The Future – Are We There Yet?

Think about it.  In less than a year, it will be 2020.  That sounds so futuristic.  But will it be what we all thought and dreamed it would be?  Judging by the movies of years past, this was the time where we would have flying automobiles, teleportation, and the instant gratification of having an item materialize simply at our command.

So how far have we come to the fantasied version of the future?  Let’s take a look at some of the current technologies in the shipping industry to determine whether or not we are truly there yet.

Augmented Reality.  By now, we all know what it is.  Point your smart device at a location and instantly visualize that location according to your programmed specifications.  Clothes shopping on-line?  You can now see what that outfit looks like on you, in what size and color you prefer, and how it matches with your current wardrobe and accessories.  You have a virtual dressing room to try on anything before making a purchase and having it shipped to you.  Augmented reality is expanding so rapidly in industries such as retail, healthcare, education, entertainment, and others that we are only just touching the surface of its capabilities.  So have no fear of wondering whether that dress will fit when it arrives at your front door.  You’ve virtually worn it already.

Voice Command Ordering.  So you’ve decided to make the purchase.  With today’s technology, it’s as simple as saying, “Alexa, (or “Hey Google” depending on your device host) order the blue dress in size medium.”  (Yes, medium because I already know it will fit.)  Simple.  The order is placed and the cost charged to your account just because you said so.  Voice command is here, and it is only getting better at recognizing individual voices for personalization.  “Alexa, dim the lights.”  “Alexa, what’s the weather for tomorrow?”  “Alexa, make a vet appointment for Fluffy.”  “Alexa, Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.” (That’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise for all you non Trekkie fans.)

Delivery Process.  We have some options here.  The standard USPS, UPS, or FedEx will get the dress there in a few days.  But even those common carriers are developing technology to reduce time and labor in the delivery of your product.  With drone delivery, your package may be arriving by air and conveniently dropped right at your doorstep.  Or perhaps an autonomous vehicle will stop curbside and alert you of its arrival so you can obtain the package from its cargo hold, and then honk as you watch the vehicle carefully drive away back to its home base.

Ok, so maybe that’s not the best delivery option because your special evening was planned for tonight.  You can’t wait the customary two to three days for delivery.  Enter Amazon Prime, who offers delivery within two hours in over sixty metropolitan areas in the country.  It would take you longer than that to drive to the nearest mall, try on all those dresses, and then fight the crowds and traffic back home.  To recap, we’ve found a dress that we’ve virtually tried on, gave a command to purchase it, and will have it arrive within two hours all from the comfort of our own home.  That’s quite amazing.

Yes, two hour delivery time is quite amazing.  But that’s not the instant gratification we discussed earlier in this post when we talked about having items materialize at our command.  We already know that we can purchase and receive paper documents electronically, such as travel and entertainment tickets.  Download a file to your smart device immediately after purchase and have it scanned as you enter the facility.  But what if we purchased a physical item, such as that blue dress?  For that, we will turn to the world of 3D printing.  3D printing is the process of making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model by laying down thin layers of the chosen materials.  Quite simply, it is the item materializing at our command produced by a manufacturing machine.  As an article from the website floship explains: “Some customers may want to print their own products at home to avoid any shipping delays and costs.  Retailers could use this as an opportunity to sell the files that contain printing instructions to the consumer.  This would enable customers to take direct advantage of time and cost savings through this technology.”  Of course, you would need access to both a machine, which could possibly be smaller than the size of a standard washing machine, and the materials.  If such is the case, then purchasing that dress would mean at the time payment was processed and the materials loaded, your dress can be printed and ready for you within minutes, materializing in front of you.  Sound too futuristic?  It may not be.  More and more 3D print opportunities are becoming possible as this technology continues to evolve.  Retailers and Wholesalers are looking at 3D printing as a way of reducing their inventory and warehouse space, which would reduce their cost.  Lowering cost and providing instant gratification to customers?  What better motivation is needed to develop this technology further?  A 3D printer in every house may soon be as common as an inkjet printer in every house.

Technology is shaping the future of how we do business, and also shaping the customer expectations.  As these new technologies continue to develop, customers will consider the idea of the dress purchase scenario the norm.  Remember the days of flipping through a catalogue, filling out an order form, mailing it out, and waiting a week for delivery only to find that it is the wrong size?  Archaic, right?  Welcome to the future.