“Cutting-edge trade show gives a sneak peek at what’s on the technology horizon” 

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas can be overwhelming at times. With more than 5,000 trade-show booths spread out over multiple hotels, you can’t possibly see them all in just a few days. You end up picking areas of interest and focus just on those sections.

Driverless cars? Drones? Tablets? Robots? Home electronics? Smartphones? You meet the most interesting people from all over the world. I especially liked the Chinese salesperson from Shenzhen who did not speak a word of English. When I asked her a question, she asked me to speak into her “phone,” which then translated English into Chinese. This went on for about five minutes and worked surprisingly well, to my amazement.

The show is a great opportunity to see what’s hot, what people are thinking and doing with technology, and what you might see a year from now. It is entrepreneurial creativity at is best from companies and people worldwide.

Self-Driving Delivery Vehicles are Not Far Away

While they would not let me test ride in a fully automated 18-wheeler at the show (left), there is zero doubt that any business that has to deliver products (e.g., flowers) will adopt this emerging technology. Major companies such as Uber, Google and Tesla are pouring billions of dollars a year into perfecting unmanned vehicles.

It appears this will start with the trucking industry – which is woefully short of drivers – with some pay rates now pushing more than $85,000 a year plus benefits for long-haul routes. Even Tesla has jumped in the game with a all-electric semi truck that runs on the freeways only at night, between midnight and 6 a.m., when there is less traffic.

It’s expected this new technology will reduce labor rates by more than 75 percent when fully optimized for interstate trucking. Today, trucking companies operate fleets of trucks run by human drivers; tomorrow, the same companies will operate fleets of electric trucks run by robotic dispatch systems. The drivers will be needed only to get the trucks to the freeway and pick up the trucks at the other end of the freeway exit ramp 1,000 miles away.

The drivers won’t have to be on the road for weeks at a time. A win-win for all involved: the drivers, the environment and the companies transporting goods. In addition, smaller driverless vehicles are being employed to make personal deliveries to consumers’ homes and offices. Stop & Shop launched electric remotely piloted vehicles in the Boston area this spring that bring a selection of produce, meal kits and convenience items (will it be long before they add flowers?) directly to consumers at their doorsteps (see the vehicle on the opposite page). Consumers summon a Robomart vehicle with a smartphone app., and upon its arrival, they head outside, unlock the vehicle’s doors, then select the fruits, vegetables and other products they wish to purchase. When finished shopping, they close the doors and send the vehicle on its way.

The vehicles’ RFID (radio-frequency identification) and computer vision technology automatically records what customers select, and receipts are emailed within seconds.

Should florists jump on this robotic bandwagon? Is this the next generation of flower trucks, pop-up shops or street-corner flower stands? Is this the kind of convenience your customers are looking for?

Droids and Drones Everywhere

There was no shortage droids and drones for home delivery (above). While most of us have started to see small droids on sidewalks in major cities, there are still legal and technology hurdles to overcome when it comes to fully autonomous droid delivery.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is still many years away from approving or issuing licenses for aerial drone delivery, especially after the recent mishaps at major airports worldwide, with drones flying into restricted airspace. Drone delivery will take a bit longer to become a reality, but droid delivery is already here now and works just fine on city sidewalks.

What can florists learn from this technology, and how can they utilize it to their benefit before their competition does? It deserves some consideration.

BreadBot Steals the Show

“How can a nation be called great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?”Julia Child

I think Julia Child would be very impressed with the BreadBot from the Wilkinson Baking Company of Walla Walla, Wash. They developed a new automated, unmanned bread-making machine that allows you to order your bread from a mobile app (before you go to the supermarket). Then by the time you get to the store.

your freshly baked loaf of bread is waiting for you with your name on it. No more day-old bread.

“A truly brilliant idea packaged into a futuristic-looking machine that helps increase average bread sales by 30 percent,” according to the marketing director for the company.

“The BreadBot is the first opportunity for consumers to get continuously fresh-baked bread throughout the day in the grocery store,” Wilkinson Baking Company co-founder and CEO, Randall Wilkinson. You can see more at wilkinsonbaking.com/the-mini-bakery.

In this new type of futuristic modern bakery, consumers purchase a personalized product at a higher quality for the same prices as bread trucked in from hundreds of miles away. This is what people are talking about when they refer to “unmanned retail,” which is becoming more and more a reality in our everyday lives.

The Breadbot was, by far, the most talked about booth at the show and garnered press worldwide. The creators have tested this in three supermarkets and hope to see it in a thousand more a few years from now.

You can easily see them coupling this concept with unmanned droid delivery in a few years, bringing us full circle, back to the days when the local bakery truck delivered fresh baked bread to each home.

Do You Really Need Paper Anymore?

Still think paper is cheaper? Think again. The price of consumer tablets has been dropping through the floor the last few years, and the show featured a number of new tablets ready to hit the consumer and business markets.

You can now pick one up for $50 or less, in many cases, which begs the question: Why are we still printing paper in flower shops? Paper gets lost; paper is outdated once it prints (and the order changes); paper takes time to print and consumes expensive laser cartridges, which clog up our landfills. It is now cheaper to give each designer his or her own personal tablet and “assign” the orders through your point-of-sale (POS) software.

These employee tablets have no cellular-plan fees because they run on local Wi-Fi networks. Designers no longer have to move from their stations to see what is next. They can pull up the recipe list and even see items in full color. Of course, all tablets are locked down at the firewall level so there is no surfing around the internet. This is so much more efficient than what we observe in most flower shops these days.

We’re sure that if someone did a formal time-and-motion study of floral designers, they would find that individual designer tablets probably save more than 100 hours a year, on average, per designer. At a average labor rate of $12 per hour, that is more than $1,200 savings per designer per year, so if you have 10 designers, that’s more than $12,000 per year in savings.