Where’s the milk?

We’ve been checking out Google glass for a few months now; experimenting with applications for colleagues and customers while evaluating the technology itself.

Immediately, we thought about how our colleagues might be able to use Glass to check stock hands-free, or how our customers might be able to add a product to their grocery delivery basket while making a cup of tea. Getting to that stage has been a journey into entirely new areas of user interaction: new gestures, user interface elements, and input mechanisms.

Most of all, it’s about trying to understand the use-cases for Glass. It’s unlike any other hardware technology we’ve had before, so we tend to try and apply the use-cases we see for mobiles, tablets and desktop computing to see if they stick to Glass. They mostly don’t. Glass isn’t the kind of tech you use for 15, 10 or even 5 minutes at a time. You’re not going to comfortably do your entire grocery shop by staring at the top right-hand corner of your field of vision, but you might just add a single item, see some nutritional information, and then move on. You might get a notification about your delivery, including a photo of your delivery driver.

Shopping with Glass

Click to play video.

Other than some time-compression between adding items to the basket and the actual delivery, the prototype app is real; no smoke and mirrors there. Every once in a while, a new piece of technology comes a long that pushes the boundaries of science-fiction, making all sorts of potential use-cases an immediately reality. Glass feels like one of those technologies, in the sort of way WiFi or Smart Phones changed things. This is just the beginning of our journey with Glass, but we’re very excited about it and other wearables, and most importantly how you will use wearable technology to interact with Tesco.

Let us know your thoughts!

Project: Inform

Putting information into the hand of our colleagues.

Background and Introduction

A lot has changed over the last decade. Most of us now carry a powerful computer in their pocket – their smartphone.

Tesco currently offer various customer apps across a number of platforms. Our grocery shopping app is actually now in its third generation and there is lots more to come in that area.

Continuing in this vein “Inform” is our first ‘colleague’ app and we’ve now launched it to all store managers in the UK.

Goals and Objectives

If you’re a store manager you can scan a barcode on a product or on a shelf edge label and quickly get back a load of information about the product from the central systems.

If there’s no product left on the shelf they can use this information to do some troubleshooting to find out what has happened and hopefully get the product back on sale.

Where We’re At Now

So far in trials it has been very successful and colleagues really love having this information at their fingertips.

They can also have it on whatever device they’re used to; iOS or Android (with Windows phone coming soon).

As the world gets more and more mobile we will see more apps that help our colleagues as well our customers get access to useful information.

Helping you experience the future

The journey we took in becoming the team we are today.

I thought I’d write my first blog post based around our team mission statement; to share the journey we took in becoming the team we are today and our thoughts that went into creating the statement.

Creating a Labs team represents a real shift in the way that Tesco thinks about innovation. We’re developing a culture that will allow innovation to thrive in the long-term and we’re already working collaboratively with start-ups through networking events like T-Jam and our sponsorship of the Rainmaking Loft. We are devising a series of internal events such as hackathons and invent’athons which we’ve found are a great way to harness the collective power of people at Tesco.  It’s all very exciting!

So with a new team we set about defining our core purpose and mission statement – we wanted something simple that we could all remember, that reflects the work that we do, and something that helps to keep us all aligned and united as a team and heading in the same direction.

After much debate and discussion we came up with “Tesco Labs: Helping you experience the future”. Here are our thoughts behind the words in that sentence.

Helping

This could be anything from having a chat and helping someone set off on a journey of discovery to creating something to show people so their imagination doesn’t have to do the hard work

You

You the customer, you the colleague or you the supplier

Experience

We want to create new experiences, they could be simple, lightweight prototypes to help us understand people’s thoughts and opinions or they could be fully working and integrated so that we can actively test them and learn with our colleagues and customers.

Future

We are creating hypotheses / products that we can use to demonstrate what we think the future of retail will be like in 5 – 10yrs, but as you know the future is hard to predict! The real aim here is to be ambitious, not to just to solve tomorrow’s problems but to collaborate across the business and the world of technology and solve bigger, harder problems. It’s a mindset thing….

Cities Unlocked!

Our work on the project to enable people with visual impairments to enjoy an easier and more enhanced life through technology.

Cities Unlocked is a collaborative project between Guide Dogs Association, Future Cities Catapult, Microsoft and other partners. The projects aims to demonstrate the way in which future technologies could enable people with visual impairments to enjoy an easier and more enhanced life through technology. The Guide Dogs Association and Microsoft previously created the concept video below to demonstrate how a day out for a visually impaired individual could look in the future!

