30 Jun 15 Industry Insights
Let’s face it, a lot of wearable tech these days aren’t living up to expectation. Take the Apple Watch – there was so much hype in the lead up to its launch, but it’s hardly the earth-shattering consumer gadget we were expecting.
Waiting for the launch of the apple watch was a bit like this…
Why? Most of the smart wearables that are being produced are nothing short of glorified information providers and have pretty much the same functionality as our smartphones. To create something genuinely new and exciting – the next thing we absolutely can’t live without – we’ll need to re-shift our focus to infrastructure development, miniaturization and product design. To think outside of the box, we’ll need to re-think the box itself.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying information technology is dead – it’s just developed to the point where we’re only going to see better iterations of the same thing. Better apps, even more information, virtual reality that really works… These things are cool and pretty exciting, but they’re not disruptive. Their just the realization of 30-year old ideas, when the information revolution started changing the consumer electronics industry.
It’s the announcements about new product lines such as Tesla Energy that should be making your pulse quicken. It’s these advances – these great leaps forward in infrastructure technology - that are going to revolutionize the tech industry and life as we know it.
Alright, so what is the "Infrastructure Age" exactly?
The Infrastructure Age will be a time when we start to perceive technology in new ways. We’ll regard technology as a means to tackle the big problems of human survival, diverting our shortened attention spans from the glitter and noise of the social world to address more serious issues head on. The Infrastructure Age combines self-sufficiency and a ‘green’ philosophy where we will stop exhausting the limited resources we have on Earth and think about how we can create a bright, sustainable future for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
That’s why companies like Tesla could be seen as the beating heart of the new Infrastructure Age.
Elon Musk, CEO and Product Architect of Tesla Motors, CEO and CTO of SpaceX and Chairman of SolarCity (also known as the real life Iron Man), has always focused on re-shaping the physical world and our relationship with it, from the way we get from A to B to our relationship to energy to increasing the possibility for future generations to live in Space. Tesla may be known for its gorgeous electric cars, but in many ways the company’s principal product is batteries (with the cars functioning as the sexy packaging). Now it’s the batteries that are stepping into the limelight.
Take Tesla’s Powerwall, which was the highlight of Tesla’s April Announcement. The Powerwall is a relatively affordable system for homeowners, providing either 10 kWh power storage that’s optimized for when the electric grid goes down ($3,500) or 7 kWh power storage designed to prolong the benefits of solar into evening hours for $3,000. The two models can be joined together for increased storage capability. Demand for the batteries was immediate, and massive. Tesla won’t start delivering the models until the end of the summer, but apparently it’s already sold out until next year. The pilot project – aimed to gauge how the batteries can help businesses with heavy energy needs – is already showing signs of transforming the wine industry.
Image Source: Engadget
What’s extraordinary is that Musk has said Tesla will not be profitable until 2020. It’s not unusual for start-ups to stay unprofitable for several years whilst they’re developing a market base, but Musk’s decision to invest $5 billion in Gigafactories, which will manufacture the new stationary battery line for newly formed Tesla Energy, was still a huge gamble.
The Infrastructure Age won’t just herald a new relationship to energy though – this era signals a new conception of information technology. Thanks to the internet backed by advanced technological hardware and infrastructure, information sharing is a near-effortless and an instantaneous process for most of us. The abundance of media and channels which surrounds us aids the rapid dissemination of ideas, news, statistics, advice, and more in the form of 1s and 0s.
Due to this mass inter-connectivity, the internet is no longer that nebulous thing that “lives” inside isolated desktops or inside our phones; it’s outside and connected to everything. The “internet of things” phenomena has catalysed a future where computers will control our homes, our commutes and even our bodies. The internet connects our household appliances, our cars, our streets, our internal organs, the walls of our houses. And wearable technology is what we’ll use to interface with that world.
Image Source: Smart Data Collective
Digital technology and big data have irrevocably transformed the physical world around us and how we experience it. Augmented reality technology can enhance our understanding of the world (using funky apps like Blippar); devices on top of fault lines can give us early warnings about earthquakes, and satellites such as NASA’s SMAP can help us predict droughts years before they happen.
Of course, there are plenty of risks that come with connecting the physical world with all the hazards of cyberspace. We’ll continue to mine unsustainably to support the demands of consumers, and people can hack into your homes.
With the internet of things phenomenon taking off, it’s likely we’ll see the Infrastructure age being realized relatively soon. If our household appliances and electronics can communicate with each other they could start learning habits and tasks based on the owner’s preferences. The appearance of driverless cars indicates huge progress in decreasing the instances of driving-related fatalities and habits in society.
It’s these ideas that are the basis of the Infrastructure Age’s rational: let’s consider energy – what has been controlled by cities and distribution companies – and figure out how consumers can generate and use their own power; let’s create truly intelligent, self-sufficient devices that enhance our real world lives rather than distract us from it; let’s see how future generations could one day live in outer space. The information age has brought us together and has allowed us to understand our bodies and our planet in ways we never could before, but the infrastructure age will prevent us from killing ourselves as we grow into a truly globalized civilization. That’s infinitely more exciting (and significant) than any smartwatch could ever be.
Ok, let’s say the Infrastructure Age is on its way… so what?
The shift from the Information Age to the Infrastructure Age should raise several interesting challenges to businesses today and shifts in the technology job market.
- Using the logic from Christensen's The Innovator’s Dilemma, we should see several start-ups explode onto the scene as they have been developing Infrastructure Age technology before it’s time. This is perhaps what we are already witnessing with Tesla Energy.
- Technology businesses may decide to re-structure their tech teams and their investment strategy to re-focus on infrastructure, miniaturization and the physical design of their products. For example, Apple may build a team to focus purely on the physical design and infrastructure technology that supports the Apple Watch to make it a truly life-changing product with additional, separate functionalities to the iPhone.
- The growing demand for innovation in infrastructure technology may spike demand for creative infrastructure technologists and product designers. This could result in a migration of digital technologists into the infrastructure domain, or a talent gap in this area.
To support the hiring demands and likely skills shortage of the Infrastructure Age, it is crucial that school curriculums and Education Technology businesses encourage children to learn about all areas of technology; they should develop knowledge in computer programming and infrastructure technology and product design and be encouraged to think about what they can create that will make the world a better place, not just another thing for humans to consider. After all, the Infrastructure Age is surely one that rewards creative, well-rounded technologists with compassion for the world around them.
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