Imagine a world in which advertisers can see who you are as you sit on your couch watching TV and serve up commercials tailored to you. Or a world where cars can sense your blood pressure and suggest that you play soothing music to counter your swelling road rage. Or a device that monitors how you eat and encourages you to chew more slowly.
That world is closer than we may realize because the devices that fill our living rooms, cars and backpacks are rapidly incorporating multiple sensors that can track and record our every move, according to Shawn Dubravac, chief economist at the Consumer Electronics Association, which puts on the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which officially begins tomorrow.
Even mundane objects are being equipped with sensors. Liquid Image makes goggles with cameras. Hapilabs has developed a connected fork with an accelerometer that monitors how quickly you eat. Bodymedia makes an armband that can track how well you sleep. All three companies, which are showcasing their wares at this year's CES, will be part of this year's avalanche of connected, sensor-equipped gadgets. Dubravac estimated that 350 million IP addressable devices will ship worldwide this year, many of which will be capable of quietly upload troves of personal data.
"In the age of algorithms, data is the new currency," Dubravac said in his Sunday presentation on CES trends to watch. (A full set of Dubravac's presentation slides can be viewed here.)
This will create opportunities for companies that can provide meaningful services with the oncoming tidal wave of data. In 2012, devices were considered "smart" when they could connect to the Internet. In 2013, being smart will mean being able to sense real-life contexts and provide the intelligence to help people act or make decisions.
Many of the scenarios involve health or safety applications, such as cars that can detect erratic driving or pill bottles that can sense when they have been opened. But they will also play a role in the delivery of entertainment as well. Devices that can "hear" what people are listening to or "see" what is being watched can automatically serve up related content, for example. Gadgets that can sense where a person is and what that person is doing can recommend relevant entertainment options. Out for a leisurely jog? Here's a playlist with a moderate tempo. Sped up to a full-on sprint? How about a more aggressive set of tracks?
One speed bump in this all-sensing electronics world is concern over personal privacy. Some people will think it's creepy to have a connected camera in their living room that "knows" who is there and can track what they are doing and even whether they are feeling relaxed or tense - based on the slight changes in body movement as they breathe.
Dubravac believes that this fear may not be insurmountable, particularly if companies are transparent about how they use the data and if they give people something in exchange. Progressive Insurance, for example, gives customers rate discounts if they agree to let the company track their driving via GPS. Other location-based services give users digital coupons whenever they "check-in."
He calls these bits of data "digital breadcrumbs." Added with the right service, however, these crumbs could help businesses make some real dough in 2013.
Billboard.biz will be reporting from CES 2013 all week.