Digital Childhood

How will Digital Natives change the way we think about technology in future?

It’s Saturday morning. I’ve been tasked with tidying up the living room, as we have friends coming over later – and apparently we can’t expect them to tip toe over the Lego train set on the floor…

My first job: clean the TV screen. I know; you’re probably thinking that can’t be the most important thing to clean, but you should see the state of it! The reason it’s so dirty is my kids think they can change the channel by swiping the screen… and here begins the realisation that they’re growing up in the Digital Age.

They’re so used to touch, swipe and voice recognition that they just expect everything to work that way. My three-year-old son watches Peppa Pig via YouTube on an iPad. He can’t read, he can’t spell, but he’s worked out that by tapping the microphone symbol on the search box, he can say “Peppa Pig” and be presented with a list of videos to watch. I’m beginning to wonder if he’ll ever want to read and write!

I like my tech, but I didn’t grow up with an expectation – even a reliance – on it, but times have changed. We need to make sure we’re thinking about how these Digital Natives will expect to interact with us as they mature, get their first ClubCard, do their first shop, and open their first bank account. At first I was reluctant to let my kids loose with technology, but now I’ve embraced it, and it is really making a difference. It’s great for education (spelling, reading and maths apps are great), it’s great for on demand content, and it’s great for gaming.

What sets digital natives apart is a willingness to try, a lack of fear, and a ruthless attitude to technology. They’ll give it a go, and if it works for them great; if it doesn’t, it’s thrown on the scrap-heap and forgotten about forever! This applies to both hardware and software (especially mobile applications), and when something gains momentum – be it positive or negative – it spreads like wildfire over social media. I can’t work out if it’s an amazing time to be an application developer, or a daunting one: there are no second chances now. Digital Natives are a great source of inspiration for me, and I’m lucky I can make a difference by investigating technology for Tesco to cater to what they’ll expect in the future.

Another major source of inspiration for me is film. I’m fascinated by how film production has developed as I’ve grown up – especially computer animated film. I’m also fascinated with the technology in sci-fi/futuristic films, and how much of it will become reality. Robots, Self-Driving Cars, Gesture Interfaces, Voice Control, Holographic Displays and Augmented Reality are all technologies I’ve been introduced to through film, and have ended up investigating for real as part of my job. My favourite question to ask our partners and vendors is, ‘What was the last film you watched where the plot had a technology that made you go, “Wow!”?’

No prizes for guessing that Minority Report, iRobot and Avatar are popular answers… drop us a line and tell us your favourite.

Image credit: Steve Paine. Original image can be found here.

Lunch & Learn with Dovetailed: 3D printing edible fruit

That’s right, 3D printing edible fruit! Our fascinating Lunch and Learn session with Dovetailed.

August’s Lunch & Learn session was one about which I was especially excited: Dovetailed, a Cambridge-based UX studio and innovation lab, was to come and give a talk and live demo of 3D-printing. Big whoop, some of you more cynical Tesco colleagues may cry: ‘3D printing’s been around for ages – we all know you can 3D-print plastic dolls in your own likeness, and other stuff of questionable usefulness.’

Fair enough, I’d say – except that these guys don’t print plastic stuff: they print fruit…edible fruit!

The concept began from work that Gabriel, Dovetail’s Chief Innovator, had done at Oxford for his dPhil: using a 3D printer to create mimics of biological tissue without using living cells. However, another use for this technology soon emerged. Gabriel says: “The aim of the project was to print something that behaved a bit like a tissue, but personally, when I saw these things, I thought, ‘they look delicious!’”.

Gabriel saw many similarities between the structures he’d created, and fruit. His creations were composed of water droplets separated by very thin membranes – almost like soap bubbles, with a very thin film between them.

An orange, for example, is also made of lots of liquid compartments separated by thin membranes – not quite as thin as his 3D-printed creations, but nevertheless, the structure was similar.

The rest was history. Gabriel decided to apply his experience with 3D-printing liquids, combine it with a different science – molecular gastronomy – and create edible things using a 3D printer. Heston, eat your heart out! Gabriel uses a technique called reverse spherification to create layers of jelly-like structures, one on top of the other, that stick together to form a 3D structure.

You can customise the colour, nutritional content, texture, flavour and shape of these creations, and this technology could be applied much more widely than just within the food industry. You could use it to create personalised make-up; perfumes; easy-to-take supplements or medication for the elderly, or children…and I bet the cocktail bars in Chelsea would lap this up.

‘Sweet sugar pie’
Vaiva, founder of dovetailed.co, also talked to us about how you can change the way people experience food and drink – for example their perceived taste – through technology. She used her stamp system as an example: she simply stamps QR codes onto coffee-shop napkins which, when you scan them with your phone, plays music that makes the coffee you’re drinking seem sweeter – without resorting to unhealthy sugar.

‘Beautiful lasers’
Vaiva also introduced the idea of using laser technology to ‘print’ information on fruit and vegetables, reducing packaging and keeping the customer informed at the same time. For example, not only could you put things like cooking instructions or best before dates on an aubergine, but you could also provide the customer with data about the fruit – its nutritional values, provenance etc.

‘Push it real good’
The final treat Dovetailed had to show us, was their trolley handle add-on. After conducting market research, they concluded that a lot of people felt overwhelmed by choice when shopping in supermarkets. So, they designed a device that clips onto the trolley handle (thus letting the shopper push the trolley as usual), which has a barcode scanner in it. The customer simply scans the product to get information on that product that isn’t usually instantly available, at a glance – and what’s more, the information is personalised.

You scan a card to tailor the results before setting off. So, for example, you could say you’re interested in food mileage, or that you have a nut allergy and wish to be alerted to products containing nuts.

So, when you scan a pack of beef, for example, the more LEDs that light up, the further the meat has travelled to the store. If the product contains nuts, then an unhappy face will appear on the screen. You can even have a running tally of how healthy your trolley is: the scanner can keep track of the amount of salt, fat etc. per portion in your trolley, and can tell you how well you’re doing on average.

Do you think 3D printing your dinner instead of cooking it is the future? Do you think this technology is something that supermarkets could – and should – be exploring? Tweet your thoughts to @TescoLabs

To watch Gabriel and Vaiva present all their inventions, go here.