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CES2017: Cool Stuff, Insurance Implications

If there was one overriding theme to CES2017, it was that emerging technology progress seems to be accelerating, with new products and uses spreading across every conceivable human endeavor. My observations from an intense four days in Las Vegas include highlights on the hot trends, examples of some very cool new products, and what it all means for the insurance industry. There were many important and interesting new products announced, although there was the usual assortment of head-scratching items such as a smart hair brush (pun intended), levitating speakers and a smart bikini.

Hot Trends

There are always many articles in the popular press about the hot trends coming out of CES each year. My perspective on the trends has some different twists than the usual.

  • Moving from smart to intelligent: More smart objects are now adding AI components to automate recommendations and activate decisions.
  • Emerging tech convergence: In many cases, there are two or more emerging technologies that have been leveraged to create a new value proposition.
  • French tech rising: French entrepreneurs were at the CES in force. There seems to be a new wave of emerging tech startups and activity in France, and companies now expanding into North America.
  • No segment missed: Devices and solutions are available for babies, kids, the elderly, the disabled, athletes, and every other imaginable segment.
  • The robots are coming: 2017 is poised to become the year of the personal robot. Robots for household chores, elder care/companions, and other applications continue to advance.

See also: Top 10 Insurtech Trends for 2017  

Cool Stuff

There was no shortage of creative, cool new products at CES2017. A few select examples illustrate the range of technologies and use cases for emerging technologies.

  • Wearable Airbag: A jacket designed for use by individuals and professionals at higher risk of accidents and injuries, such as skiers, motorcyclists, or construction workers. A fall triggers airbag inflation which reduces injuries. (by inEmotion)
  • Personal safety wearable: A small device with cameras and sensors to protect individuals in areas or situations that may be unsafe. (by Occly).
  • Equine wearables: Devices to be worn by horses that monitor their location, health, and training progress. (by Equisense)
  • Smart Devices for Helmets: Helmet attachments for existing helmets for communication (by Analogue Plus) or brake lights (by Cosmo Connected).
  • AI driven chess board: The Square Off board enables chess players to play a virtual match with anyone across the globe and has AI components for training at different levels (InfiVention Technologies).

See also: 4 Technology Trends to Watch for  

Insurance Implications

There is no doubt that solutions based on emerging technologies are available for an increasingly wide range of situations. It is essential that insurers keep a finger on the pulse of emerging technologies and the new products and solutions that continue to hit the market. Insurance customers across all lines of business will increasingly be adopting these types of smart, tech-enabled products. There are many opportunities for insurers to partner with or invest in startups, create new value propositions for their customers, help customers reduce their risks, and find new ways to communicate with customers. It is a fast-moving space, and it may be difficult to determine which companies and products will be successful. But innovative insurers must experiment and participate as they reshape the insurance industry.

A Smarter World: New Products at CES

For every object you can think of that we use in our daily lives, there is probably a smart version of it already available or in the process of development: That is one of my conclusions from CES2017. This blog will be a bit different in that it will simply provide a list and summary of some of the mention-worthy smart things I saw at the CES – things that go beyond the typical smart home and connected car solutions that most of us are familiar with. This is but a small sampling of the thousands of products announced, and I will refrain from judging the merit and market for each one. (That would go way beyond the scope of this blog).

Without further ado, here are 20 examples of smart products, some of which are still in beta stages or not available in North America yet. In each case, a company is listed in parentheses, but there are sometimes others offering similar products.

