Research and development leader Todder Moning was among U.S. Bank innovation team members who attended the virtual CES 2021.
Flying cars. Augmented reality contact lenses. A snooze-button-proof alarm clock, shaped like an egg, that only turns off if you actually get out of bed and run it under the shower.
Yes, really. A snooze-button-proof alarm clock that won’t turn off unless it takes a shower.
From the weird to the highly practical, CES never ceases to amaze. The massive tech trade show is where all the newest gadgets and innovations make their debut every year – putting the future on display. The U.S. Bank innovation team has made it an annual part of our research efforts to attend CES, and this year was no different, even if the event was entirely online instead of in Las Vegas like usual.
The world has become a much more digital place over the past year. From the way we work, to the way we shop, to the way we interact with one other, the pandemic has altered the way we live in many ways. And experts expect a lot of those things to stick even after COVID-19 subsides. Our innovation team certainly saw that at CES.
“Participating in CES gives us a great glimpse of what’s coming, and how we can integrate our own cutting-edge innovations with the latest ideas and tech,” said Todder Moning, senior vice president of research and development. “It’s part of keeping our finger on the pulse of change so we can create the amazing experiences our customers don’t even know are possible yet.”
Imagine getting together with some friends for dinner. Only they live in New Jersey and California and you live in Minnesota. No problem. You all just put on your augmented reality glasses, get your food delivered to your door (by a robot, of course), and settle in for an evening that feels almost like being in person. You didn’t even have to pull out your credit card to pay for dinner – you set that up to happen ambiently when you took the food out of the robot’s delivery compartment.
This scenario could be the not-too-distant future, resulting from the convergence of several trends at CES – not to mention highlighting the role U.S. Bank would play. It’s why we invest in innovative forward thinking. The world is changing fast, and U.S. Bank stays a step ahead by keeping an eye on the future.
As we begin 2021, we’re looking at a number of emerging trends as a result of how the pandemic altered the way we live:
Whether it’s essentials like groceries or other things just for fun, COVID-19 has rapidly accelerated advances in digital shopping. Customers have loved browsing and shopping online for years, but there are other parts of the experience that are undergoing a rapid shift that will sustain long after the pandemic:
We’ve gotten very used to ordering online and having things delivered to our homes, and not only will the ease and speed of that increase with new innovations, but so will the automation. A number of companies are working on automated delivery, such as a robot that looks like a giant suitcase and can either follow a delivery courier or even deliver things on its own. There’s already a delivery company with drones approved for testing by the FAA to deliver food, small parcels and pharmaceuticals.
Curbside pickup is expected to continue to mature from its ad-hoc beginnings. What was quickly developed to meet a sudden need is now evolving into a truly simple and convenient solution, as businesses invest in transforming their physical locations to be specifically configured for more buy-online, pickup-curbside transactions.
“Once you’ve raised customer expectations by giving them innovative new ways to do things that make their lives easier, you can’t just pull that back,” said David Ness, vice president of innovation. “You’ve raised the bar. So that’s something we keep in mind at U.S. Bank too. Customers have had their levels of expectation elevated, and whatever we make for them needs to meet and exceed these new expectations.”
Another trend rapidly accelerated by COVID-19 is a push toward converging the at-home and in-store shopping experiences. Customers like the convenience of shopping online but also want to be able to see and touch and try things on. There are now companies working on augmented reality experiences that bridge that gap, such as allowing shoppers to virtually try on jewelry, makeup and other items.
“But one of the most interesting things businesses have learned is that there is still a strong desire for customers to have that in-store experience when doing complex sales,” said Brian Koehler, senior vice president for innovation product development. “At CES, we saw this to be true for expensive electronics and televisions, but the same principle holds true for banking. Customers really do want that human, in-person touch when making big decisions with their money – that’s true in any context. It’s a great validation to our Digital Strategy, which is to provide one excellent experience for the customer, whether that’s DIY or DIT (do-it-together).”
Everything came home in 2020. And though we’re all looking forward to venturing out again, people now realize just how nice it is to have a comfortable home base for their lives – and just how many things you can do from there. Whether that’s internet-enabled appliances, devices like a TV that pops out of your bed frame, virtual-reality exercise equipment and coaching, augmented reality video chats, or a solar powered remote control so you’ll never have to replace the batteries again, convenience and comfort are major themes that will continue.
“The home has become not only the center of our family lives, our castle and our source of security and comfort,” Moning said, “but also a workplace, an office, a school, a purchasing center, a warehouse, a gym, a restaurant, a gaming arcade and a first run theater. So, we’re going to continue to see people making lots of tech upgrades to their homes for years to come.”
It goes without saying that we’re all a little more health-conscious these days. Washing our hands, cleaning our surfaces more regularly, washing our hands again. The pandemic has driven an influx of products designed to keep us healthier – and not just to fight COVID-19. Sure there were products like smart masks and fever-sensing doorbells being exhibited at CES, but the health-tech that will stay with us includes everything from electronics that kill bacteria with UV light to wearables that measure our heart rate, glucose, blood pressure and more. We’re also seeing a growth in telehealth and virtual doctor visits that is not only expected to continue, but also likely expand into other types of visits. We even saw a new gadget that pairs with your phone to act as an eye doctor, providing you a glasses prescription in 15 minutes.
There has been a huge surge (quite literally) in the growth of electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles. That includes everything from solar-powered cars that run on their own panels, to full-sized electric SUVs that go from 0-60 in just three seconds, to heads-up displays that alert you to obstacles coming your way, to autonomous capabilities. But what might be most fascinating is that the car is in many ways turning into a giant connected device.
“Just like your smartphone, you’ll soon be plugging in your car overnight to download the latest updates and firmware,” Koehler said. “The software on vehicles is now seen as more important than the hardware. When you think about the history of cars, that’s quite a statement to make.”
All of these new digital experiences require ultra-fast, zero-latency connectivity. And that’s set to be mainstream as people replace their smartphones over the next few years. A digital world powered by 5G will enable all kinds of new technologies, from Internet of Things to artificial intelligence, from robotics to smart homes, from augmented/virtual reality to cloud gaming and beyond. And these innovations will not only allow us to deliver smarter, more interactive and delightful experiences to our customers, it will change what they expect of every company they do business with.
The innovations we see inform our approach to choosing interesting problems that we can help solve for our customers. We have customers in every industry and in all walks of life, so knowing the latest in consumer tech, and what the brands bringing them to market are doing, helps us understand our customers’ expectations and the new contexts in which they’ll be experiencing them.
“It keeps us thinking of the question, “How can we change financial services to fit those contexts as what’s possible with technology changes people’s lives?” Moning said. “What kind of services can we offer in new venues where people will live, study, work and play?”
For our business customers, it also informs how we can help them streamline their operations to reach their customers, who are constantly evolving and searching and browsing and shopping and buying in new ways and on new digital platforms.
Just think: Contactless payments, voice assistants, touchscreens, AI-driven insights and data aggregation were all innovations that made their way into banking in the past. That’s precisely why we look out for what’s needed next.
But the most important takeaway is that perhaps innovation is no longer about the technology at all.
“I think the shift has begun from a tech-first to a people-first mindset,” said Valerie Lancelle, vice president of innovation design. “Where people are making creative use of the tools that they have to make life a bit easier. So, it’s no longer just about the flashiest thing you can unveil at CES, but rather understanding the customer’s needs and wants and creating an experience that helps them in a meaningful way. That customer centricity must be first as we think about innovation. The tech is still important, but it’s going to be a part of the solution, rather than the driver for that innovation.”