How self-conscious products will revolutionize consumer electronics

How self-conscious products will revolutionize consumer electronics
Credit: Bert Brautigam

Expect to see a radical change in the way consumer products address human needs in the future. Up until now, the typical consumer product life cycle has been linear:

A product is purchased.

A product is used until it breaks.

A product is replaced with a new version of itself or with a competitor’s product that solves a human problem even better.

We are going to observe fundamental changes in consumer product life cycles. Consumer products will become growingly self-aware. Their life cycles will rather be circular and iterative than linear. Products will adapt perfectly to their human owner’s needs with every new generation while lasting longer. 

Sensors play a critical role in this trend. They allow products to be aware of their maintenance needs and performance. These products need to be connected in order to share and process maintenance and performance data.

The self-conscious product

Let‘s look at a common consumer product to understand this trend:

Vacuum cleaners address the problem of dust agglomeration in our homes. The solution they provide is absorbing dust into their interior. Frequent usage results in higher maintenance efforts such as getting the dust removed that has been “inhaled” over time.

Sensors control the well-being of the vacuum cleaner and can request maintenance either locally by alerting the human or remotely by notifying its manufacturer. Early detection of functional problems can extend the product life span significantly.

Iterative product evolution

The vacuum cleaner’s awareness of its performance is far more exciting though: Sensors measure the performance in relation to its success criteria. The vacuum cleaner gathers data about usage patterns such as frequency of use, the kind of surfaces it is being used on, the amount and type of dust absorbed, and others.

When a vacuum cleaner reaches the end of its life, it can request a replacement for itself from its manufacturer. With the amount of usage data gathered, it can actually be replaced be a better version of itself–an evolved version that fits the individual human needs better than its predecessor.

This process in many ways works just like evolution of life: The next generation adapts to (consumer product) life conditions better and is “fitter” to perform.

Product subscription instead of single purchase

As a result, we will see subscriptions to products rather than repetitive single purchases. The value proposition of self-aware consumer products is the iterative adaptation to individual and specific human needs. This will require mass production to become more flexible to allow variation in product architecture and their components. 3D printing as a production method will allow for a high grade of flexibility.

This will be a great opportunity for brands to establish a closer relationship to their customers by profoundly understanding behavioral patterns of their products’ usage and to offer ultra-personalized product experiences. Data sharing concerns can be met by the enormous increase in convenience for the future subscriber to products.

In contrast to owner products, shared products in an on-demand economy require a high grade of seamless customizability. But the immense value of converting usage data into smart and iterative product evolutions will be of great importance in the on-demand economy equally.

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

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