  • Portable concussion detection machine that provides 30-second trials of neurocognitive and psychomotor performance (Reflexion Interactive Technologies)
  • Smart home anti-hacking device to block cyber-attacks and intrusions based on smart devices in the home (Bitdefender)
  • Vehicle windshield display with augmented reality projection via smartphone connection aimed at reducing distracted driving (Navdy)
  • Low-cost vision screening via a smartphone attachment and app at $29, perfect for disadvantaged areas (EyeQue)
  • Vacuum cleaner shoes with soles that have a suction device to clean carpets while someone walks through the house (Denso)
  • Smart radon detector to monitor radon gas, temperature and humidity and provide alerts and history (Airthings)
  • Thermal camera for home safety to detect excess heat or flooding and alert the homeowner (Fotric)
  • Document security via RFID by embedding a chip in the paper for sensitive paper documents (Yes it is)
  • Worker safety via wearables that identify and send alerts of dangerous conditions such as toxic gas or worker falls (Ten Degrees)
  • Wearable airbag in the form of a jacket for motorcyclists, horse riders, the elderly and others at risk of falling (inEmotion)
  • Smart medication tracking in a pill dispenser to monitor and encourage compliance with treatment plans (PillDrill)
  • Smart bikini to ostensibly prevent sunburn (Spinali Design)
  • Fitness wearable that zaps bad behavior, a wrist wearable with the typical biometrics, teamed with gamification and a reward/punishment system that provides an electric shock for bad behavior (Pavlok)
  • Smart learning tools for kids via augmented reality, smartphone apps and physical props such as cards or a globe (NeoBear)
  • Personal safety wearables for individuals in unsafe areas to alert family or police, emit siren noise and record/send video of an incident (Occly)
  • Smart patio umbrella, which is solar-powered, has home security features and is connected to the smart home (ShadeCraft)
  • Smart desk lamp driven by AI and voice commands to change lighting conditions or take a picture of what is on the desktop (Cerevo)
  • Red-light and speeding ticket blocker attached to the vehicle license plate: It creates a flash of light when a red light or speeding camera is detected so the license plate cannot be read (Voxx noPhoto)
  • Smart glasses for the visually impaired uses a camera to read documents, recognize faces or identify money for individuals with visual disabilities (OrCam)
  • Smart, gamified toothbrush aimed at young children: The toothbrush uses gamification and augmented reality to encourage brushing and monitor usage (Grush)

This list could go on and on, documenting numerous robots, smart home devices, safety devices, drones and new products leveraging all manner of emerging technologies.

See also: Wearable Technology: Benefits for Insurers  

It would be fair to ask what all this has to do with insurance. While some of the smart things will have minimal impact on the industry, there are others that certainly have implications. A few things that insurers should be considering as we move headlong into the connected world include the impact on the customer experience and opportunities related to risk transfer, loss mitigation, goods replacement and behavior modification. Look for more on those topics from SMA in coming research and blogs.

6 Technologies That Will Define 2016

Please join me for “Path to Transformation,” an event I am putting on May 10 and 11 at the Plug and Play accelerator in Silicon Valley in conjunction with Insurance Thought Leadership. The event will not only explore the sorts of technological breakthroughs I describe in this article but will explain how companies can test and absorb the technologies, in ways that then lead to startling (and highly profitable) innovation. My son and I have been teaching these events around the world, and I hope to see you in May. You can sign up here.

Over the past century, the price and performance of computing has been on an exponential curve. And, as futurist Ray Kurzweil observed, once any technology becomes an information technology, its development follows the same curve. So, we are seeing exponential advances in technologies such as sensors, networks, artificial intelligence and robotics. The convergence of these technologies is making amazing things possible.

Last year was the tipping point in the global adoption of the Internet, digital medical devices, blockchain, gene editing, drones and solar energy. This year will be the beginning of an even bigger revolution, one that will change the way we live, let us visit new worlds and lead us into a jobless future. However, with every good thing, there comes a bad; wonderful things will become possible, but with them we will create new problems for mankind.

Here are six of the technologies that will make the change happen.

1. Artificial intelligence


There is merit to the criticism of AI—even though computers have beaten chess masters and Jeopardy players and have learned to talk to us and drive cars. AI such as Siri and Cortana is still imperfect and infuriating. Yes, those two systems crack jokes and tell us the weather, but they are nothing like the seductive digital assistant we saw in the movie “Her.” In the artificial-intelligence community, there is a common saying: “AI is whatever hasn’t been done yet.” People call this the “AI effect.” Skeptics discount the behavior of an artificial intelligence program by arguing that, rather than being real intelligence, it is just brute force computing and algorithms.