The Cities Unlocked project is focused on making the concept video as much a reality as possible. The Guide Dogs Association has partnered with many organisations that people come into contact with in their daily lives; transport, council, retail and entertainment.  I am currently working with the Guide Dogs Association and Microsoft towards enabling Tesco to provide an enhanced retail experience for our visually impaired customers through use of technology.

The project is an exciting one, we are currently investigating solutions using a number of interesting technologies including Wi-Fi, NFC and low energy Bluetooth beacons. For more information on the project please see the link below, and keep an eye on the Tesco Labs blog for future updates!

https://futurecities.catapult.org.uk/

Game design competition mentoring

We’ve been mentoring the next generation of designers and developers at BAFTA’s Young Game Designer competition.

You might wonder what game design has to do with a supermarket, but you’ll see from this blog soon enough that we’re not your average supermarket team. Recently a few of the team took part in some mentoring sessions as part of BAFTA’s Young Game Designers competition  (http://ygd.bafta.org/). The idea was to give them help develop their concepts and work out how they were going to build the games themselves.

The first stage was to visit them at their schools. Before the mentoring session itself took place we presented some of the things we’ve been working on to a couple of classes studying computing to show them how some of the subjects they’re studying might relate to real life use. It obviously got their imaginations going as at the end of the talk they asked plenty of questions and had some ideas about how we could use some of the technology we had talked about to make things better for customers and colleagues. We like to think we’re pretty up to date with technology and how to use it, but we think it’s really important to make sure we talk to young people about their views on the future as they are the customers of the future. It was impressive how switched on they all were when coming up with different ideas too.

After a call in-between meetings the teams came to visit us at Tesco and Dunnhumby HQ where they got hands on with some of the gadgets we’ve got in the lab. We also got an update on their progress and a chance to make sure they had everything lined up for submission.

We think it’s really important that we get involved in outreach opportunities like this and do all we can to excite young people about possible careers in technology and other STEM subjects as they grow in importance for organisations like ours.

Now the entries have all been submitted for the judging now so we’ve got our fingers crossed for the teams we helped!

Is someone else’s programming ruling your life?

Or the consequences of algorithmic bias.

You are in a driverless car. While you relax, the car is taking you to work. Part of the journey is for you to be driven speedily over a narrow bridge with a steep drop on either side.

Unbeknown to you (or the car), some individual has decided to use the bridge as a shortcut and is walking across it. There’s no width for this person to step to one side (or the car to swerve) and no ability to avoid them at this speed.

So, the computer program in the car has to make a decision: To kill the other person by driving over them, or kill you by swerving over the side of the bridge.

If / Else. It’s not you. It’s not the other person. It’s up to the computer algorithm, written by some programmer some time ago in a nice comfortable office far, far away. Is the programmer inclined to save the car and you (so you’ll be grateful and maybe more brand-loyal), or save the third party who has no protection around them like you have. Perhaps the car body may just save you from dying from the drop; after all, the depth is unknown to the algorithm and may  decide that it’s worth the outcome?

All of us who are computer programmers exhibit something called “algorithmic bias” when we code. We don’t notice it but, when we code those If / Else statements in our apps and services, we decide the intention – and that intention may be based on our personal values and biases. We decide whether the If or the Else is more worthy; more valuable.

Let me suggest another scenario: I’m worried about the safety of my family when I drive, so I choose a large vehicle with lots of protection and safety features. One day I have an accident. My car is big and heavy, but my vehicle serves its intended function since everyone in it is kept nice and safe. Unfortunately, the other car isn’t so lucky, and suffers even more damage than if it had collided with another average sized car.

Conclusion? People tend to focus on products that protect themselves and their families. Therefore more products will always be designed to protect the customer, since this sells more. Could we see, in the future, a form of Darwinism where the customer with the most money will choose products which make the best possible decision to protect them in these critical situations? Could we end up with a kind of algorithmic arms race? The principles of Game Theory could probably apply here!

The fact is that all the software powering all the tech around us – home, office, car – has algorithmic bias built in. Fortunately the worst it can do is annoy us, but as we come to rely on software for our safety, maybe it’s something we pay attention to. For example, what bias is running in the software controlling your next lift journey and it has to deal with an error condition? What bias is taking place in the increasingly insistent auto-correct when you type your next email that could replace a word and distort your message? Algorthmic Bias is already everywhere.

So let me leave you with this thought: Are you slowly being forced to live according to the personal values and biases of some far-off development team right now?