense of voice technology, Koenig expects more brands to support voice-activated assistants — and elevate the tech from its status as the humanoid voice rattling off news and weather. McDonald’s, he said, is giving restaurant drive-throughs a voice assistant makeover to relieve workers from the “stressful job” of juggling the minutiae of getting every single detail correct.

“By adding intelligence to automate one part of this task — taking the order — this really ameliorates the stress of this job,” Koenig said, adding this frees employees to focus just on the monetary transaction, so their tills aren’t short.

McDonald’s experiment with voice assistant tech stands as “emblematic of human-machine partnerships,” Koenig said, “and this is what we can expect to unfold over the next 10 years.” From manufacturing to medicine, automation toiling alongside humans is “going to be everywhere.”

Smart spectacles

Google Glass might have been a product before its time when the consumer market roundly rejected its 2014 launch, but augmented reality (AR) spectacles are undergoing a notable revival, thanks to advanced technology and streamlined, wearer-friendly design. CES Innovation Award winner Norm Glasses, made by Human Capable, look and feel like regular eyewear, Koenig said, and offer “smartwatch features for your face.” Fashion tech companies like Lectra have dabbled with AR and high-tech glasses as a way to quickly diagnose snafus with cutting equipment, symbolic of what Koenig said are the “dozens of use cases tumbling out of [extended reality] technology.”

Gaming gone wild

Video games, once the bane of every parent’s existence, have seen a distinct reversal of fortunes in recent years with gaming and esports becoming big business worldwide. “If you have a teenager, and they’re down in the basement playing games, that might not be a bad thing,” Koenig quipped, noting the half billion dollars in prize money doled out to esports participants in the past few years. Brand marketing, he added, is powering much of the global esports market’s billion-dollar value. And powerhouse brands ranging from Louis Vuitton to Nike, Adidas, Champion and Puma have all been eager to cash in on the craze.

Electric decade

If Koenig is right, the next 10 years might be remembered as the “electric decade for vehicles.” Thanks for innovations making batteries lighter and cheaper while enabling greater range, vehicles powered by eco-friendly electricity rather than air-polluting fossil fuels are poised to take over the streets. DHL, as well as FedEx and UPS, has switched part of its fleet to electric cargo delivery vans that can cover 100 miles on a single charge.

And autonomous vehicles are growing more capable by the day.

“We’re going to write a new chapter in that narrative related to commercial deployments of self-driving vehicles,” Koenig said, “which we expect more and more to happen this year — not just in the U.S. market but around the world.”

Right kind of robots

Remember Pepper? The humanoid robot that was poised to “revolutionize” retail hasn’t quite lived up to those lofty expectations. Rather, the device is evidence that “social robots have struggled to find a market, and still are,” Koenig said.

As the fate of robots that their creators strive to endow with humanlike features has apparently faded, there’s been a simultaneous “resurgence” of robotics built for “task-based systems,” Koenig noted of gadgets designed to do one thing really well.

Editor’s Note: This story was reported by FN sister magazine Sourcing Journal. For more, visit Sourcingjournal.com.

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