But this is about to change, to the point even the skeptics will say that AI has arrived. There have been major advances in “deep learning” neural networks, which learn by ingesting large amounts of data. IBM has taught its AI system, Watson, everything from cooking, to finance, to medicine and to Facebook. Google and Microsoft have made great strides in face recognition and human-like speech systems. AI-based face recognition, for example, has almost reached human capability. And IBM Watson can diagnose certain cancers better than any human doctor can.

With IBM Watson being made available to developers, Google open-sourcing its deep-learning AI software and Facebook releasing the designs of its specialized AI hardware, we can expect to see a broad variety of AI applications emerging because entrepreneurs all over the world are taking up the baton. AI will be wherever computers are, and it will seem human-like.

Fortunately, we don’t need to worry about superhuman AI yet; that is still a decade or two away.

2. Robots


The 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge required robots to navigate over an eight-task course that simulated a disaster zone. It was almost comical to see them moving at the speed of molasses, freezing up and falling over. Forget folding laundry and serving humans; these robots could hardly walk. While we heard some three years ago that Foxconn would replace a million workers with robots in its Chinese factories, it never did so.

Breakthroughs may, however, be at hand. To begin with, a new generation of robots is being introduced by companies—such as Switzerland’s ABB, Denmark’s Universal Robots, and Boston’s Rethink Robotics—robots dextrous enough to thread a needle and sensitive enough to work alongside humans. They can assemble circuits and pack boxes. We are at the cusp of the industrial-robot revolution.

Household robots are another matter. Household tasks may seem mundane, but they are incredibly difficult for machines to perform. Cleaning a room and folding laundry necessitate software algorithms that are more complex than those required to land a man on the moon. But there have been many breakthroughs of late, largely driven by AI, enabling robots to learn certain tasks by themselves and by teaching each other what they have learned. And with the open source robotic operating system (ROS), thousands of developers worldwide are getting close to perfecting the algorithms.

Don’t be surprised when robots start showing up in supermarkets and malls—and in our homes. Remember Rosie, the robotic housekeeper from the TV series “The Jetsons”?  I am expecting version No. 1 to begin shipping in the early 2020s.

3. Self-driving cars


Once considered to be in the realm of science fiction, autonomous cars made big news in 2015. Google crossed the million-mile mark with its prototypes; Tesla began releasing functionality in its cars; and major car manufacturers announced their plans for robocars. These cars are coming, whether or not we are ready. And, just as the robots will, they will learn from each other—about the landscape of our roads and the bad habits of humans.

In the next year or two, we will see fully functional robocars being tested on our highways, and then they will take over our roads. Just as the horseless carriage threw horses off the roads, these cars will displace us humans. Because they won’t crash into each other as we humans do, the robocars won’t need the bumper bars or steel cages, so they will be more comfortable and lighter. Most will be electric. We also won’t have to worry about parking spots, because they will be able to drop us where we want to go to and pick us up when we are ready. We won’t even need to own our own cars, because transportation will be available on demand through our smartphones. Best of all, we won’t need speed limits, so distance will be less of a barrier—enabling us to leave the cities and suburbs.

4. Virtual reality and holodecks


In March, Facebook announced the availability of its much-anticipated virtual reality headset, Oculus Rift. And Microsoft, Magic Leap and dozens of startups aren’t far behind with their new technologies. The early versions of these products will surely be expensive and clumsy and cause dizziness and other adverse reactions, but prices will fall, capabilities will increase and footprints will shrink as is the case with all exponential technologies. 2016 will mark the beginning of the virtual reality revolution.

Virtual reality will change how we learn and how we entertain ourselves. Our children’s education will become experiential, because they will be able to visit ancient Greece and journey within the human body. We will spend our lunchtimes touring far-off destinations and our evenings playing laser tag with friends who are thousands of miles away. And, rather than watching movies at IMAX theaters, we will be able to be part of the action, virtually in the back seat of every big-screen car chase.

