Australia's Fast Food Future: Will Wearable Tech Change Our Lives?

Smartphones have drastically altered the face of online takeaway ordering and delivery. With the rise of Google Glass, the revelation of the Android Wear smartwatch and rumours of the looming Apple iWatch, what changes will the adoption of wearable technology bring to the takeaway food industry?

This post originally appeared on the Menulog blog.

Imagine a world without smartphones. No Google Maps, no Whatsapp, Shazam or Tinder, no social media on your lunch break. Pretty bleak, right? Seven years after iPhone and Android began their campaigns of smartphone domination, almost two-thirds of Australians possess a smartphone and use mobile internet for more than 90 minutes each day. In 2014 the global smartphone audience is expected to exceed 1.75 billion people.

So when smartphone titans like Google and Apple turned their attention towards wearable technology the ears of industry leaders all across the world pricked up. Though companies have been experimenting with wearable technology for years (a wearable computer was created to cheat at roulette as far back as 1961), it took 2013’s Google Glass to kick off the current media frenzy. A reported $458 million was invested in wearable companies in the same year.

Australians have rushed to show their interest, with a 2013 study finding that 35 percent of those surveyed had already used some form of wearable technology – as opposed to just 18 percent of US and UK respondents. But what form is this wearable technology taking? How are people integrating it into their lives? And where will it all lead?

Wearable Technology: An Overview

Wearable tech has existed for centuries in one form or another, but sales in the modern era have largely been fuelled by the fitness industry. Thus far the activity tracker Fitbit, allowing users to track metrics such as steps walked and sleep quality, has dominated the industry, though Nike ventured its own Fuelband in 2013. These devices have specific functions and lack the variability of computers or smartphones.`

A History Of Wearable Tech

Broader uses for wearable technology have been experimented with but rarely received widespread attention until Google Glass, which leveraged Google’s massive popularity to launch a single smart device with multiple applications. This has spurred a flurry of wearable technology from other big names like Apple, Sony and Motorola, which in turn has caused 2014 to be dubbed The Year of Wearable Technology.

Google Glass and the Android Wear smartwatch have demonstrated some of the current capabilities of wearable tech. The most obvious benefit is ease of use, with vocal commands allowing hands-free interaction – and therefore the ability to integrate device usage with other tasks. While some present models are lacking in power, they can be synced with smartphones to bridge this gap (though this somewhat detracts from their convenience).

Now that word is spreading, industries like health, fashion and entertainment have begun eyeing the wearable technology space. Already there are onesie baby monitors and solar vests that recharge devices in your pocket. Big-name fashion designers have contributed to the aesthetics of Google and Apple wearables. Paypal and Pinterest were amongst the first third-party apps on the Android Wear smartwatch. Amazon has launched a wearable technology store in the UK.

With a full-on wearable technology assault predicted for 2014, experts are predicting drastic shifts in customer habits similar to those that followed the rise of the smartphone, which saw 69 percent of consumers ordering food online using a mobile device. What forms will these changes take? How will wearable technology alter the nature of online food ordering?

Convenience

The primary advantage wearables have over portable tech like smartphones is that they can be carried and used almost without thought. There’s none of the conscious decision-making behind putting your phone in your pocket and having to pull it out whenever you need it – both glasses and smartwatches can be kept on permanently. Add the fact that you don’t need to use your hands and you’ve got the perfect device to integrate seamlessly into everyday life.

That means several things for takeaway food consumers. Firstly, ordering on the go is incredibly easy. Google smartwatches are designed to be predictive, meaning they can prompt you to order at a certain time or a certain location. And you won’t need to stop whatever else you’re doing, like typing or driving or juggling: just use vocal commands to tell the device what you want. It’s like outsourcing a task to someone who’s untiringly efficient, doesn’t charge for their services and has instant access to a universe of information.

That universe will consist of thousands (if not millions) of integrated devices. Near-field communications will allow, for example, a digital menu in a restaurant window to display tailored meals according to your personal ordering preferences – or a menu to be projected directly to your Google Glass as you walk by. A mouth-fitted device could allow you to electronically sample the flavours of a dish before ordering (“scent messages” have already been transmitted across the Atlantic). Augmented reality apps will overlay the real world with whatever data you need. Locate a wealth of information about restaurants – reviews, menus, prices, wait times – just by glancing down the street.

Wearables will also make it easier to track the location of deliveries via courier. Here’s how it might happen. You’re on the way home from work. When your smartwatch hits 6pm you’re prompted to order your favourite pizza, as you do every week. You tap it to place the order and you’re done – dinner is on the way. Once the food is ready and in the hands of the driver, he taps his own smartwatch and begins GPS tracking. You can watch the progress of your food as it makes its way to your house. Dinner’s on the table in a single tap.

