The Future is Here Now — Human Augmentation Products Are Ready for Mass Adoption
Part A: Macro observations that human augmentation products have survived the initial hype cycle and are geared for mass adoption
Since the dawn of humanity, humans have endeavored to do more. Push limits, break boundaries, and go beyond their existing capabilities. To break these barriers humans have augmented themselves with stones, sticks, knives, glasses, shoes, calculators, and computers. I believe there is an intrinsic human need to extend the abilities of our bodies. We see this aspiration littered in our superhero comics and movies where the protagonist possesses super human powers, traits desired by most children and many adults.
To break through to the next level of capabilities, I believe there is no other alternative but for human and machine to become one. It will be the next generation of innovations — augmented reality/virtual reality, powered exoskeletons, invitro implants, brain machine interfaces, performance enhancing drugs, and gene editing — that will amplify human capabilities to the next level and truly forge a man machine, or dare I say, cyborg.
However, these innovations, so far, have not had the adoption rates or commercial successes expected and have gone through the classic Gartner hype cycle. After an initial peak of inflated expectations and some adoption in niche applications, these devices haven’t shown mass adoption yet! VR solutions like Facebook Oculus or HTC Vive are still mostly relegated to the gaming industry. Augmented reality is still very early with limited consumer awareness, with solutions like Microsoft (Halolens) & Meta just starting to offer expensive development versions. Powered Exoskeletons like those created by Exobionics and Cyberdyne are still too costly and heavy for most consumers and are mostly relegated to niche rehabilitation applications. Google Glass, launched with massive mass adoption expectations, currently is not sold anymore on the consumer market. Gene editing tools such as CRISPR are still in the early stages of development and must overcome barriers such as the technology’s inability to bind to a specific place in the genome, a lack of cut accuracy, and the absence of a kill switch.
I believe that this initial phase of the hype cycle has come to its close — second and third generation products have been funded and developed which are appealing to broader adopters. I believe the time is ripe when this slope of enlightenment or optimism will soon culminate into high growth adoption. For example in 2018, AR/VR headset sales are expected to hit 12.4 million units — up from roughly 8 million in 2017 (IDC). More enterprise users are starting to embrace virtual reality. Likely more content will be released in 2018 as hardware prices drop. But it will be the next generation of many of these products — untethered devices with full functionality (Oculus Go is a step in the right direction) — that will really spur greater adoption. Powered upper body exoskeletons are now being used in factories to improve worker productivity and reduce repetitive injury. Google Glass is now more successfully targeted to the enterprise industry, including health care, entertainment and energy. Newer accurate gene editing tools (Precision Biosciences) promise to outshine their first-generation cousin.
I believe now is the point in time where the classic S curve of technology diffusion starts progressing beyond the early adopters into the early majority. Each one of the fore-mentioned technologies will have their unique chasms to cross but the time is ripe.
Part B: One company’s experience accelerating mass adoption of human augmentation technology
At Roam, we are making powered human augmentation devices to enhance human mobility in activities such as walking, hiking, skiing, biking, running, and jumping. We have an audacious goal of making a world possible where extraordinary physical experiences of strength, endurance, and speed are accessible to the average person.
It is paradoxical, but humans can be both the biggest barriers and drivers to adoption. As we create a new product category and build new markets, we constantly remind ourselves that we are designing for people like you and me — people who make purchase decisions based on the value the product provides them, how it makes them look and feel, and how they are perceived by others while using it. Here is how we are actively positioning our product to facilitate mass adoption and bring benefits to billions, not just thousands.
a) Tune in to aspirations — As we considered market entry, we chose an application that has a large target user base, appeals to their strong desire to improve performance, and provides an aspirational brand association: Skiing. Skiing parlays power and dynamism. Over the long term, we aim to leverage this powerful brand association to other everyday applications. It also doesn’t hurt that our first products were chiseled in the furnace of defense contracts where we made Navy Seals achieve impossible feats, a fact that has helped us position ourselves as a powerful mobility brand.
b) Delight with power — We are designing our products to fundamentally change and enhance the user experience. We want them to feel the same excitement they feel when riding an electric bicycle at full throttle. All of us like that extra boost of power, even if we rarely use it. When was the last time you remember maxing out your car’s speedometer? It’s probably been a while, but it’s nice knowing you could if you wanted to, right? We want to capture that sense of thrill and help our users feel super human.
c) Respect the Goldilocks’ principle — Remember that people like to be different but not that different . To this point, we specifically chose design features that people are familiar with and for which they have a positive connotation. Both knee braces and protective shin guards (in alpine downhill ski racing and motocross) have been widely accepted and are associated with action sports and armor. Some aspects of this have been infused into our product.
d) Personalize the experience — We envision infusing the user’s DNA in the design. Through each use of the device, the user helps the device understand how he/she is moving. The device collects millisecond intervals of data and uses our AI algorithms to move in synchronization with the user. It will integrate seamlessly with the user in such a way that the user will not know where the body ends and the device begins.
e) Keep them engaged — Our devices are equipped with Apps that allow the user to access knowledge and engage socially with peers . Users will be able to track the following metrics: competition (how did I do vs. how my friends did), protection (how is my knee health?), performance (how do I improve?), and fun (what was my air time?). We believe these tools not only drive engagement but also allows us to better understand our users.
Seeing the Benefits — We are seeing the early benefits of this approach. Hundreds of test users have confirmed our approach and design, we’ve received authentic reviews by consumer tech writers, and we are racking up pre-orders in thousands of dollars. Time will tell how successful we will be building this unique market but we feel assured that we are on the right track.
At Roam, we want to make the impossible possible for the everyday person. We aim to create a category of products that, until now, were only conceptualized in science fiction books. We can imagine a world where athletes can run a marathon in less than two hours, an everyday person can climb their personal Everest, an average athlete can dunk a basketball, and seniors can still enjoy simple walks in the park.