5. Internet of Things


Mark Zuckerberg recently announced plans to create his own artificially intelligent, voice-controlled butler to help run his life at home and at work. For this, he will need appliances that can talk to his digital butler: a connected home, office and car. These are all coming, as CES, the big consumer electronics tradeshow in Las Vegas, demonstrated. From showerheads that track how much water we’ve used, to toothbrushes that watch out for cavities, to refrigerators that order food that is running out, all these items are on their way.

Starting in 2016, everything will be be connected, including our homes and appliances, our cars, street lights and medical instruments. These will be sharing information with each other (perhaps even gossiping about us) and will introduce massive security risks as well as many efficiencies. We won’t have much choice because they will be standard features—just as are the cameras on our smart TVs that stare at us and the smartphones that listen to everything we say.

6. Space


Rockets, satellites and spaceships were things that governments built. That is, until Elon Musk stepped into the ring in 2002 with his startup SpaceX. A decade later, he demonstrated the ability to dock a spacecraft with the International Space Station and return with cargo. A year later, he launched a commercial geostationary satellite. And then, in 2015, out of the blue, came another billionaire, Jeff Bezos, whose space company Blue Origin launched a rocket 100 kilometers into space and landed its booster within five feet of its launch pad. SpaceX achieved the feat a month later.

It took a space race in the 1960s between the U.S. and the USSR to even get man to the moon. For decades after this, little more happened, because there was no one for the U.S. to compete with. Now, thanks to technology costs falling so far that space exploration can be done for millions—rather than billions—of dollars and the raging egos of two billionaires, we will see the breakthroughs in space travel that we have been waiting for. Maybe there’ll be nothing beyond some rocket launches and a few competitive tweets between Musk and Bezos in 2016, but we will be closer to having colonies on Mars.

This surely is the most innovative period in human history, an era that will be remembered as the inflection point in exponential technologies that made the impossible possible.

‘Smart’ Is Everywhere, but…

The connected world is here. Everything is “smart.” And for insurers, the implications are huge. Whatever you insure can now be connected, monitored and analyzed. People, places and things, moving or stationary, living or non-living—are all becoming smart. Think that is an exaggeration? Consider the following products announced or displayed at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2016, just a few of the thousands of smart products:

  • Smart air vents to monitor and adjust temperature in each room, detect for early signs of mold, etc.
  • Smart drinking glasses to monitor hydration and caffeine intake
  • Neuro-stimulation devices to block chronic pain or alter moods
  • Smart appliances that manage energy efficiency, anticipate failures, conduct e-commerce, etc.
  • Wearable patches to monitor UV rays, toxic exposure and biometrics
  • In-car cameras that monitor a driver’s pupils for signs of stress

Add to that list smart belts, umbrellas and smoke alarms among many other things, and it’s difficult to find anything that doesn’t have a “smart version” today. And it’s all pretty exciting stuff. But here’s the rub—in many cases, the technology is way ahead of the desire and ability of consumers and businesses to use it. A few important considerations emerged as central themes at CES:

  1. Value propositions need more work. Many of the products at CES were narrow-use, high-priced items that work in isolation.
  2. Customer experience is still king. Products must be easy to install, easy to use and engaging. Progress is certainly being made here, especially among wearables, but some of the smart home and car products need to take the experience to the next level to get beyond the early adopters.
  3. Platforms and standards progress are required. Competing platforms for smart home hubs, connected car capabilities, intelligent infrastructure and other areas may impede adoption. The competitive environment is healthy, but widespread adoption will require more interoperability standards and a shakeout of players.
  4. New ecosystems and partnerships are rapidly evolving. Industry boundaries are disappearing, and new industries are emerging. Success in the connected world will require active involvement in various ecosystems as well as a flexible partnering strategy.
  5. Analytics and cognitive computing will be the differentiators. Embedding chips, sensors and devices into everything is creating vast oceans of data. The value will increasingly be based, not on owning proprietary data, but on the ability to gain actionable insights. Cognitive computing goes even further by automating real-time learning, reasoning and recommendations.

