While our homes have become ever-more digitalised over time, the bathroom has remained fairly traditional. This is perhaps unsurprising, given that a 2011 report found 41% of UK consumers view their bathroom as a space in which to escape their high-tech, modern lives.
However, consumer tastes have since evolved, and 2018 may well be the year this changes.
Recent breakthroughs in exciting emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and facial recognition systems point to a future wherein the bathroom is completely transformed.
We recently carried out research into consumer attitudes towards digital transformation in the home and found that there is a real appetite for innovation in this space. Foremost among the findings was that almost half (46%) of people reported that – of all rooms in their home - the bathroom is where they’re most excited to see technological innovation.
But how might this change be implemented?
AI will revolutionise the design process
The bathroom design process – a long-standing and expensive issue for consumers – has the potential to be completely transformed by technology. AI - in particular computer vision and machine learning - can be used to develop powerful room visualisation and space planning tools, which we see as the future of interior design.
While there will always be a place for the creative flair of an experienced interior designer, consumers are now becoming more empowered to design their homes themselves. Smart design and visualisation platforms help them to do this; solving a range of ongoing design headaches such as effective use of space and the “imagination gap”, wherein consumers opt out of expensive home interior purchases after being unable to imagine how they will look in the home.
Interestingly, the term “AI” is actually an umbrella term which refers to a host of applications, including (but not limited to) machine learning, computer vision, chatbots, and natural language processing. In this context however, we refer to computer vision and machine learning, which will have the most impact on the design space.
Computer vision can be used to take an accurate 3D image of a room, analyse it, and subsequently generate a fully-rendered 3D space in which the user can add and remove furniture, fittings, flooring and wall furnishings to their heart’s content.
Machine learning then goes deeper, ensuring the image remains to scale, so customers can not just see what furniture will look like in a space, but also if it will fit. Machine learning can even work in conjunction with the lighting conditions in the chosen room and instantly react to any change of tone or colour, thus giving a truly accurate picture of how the redesigned space will look.
A certain type of machine learning model - deep convolutional neural networks - allows image semantic segmentation to transform the design process even further. This type of technology enables designers to input an image of their bathroom, after which the platform will output a set of pixel-wide predictions of that room. This allows space planning tools to make changes to pixels which belong to a certain class. Essentially, if a tool can determine the pixels that form a wall or floor, it can redecorate those pixels with the user’s chosen wallpaper or tiling, allowing consumers to completely re-design their space from top to bottom.
AR: a new reality for bathroom tech
2017 was a landmark year for AR. Both Google and Apple invested heavily in the field, igniting a flurry of activity from developers after bringing their AR software development kits (SDKs), ARCore and ARKit, to market.
This investment has changed the face of the AR market. Previously considered to be secondary to more immersive Virtual Reality (VR) tech, the sector is now estimated to become worth more than £42 billion in just five years’ time.
The development of ARCore and ARKit creates huge potential for AR in the consumer market, and developers in all sectors are now getting involved. With this in mind, it seems inevitable that KBB design - an incredibly lucrative market in itself - will be dramatically affected by this sea-change.
It’s likely to be only a matter of time before we see AR technology leveraged in the bathroom, which may take a variety of forms. Firstly, we could once again see AR impact the design process, changing the way we measure and plan out our rooms with mobile visualisation apps and virtual tape measures.
But how could the technology be applied in the bathroom itself?
According to our research, among the top use cases desired by consumers is an AR hairstyle simulator, which could show how a hairstyle would look on your head, and give step-by-step instructions on how to achieve it.
We may also see an AR-powered vanity mirror, which could transform the morning bathroom regime in a variety of ways. First trialled by tech giants Panasonic at CES 2015, these smart mirrors were a major theme at this year’s show, demonstrating how AR could be leveraged to give ongoing beauty and grooming advice, which could collectively save hundreds (if not thousands) of hours in the morning.
A smarter bathroom
There are many other innovations we may see in the bathroom of tomorrow which do not simply fall under simply-defined umbrella terms.
In the near future, we could see truly “smart” bathroom mirrors which move beyond being a solely cosmetic tool, performing daily health checks to save both the consumer and the NHS precious time and money. Hypothetically, these mirrors could be further extended, connecting to other Wi-Fi-enabled products such as scales, toothbrushes and shavers to become full-scale health hubs in their own right.
Even relatively simple adaptations of existing appliances could be invaluable, such as a height-adjustable sink, toilet and mirror that moves up and down dependent on the user. Such an innovation would be priceless from an inclusion standpoint, making access to the bathroom available to all, regardless of age or potential disability.
A particularly exciting new technology is voice recognition, which has exploded in popularity since the release of the Amazon Echo and Google Home. These voice-activated smart home devices are predicted to enter around 40% of UK households in 2018.
This technology may play a pivotal role in the bathroom of the future, particularly when used in conjunction with the rapidly-advancing IoT (Internet of Things). In the near future, we could see these burgeoning technologies combined, allowing users to seamlessly control appliances in their bathroom using nothing but the spoken word.
The future is closer than you think
While it is the design process that will be most transformed in future by technology, emerging innovations such as AR, the IoT and facial recognition will also impact the bathroom itself in a number of exciting ways.
Forward-thinking businesses, which develop and invest in these emerging technologies now, will be well-placed to engage the consumer of the future; an assertion backed by our research which shows that businesses and brands that make effective use of new technology are far more likely to build a loyal customer base.
If we consider how retail giants like Amazon continue to embrace new technologies to transform the customer buying journey – a prime example of which being their computer vision powered checkout-free store, “Amazon Go”– can retailers looking to engage and retain customers really afford not to embrace technology?
We recently found that over two thirds (68%) of consumers currently view their bathroom as outdated, showing that there is a clear consumer need for this digital transformation in the KBB retail space.
The businesses who supply the bathrooms of the future will be those who can tap into this consumer demand, harnessing cutting-edge technologies to provide their customers with exciting new innovations and experiences, which also provide solutions to the everyday problems their customers face.
David Levine, Founder and CEO of DigitalBridge
Image Credit: Pixaline / Pixabay