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Executive Editor

Sal Alfano is executive editor for Professional Remodelersal.alfano@gmail.com, 202.365.9070

Back to the Future

At the rate technology is changing, early adopters will succeed at the expense of remodelers who take a wait-and-see approach.

January 07, 2019

I did a lot of online shopping this year at Amazon, and virtually everything I ordered was shipped free and delivered in two days or less. The reason is Amazon Prime and the artificial intelligence behind it. As explained in an NPR segment, Amazon’s Supply Chain Optimization group uses an algorithm that watches as we shop and calculates the probability that we will buy what we’re looking at. Before we even add the item to our cart, if that probability reaches a data-based threshold, it signals a robot at the Amazon warehouse closest to our location, which retrieves the item and moves it to the front of the line, where it can more quickly be picked up for shipment when we actually hit the buy button.

Scary, yes, but for businesses like remodeling, there’s more to worry about than privacy issues. From “buy with one click” to same-day delivery, Amazon is training consumers to take speed for granted. Imagine the effect that has on customers’ expectations for your response time to their phone calls or emails or text messages, or for the completion date of their kitchen remodels.

Even scarier is the effect on customer expectations around communication. For everything I purchased, Amazon sent an immediate email confirmation, followed by a notice when the order shipped that included a link to track delivery. That kind of updating is the future of remodeling, whether you like it or not, and companies that fail to adopt an Amazon-like process sooner rather than later will be at a considerable competitive disadvantage. 

From “buy with one click” to same-day delivery, Amazon is training consumers to take speed for granted.

Technology has always been an important key to survival in the remodeling business. But when it comes to adopting new products, processes, or technologies, most remodelers would rather wait to see how it works out for the other guy. That’s also a kind of survival skill, but at the rate of change these days, it’s easy to wait too long. The “Amazon Effect” is one technology trend I’ve been tracking that I think will revolutionize the industry the way pneumatics, cordless tools, computers, and smartphones have in the last 30 years. Here are two others.

Heads Up

Google Glass never caught on, but since its 2012 launch, several dozen companies have continued to develop products that either sync with smartphones or incorporate smartphone-like features—such as Bluetooth, WiFi, mic and speakers, GPS tracking, cameras—into wearable glasses that project text and images onto the lenses and respond to voice, touch, and gesture commands. Many models are still geeky looking, but a few are downright stylish. And while many consumer models specialize in apps for fitness enthusiasts, augmented reality (AR) software is proliferating at the enterprise level for scientific, military, and industrial applications. It won’t be long before AR apps enable smart-glass wearers to create and dimension interior floor plans just by glancing around the room, or search for and display rough-in specs for appliances and fixtures. Building information modeling (BIM) applications are inevitable, as are apps that allow someone to “show” remote co-workers something on site just by looking around. 

Brace Yourself

Remember the final scene in Aliens (1986), when Sigourney Weaver’s character, Lt. Ripley, suited up in a massive, strength-augmenting exoskeleton to do hand-to-tail combat with the alien? A dozen or so companies are working to bring a scaled-down version of that suit to medical, industrial, and construction applications. SuitX (formerly US Bionics) calls its system the Modular Agile eXoskeleton (MAX for short). Its three modules—shoulderX, backX, and legX—use springs and leverage (but no motors) to lower stress on shoulder, back, and leg muscles by up to 60%, reducing fatigue and preventing injury. Each module can be worn separately or combined into a full-body exoskeleton that engages only when you need it, all without impeding movement while walking, climbing a ladder, or even driving.

Progress never comes cheap—each MAX module runs between $3,000 and $4,000. The price will come down, but that’s still a lot less less than I’ve paid physical therapists and chiropractors over the years to treat my bad back.

And imagine the extra yardage you’ll get off the tee. 

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