Our Industry's Brand-New Bag: How companies are latching onto Augmented Reality

This article was originally posted in Kitchen & Bath Business.

A New Superpower For Brands: Kitchen Brands Love The All New Medium Called Augmented Reality | Dream Kitchen Builders

I first experienced augmented reality (AR) when my 29-year-old daughter sent me a snap. In it she and my grandson were wearing virtual sunglasses. It looked so real that I did a double take, the sunglasses moved in sync with the two of them. When augmented reality is done right the experience can be magical and Snapchat does it really well. 

What really got me thinking about AR was the worldwide developers conference last May in the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino California. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said that iOS 12 and AR had “awesome new features that would impact the world.” Apple introduced it's own AR measuring app called ... Measure. Measuring and recording real world images and spaces in real time and to scale is a game changer for the design and construction industries. That’s what disruptive technology does, it changes the game. 

AR is a brand new kind of media that builds on that of the past like radio, TV, digital and mobile technology and add a unique new superpower – the ability to combine the real world with the imagined world. I recently used AR to place a virtual range in my Kitchen in real time and to scale. Combining real time experiences with virtual data is profound. The history of computing has been 100% text input up until now but computers can now use images and video to “see.” That’s called computer vision.  Computer vision means you can point your smart phone camera at something and it can obtain data like location, dimensions, context and of course capture an image.

 

How companies are using AR

Trying to understand the power of AR, I asked Dr. Helen Papagiannis, author of Augmented Human, her thoughts about its use in the design and construction industries. 

“Designers, marketers and merchandisers can harness AR’s unique visualization ability to showcase their work and products to scale and in-situ and in customers homes, offices and even on their bodies with a try–before–you–buy experience“ she said. 

Some major corporations like Mercedes-Benz, are engaging customers in ways that seem almost science fiction like. Point your mobile device at whatever it is that you want to know about your car – like your dash control panel – and virtual data like images and video are uploaded to your mobile device to assist you. Simply put, virtual data is shared to your real time experience. That’s AR.

GE Appliances, a leading kitchen industry brand, is another early adopter of AR. According to Shawn Stover, the company's Vice President of Smart Home Solutions, engagement is the big differentiator. GE Appliances wants to engage customers throughout the buying cycle with quality interactive experiences.

“The kitchen industry is at the beginning stages of augmented reality“ he said. “We are now into utility; we want AR to enable showrooms to show more about appliances in less space.“

GE’s premium finishes can be displayed (superimposed by a mobile device) on top of the physical floor model, in real time. This means customers gain more product visualizations, and more personalization with AR. Kitchen and bath brands can now interact with customers in the discovery stage of a buying cycle – when customers might not even know something like a custom finish exists. 

   

New & Future AR Applications   

AR experiences in every stage of a buying cycle will help us when we need something whether it’s in the shopping stage or post purchase. Like getting more finish options for appliances in the shopping stage and learning more about your new car after you drive it off the car lot. Stover also brought up using AR to replace a water filter on a refrigerator. Homeowners can now access real time instructions using AR to assist with changing a water filter on a refrigerator.

There are new kinds of services popping up where we can access a live person for service. Remote Expert is an AR app where a  repair person can diagnose issues remotely using AR in a shared experience. I recently remodeled a kitchen and my client asked if my company could change a door swing on a wine cooler which made me think that instructions for reversing appliance door swings would be a good application for AR.

Jeff Wolfe, Director of Marketing for Wood-Mode Cabinetry is very upbeat about AR from a brand marketing perspective.

“I love that AR is about getting content when and where we need it“ he said. “This allows brands to connect with us in more ways and with more personalization. At some point, virtual reality and AR will become part of a show room experience.“

With AR I see a whole new kind of storytelling that enables us to merge our physical worlds with virtual worlds. Leading kitchen and bath industry brands are showing us how to do it.  Designers already use lots of design technology, so I'm interested to see my colleagues explore new avenues of creativity and storytelling using AR. 

Artificial Intelligence In The Kitchen

SMART KITCHENS AND HOME AUTOMATION are crossing over into the mainstream. Kitchens are the biggest work places in the home so we can use this new technology to minimize our work in those spaces and provide ourselves with more free time. We can now control hundreds of new devices for the home remotely and wirelessly.

Artificial Intelligence In The Kitchen  |  Dream Kitchen Builders

It'll be interesting to see how kitchen designers manage the opportunities and challenges all this new technology brings with it. We will need to be fluent in smart technology but most of this technology seems to be DIY, so what's in it for us? Smart kitchen technology is a proficiency kitchen designers can offer their clients as a service and those designers who are fluent in home automation and smart kitchens will have an advantage. The following are some products, trends and potential issues I see affecting home automation and smart kitchen design.
 

TOYS TO TOOLS.

