It’s time to go back to what we need
Back to the basics
It seems today there’s an app or device for everything. Even the stuff we never thought we needed. The hyper-speed of digital and technological development means anything and everything has a high-tech answer, even if no-one is asking the question. But there are signs we’re starting to refocus on what really matters – and set our sights on some of humanity’s foundational challenges.
Businesses have got super smart at exploiting human psychology to sell us concepts with little true value. They’re simplifying the already simple, whether that’s the infamous $700 wi-fi juicer Juicero that was little better than squeezing by hand, the $400 Teforia connected teapot which gained $17 million funding before being quickly shuttered, or the cautionary tale of Bodega’s app-enabled high-end vending machines.
Can technology solve global problems? Some titans of tech are starting to refocus on more meaningful ends. Bill Gates has committed $50 million to the Dementia Discovery Fund in the hope of finding innovative treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, for example. And leading tech incubator Y Combinator made an open call for startups who can find solutions to the need for clean drinking water. Technology can make a vital contribution to the serious global problems caused by water scarcity.
Food, water, rest, security, repeat
This is all part of a shift in emphasis toward our most basic needs: food, water, rest, security, repeat. While everyone is thinking about the future, the wise will go back-back to the past.
Our appetite for better or different food is fueling a boom in personalized meal-kit services like Home Chef. Moreover, environmental and ethical footprints will be increasingly front of mind when it comes to mealtimes. Impossible Foods, for example, is making plant-based meat-like products with all the sights, sounds, and aromas of real meat – but none of the guilt (despite plants having feelings, too).
When it comes to water, things are getting refreshingly disruptive. Graphwear’s wearable graphene sensor patch can measure your hydration levels in real time and alert you to top up your fluid intake – a potential game changer for sports stars and fitness fans. And Eccrine Systems’ wearable technology uses the molecular data present in your sweat to provide physiological insights into workplace toxicity, stress management, treatment adherence, and numerous medical conditions. Looking forward, hydration will be a more important consideration of the aging population and a big opportunity.
What about the dark side of our lives? Getting a good night’s sleep is the subject of a set of emerging products and therapies. A host of premium direct-to-consumer mattress companies have sprung into life – Caspar, Tuft & Needle, Leesa and the like – and are flipping the $15 billion incumbent market on its head. And startup Thrive Global is offering workshops to some of the world’s biggest companies, with the aim of reducing stress and improving wellness by sleeping better. So it’s out with the all-nighter and in with the eight-a-day. If you don’t believe us, sleep focused displays at CES tripled from 2017 to 2018.
Safety is not just a priority from IT departments focused on cyber security. Technology will make the home a safer, smarter place too. Canary can give you a $99 AI-powered home security camera that integrates with Alexa. Scout Alarm offers a customizable budget home security platform. And if you’re thinking bigger, startup Blu Homes will even bring you a personalized luxury prefabricated modular home – and put it up in a single day.
What we should do
There’s a lesson here for tech startups everywhere – it’s less about what we can do, and more about what we should do to meet real-world needs. And those that focus on delivering solutions to these fundamental human challenges are likely to see the greatest rewards from the market. The days of the smart teapot are numbered.