If you’re a blogger or social media aficionado, wearable technology will mean sharing information with unprecedented ease. Upload an incredible Pad Thai to Instagram without dropping your chopsticks. Share the theatrics of a flaming crepe suzette by live-streaming it to your blog followers. Feedback, reviews and food critiques will be uploaded instantaneously, complete with images and time and location data.

Health

There’s a mounting excitement about the incredible potential of wearable technology in the health industry. Samsung is nudging in on the very lucrative fitness device market with a prototype smartwatch that continuously monitors vital signs such as heart rate and regularity, skin temperature and oxygen levels. The information can be viewed by the user or uploaded to a cloud, where it contributes to a pool of data available to medical professionals.

Cathie Reid, Managing Partner of pharmacy service provider APHS and wearable technology advocate, believes these devices will offer consumers unprecedented control over their own health through constantly monitoring the body in real-time. Any changes in vital statistics will provide an immediate notification to the wearer. Those suffering from an affliction like chronic pulmonary disease or asthma will have an early warning system that’s always on.

“Wearable technology enables the rise of the empowered patient, who is delivered with significantly more information and can actively choose what to do with it,” Reid says. “This has interesting ramifications for the food industry because people can provide real-time decisions based on their personal data.”

One example of this kind of technology is a contact lens that non-invasively monitors blood-sugar levels. Tiny lights in the lens will light up when there’s a change, alerting diabetics to potential dangers. This will allow people to make informed decisions about how behavioural factors such as exercise and diet are affecting their health. A wearable device could measure your body’s physical response to certain foods and even changes in brain chemistry, determining reaction to particular ingredients and allowing you to tailor a more personalised diet.

There’s also a possibility for integrated mechanisms that can be set up by the user to achieve certain nutritional targets. A smartwatch, for example, might be programmed not to order takeaway unless its owner walks a certain distance. Restaurants and even gyms might employ this technology to provide healthy incentives for customers: achieve your exercise target for the day and we’ll upsize your salad or throw in a free bottle of water.

But the “Holy Grail” for many companies, according to Reid, is producing an easy way to determine calorie content. “A lot of wearable technology companies are working on methods to determine the calories in food using a photo analysis tool,” Reid says. This would allow you to log your calories in your diet tracker by doing nothing more than taking a photo with Google Glass as you eat.

Quality

A less direct way for wearable tech to improve your takeaway experience is through making life easier for restaurants. Hands-free technology is an incredible advantage in the kitchen, allowing real-time communication without distracting from the task at hand. Google Glass, for example, allows chefs to video stream their cooking process from a first-person perspective. Trainee chefs can then watch these videos on their own device and replicate an instructor’s movements as they work. This allows a detailed one-on-one lesson to be broadcast to an unrestricted number of people simultaneously.

Mobile developer Interapt has already trialled the technique in the USA, partnering with KFC to develop a training program for their commercial kitchens. The platform provided staff with detailed training videos and recorded in-store transactions that could be reviewed by management. This granted staff in other locations – head office, for example – a live, on-the-ground perspective. The trial aimed to improve customer service and the quality and speed with which food was produced. With speed of service a major draw in fast food and takeaway restaurants, this could drastically improve sales and consumer experience.

Cathie Reid has also made use of Google Glass for hands-free job training. “It allows trainees to view previously filmed techniques without the pressure of someone else’s presence,” she says. “It’s also a great timesaver for hands-on tasks like inventory taking and determining pricing information.”

This hands-free streaming technology could potentially go a step further by allowing customers to peek inside the kitchens of the restaurants they’re ordering from. Restaurants could demonstrate the quality of their food and the skill of their chefs by live-streaming the cooking process. Customers could follow step-by-step instructions to recreate their favourite dishes at home. Nutritional information of various ingredients could be analysed and displayed by the device.

Wearable tech can also be synced with other technology – smart ovens, for example – to determine when specific temperatures have been achieved or cooking times reached. Employees would receive alerts allowing them to react swiftly to undesirable situations, reducing waste, loss of money and improving food quality for customers. Similarly, customers could receive real-time alerts about when their meals are being prepared, cooked and delivered.

The Future

Much of this technology already exists in some form or other: the greatest challenges now are bringing it all together and stirring consumer interest. The latter involves overcoming some of the current stigma surrounding obvious wearable technology like Google Glass, but that may fade as devices become less obtrusive.

Wearable technology gives consumers the capacity for greater engagement with their environment and informed control over their decisions. This means ordering dinner faster, with less effort, and knowing exactly what’s in your food and how it will affect your body.

Ultimately wearables are all about improving and augmenting our everyday interactions and experiences. “It’s about putting power in the hands of the people,” Cathie Reid says. “It’s a real-life choose your own adventure. It’s an enabler, allowing people to use a wealth of information provided to make their own real-life decisions.” [Menulog]


Comments

    A good idea for those with fast food / poor dietary habits would be a watch requires a picture taken of what is about to go into the mouth - if it does not match a preset dietary guide then gives the wearer a nice reminder by way of electric shock

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