Inventions can look like toys when they first come out, but if they are adopted and productive they become tools. Corporate America made fun of the Apple mouse at first but then adopted it once Microsoft designed software requiring a mouse. Most of us thought Snapchat was just another cute app - nothing more than a gadget that lets us glimpse photos and then makes them disappear. Snapchat is actually the first mobile native app to go mainstream and is now worth billions; Snap now also offers a desktop app and snap spectacles which is little camera/computers embedded in eyeglasses that are helpful for taking hands free photos and videos. This could be useful to designers who produce their own marketing content. Designers can walk through a project while narrating and the spectacles record it all. 

This year's big "toy" is the smart speaker, the Apple HomePod will be vying for home automation market domination with Amazon Echo and Echo Dot as well as Google Home. Smart speakers can be used to control functions in the kitchen like lighting, music and appliances to make those spaces more efficient. They can help unlock our doors and turn on our lights when we come home, they can help us buy our groceries and deliver them they can help feed the dog and let them out; and they can provide the evening's music or movie entertainment.

Smart speakers can make our homes better in so many ways but they can also have negative outcomes. Some voice assistants are always listening and recording conversations, and some send your personal data to the cloud - which you agreed to let them do. Now you no longer own all the rights to the conversations that took place in your home.

Another concern is that TV commercials have been known to trigger smart speaker assistants to make phone calls for you to online stores or even to the sheriff. It's cute when Alexa, Amazon's assistant talks to you but I don't think it's such a good idea that anyone within hearing range of the Echo smart speaker - children, for example- can order merchandise that will be charged your account. Amazon is currently working on the ability to understand different voices.

 

VOICE REPLACES TOUCH.

Touch screens are being replaced by our voices because speech recognition technology has reached an accuracy level equal to humans. Computers can recognize our speech at about 95% accuracy. Say "turn on the exhaust fan" to your assistant or "light up the prep area" and almost magically these things can happen.
 

PRIVACY, SECURITY AND LEGAL CONCERNS.

Battle lines are being drawn around our privacy in the home. On one hand Amazon needs your data to be a leader in sales, Google needs your data to be a leader in search. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, is willing to sacrifice profit for privacy. Apple does not send your data to the cloud like Amazon and Google do. As a professional designer I won't be recommending smart kitchen systems that use my data and share my personal information. There are no laws to protect personal data ownership once across your threshold and goes to the cloud. Read the fine print to see who owns the rights to conversations taking place in your kitchen and your clients' kitchens.


MACHINE LEARNING AND ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE.

Smart speakers (machines) can learn from us and from our behaviors, and voice recognition is just one aspect of artificial intelligence. Image recognition is another and that's the reason Amazon just introduced the Echo Look, which is a $200 hands-free camera that doubles as a smart speaker.

Artificial intelligence (AI) specifically speech recognition, is making our connection to all things digital and online less abstract. Instead of keyboards touch screens and mice, we can just talk to computers. AI will be a big benefit for us and our clients as we age in place our voices will be able to do things that arthritic hands can't, and folks with shaky hands will be able to use voice to operate things in the kitchen instead of using a keyboard or a touch surface.

Smart kitchen technology has the potential to provide us and our clients with huge benefits - especially when it comes to saving time and ease-of-use. Fasten your seatbelt and get ready for a big ride, as smart kitchens are now front and center in the race for home automation.

Times are changing in the Kitchen and Bath Industry

It's striking to me how much has changed in the kitchen & bath industry over the past 10 years. 

There have been many changes in communications, product sourcing, smart technology and consumer awareness and they can all be traced back to the release of the first iPhone in 2007. Smartphones have changed the ways we communicate, shop, learn and they have changed the way we live in our kitchens. Mal Corboy, a well known Auckland NZ kitchen designer says that all of this evolution has changed the design process. 

Most residential design/build project communications used to be done in person, by phone and by email. Dream Kitchen Builders still uses those tools but now we also use messaging apps and social media apps and we use these business tools to communicate via mobile devices.

The amount of kitchen & bath information that's available to consumers is enormous and growing larger every day. This has made us all educated buyers and given consumers more control of each aspect of a design/build project.  

We're now experimenting with smart appliances and wireless devices in the kitchen and bathroom that use artificial intelligence to help us get things done. I cook so I give voice commands to Siri to set a timer adjust my music and more while I'm cooking. I'm hands free so I don't have to stop what I'm doing. Smart Technology hasn't gone mainstream yet but appliance makers and device makers are designing and producing amazing new kitchen and bath products and early adopters are trying them out and talking about them to their friends.

Last but not least every kitchen and bath product seems to have almost limitless options and price points and many include free shipping. Clients are now buying kitchen & bath products online and sourcing them internationally. 

Kitchens & bathrooms have always evolved but the changes we are now seeing are so revolutionary that they are disrupting the way kitchen and bath business is done, changing the relationship between professionals and consumers and changing the way we live.