These five considerations along with other factors will affect adoption rates and opportunities for businesses and consumers. But it would be a mistake to conclude that there are too many complications or barriers to progress. In fact, the opposite is true. Advances are being made at breakneck speed, and barriers are being knocked down on a regular basis. If anything, this means that insurers need to be even more diligent and aggressive in shaping the future.

So, innovate to create new value propositions. Seize opportunities to transform the customer experience. Weigh in at relevant standards and platform discussions. Join new ecosystems and seek partnerships with unconventional allies. And build up your enterprise analytics expertise and capabilities.

The digital, connected world is here. If you want your company to thrive in this new era, you must jump in with both feet. The possibilities are endless, but you must play a role in shaping and capitalizing on them.

Home Is Where the (Smart) Hub Is

The smart home was all the rage at the 2016 CES (Consumer Electronics Show). The exhibit space and products devoted to smart homes was absolutely mind-boggling.

Well-known products such as the Nest Thermostat, the Roost Smart Battery for smoke alarms and Amazon Echo were displayed alongside a wide variety of other products to make every “thing” in your home smart. Want your refrigerator to assemble a grocery list for you by bar code scans of items about to run out? No problem – the Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator can do that. Looking for a bed with biometric sensors to track your sleep, monitor physiology and make adjustments to improve your night’s rest? Look no further than the Sleep Number-it bed. Need to separately monitor and manage the temperature and environment for each room? The Ecovent system has that capability – and can even alert you if your home is at risk for mold. The list could go on and on.

Given unlimited time and money, you could truly make your home an Internet of Things showplace with smarts everywhere you turn. Of course, you would probably not have enough room on your smartphone to manage all the apps that control the smart things. So how to make sense of all the options? And how should insurers capitalize on the smart home trend? For starters, it is useful to think of smart home devices in four categories:

  • Security/Safety: Existing home security companies are all evolving to provide smarter systems using wireless technologies and more sophisticated sensors. In addition, companies like Ring and Glue provide smart locks and doorbells for secure entry. Others focus on safety through monitoring and pre-emptive alerts for leaky pipes, smoke alarms, failing sump pumps and other things.
  • Entertainment/Information: Smart TVs are already a fixture in many homes, with availability from a variety of suppliers. The Amazon Echo responds to voice questions and prompts to provide news, weather and information, among other capabilities. Devices for gaming are incredibly powerful, and virtual reality headsets are gaining in adoption.
  • Energy/Environment: The Nest Thermostat device has led the way in providing a smart, connected way to monitor and manage the temperature and environment throughout the home for comfort and energy efficiency. Others, such as Lutron, offer controls for lights, shades and temperature, aimed at saving energy.
  • Commerce: The Amazon Dash Button may seem to be a gimmick, but it has opened up possibilities for e-commerce by allowing homeowners to reorder items with literally the touch of a button. Smart appliances and embedded touch screens automate the ordering of parts before they fail or common supply items before they run out.

Then come the questions about how (and even if) all of these devices will work with each other. There is a great deal of overlap and potential interaction between devices both within and between these categories. Enter the smart home hub. There are a number of companies and devices purporting to be hubs to connect the smart things in your home. Some operate well within just one domain – coordinating security-related devices, for instance. Others are broader and have the capability to connect a wider range of smart devices. The Apple HomeKit, Samsung SmartThings Hub and Amazon Echo are a few of the well-known hubs, but others are emerging.

The take-home is that insurers should consider three actions to better understand the smart home space and its potential opportunities and threats.

First, monitor the evolution of the companies and products in the space and the product adoption trends. It probably goes without saying that this is easier said than done.

Second, make sure your tech guys follow the standards, communication protocols and tech issues as they progress (especially related to data-security concerns).

Finally, actively partner with and invest in companies in the smart home space. First-hand learning and experimentation is paramount if you want to gauge the opportunities to offer new insurance product offerings or services that will set you apart from your competitors.