CHICAGO — The theme of the 2019 Gilbarco Retail & Fuel Technology Conference (RTC) in Winston-Salem, N.C., was taking a clear-eyed look at how the world is changing for consumers. The question posed to attendees was how the convenience-store industry can keep up.
The Greensboro, N.C.-based pump manufacturer examined emerging trends from voice computing and computer vision to the rise of alternative fuels and the increasing importance of cybersecurity.
Click through for the forward-looking highlights from the Gilbarco RTC conference …
These days, kids are surrounded by technology they might not have the perspective to appreciate. For instance, Amber Mac, a former web strategy manager for Microsoft and now a professional speaker and columnist, said her 8-year-old expects voice technology from Google Home to be everywhere. The minute Mac and her family entered a hotel room on vacation, her son said, “Okay Google,” not realizing the smart speaker was not installed in the room.
Mac told conference attendees that her son’s fantasy will almost certainly become reality. She said more than 29% of organizations are adopting one or more AI-powered chatbots or voice assistants, or at least plan to do so this year, and 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020.
Waste not, want not
Mac pushed the idea that more robots and computer vision could lead to huge improvements in society if implemented correctly. “Not the robots that are taking over the world, but instead those that are an asset to our population,” she said.
She used a tool called Oscar from startup Intuitive AI as one such example. Oscar is a computer vision program designed to be installed in large public areas, such as sports stadiums or malls. Oscar is placed over waste containers and uses its vision to identify the waste people are carrying and how to properly sort the waste. For instance, it can identify a to-go coffee cup and note that the cup itself should be placed in the trash, while the cardboard sleeve can be recycled.
People who correctly follow Oscar’s instructions receive a discount on something related to the area where it is installed. For instance, if someone correctly sorts their waste with Oscar in a football stadium, Oscar could give them coupons for a drink and snack booth nearby.
Exponential EV increase
Electric-vehicle (EV) sales might have gotten off to a slow start, but that’s changing quickly. “We’ve got just under 5 million electric vehicles on the road as of 2018,” said Nat Bullard, global head of executive insights and head of content strategy for BloombergNEF.
To put those EV sales in perspective, it took about 60 months for carmakers to sell the first million EVs. The fourth and fifth million EVs sold took about sixth months. Bullard shared projections from Bloomberg predicting that the upfront costs of EVs will compete with gas-guzzling consumer vehicles by 2024. Additionally, if the exponential increase in EV sales continues, Bloomberg projects that governments will lose approximately 1 trillion in fuel taxes by 2040.
In addition to hosting Bullard, Gilbarco also shared its own projections.
Deepesh Nayanar, marketing director for Gilbarco Veeder-Root, said that while the United States is still a huge market for vehicles, consumer power is shifting toward other countries as other automobile markets outside of America grow and evolve. “No carmaker makes a car for just one market,” said Nayanar, pointing out that the United States is the only developed nation that has not put a mandate in place to limit or eventually ban the traditional use of fossil fuels.
“A lot of cities have a goal of trying to get green by 2030, even in the U.S.,” said Nayanar. According to Gilbarco’s projections, EVs could be 10% of vehicles sold between 2025 and 2035.
“We’ve all seen the news that cyberattacks are increasing,” said Jeremiah Baker, co-founder of Acton, Mass.-based Netragard, a firm that specializes in finding and patching weak spots in its clients’ cybersecurity systems. “They’re not slowing down."
Unfortunately, companies often take far too long to detect data breaches, to the tune of 206 days, which is plenty of time for a bad actor to do damage. “Hackers will look for the weakest possible link in order to get into your organization,” said Baker, and often, the most vulnerable avenue of attack is through employees.
Baker said 91% of successful data breaches start with a spear phishing attack, in which hackers send an email or other online communication to an employee disguised as an innocent source—perhaps a co-worker or client. If employees are not on the lookout for such behavior, they could inadvertently give hackers access to their company’s systems.
The trick to stopping these attacks is to properly train employees, according to Baker. “If you don’t test your staff, the bad guys will do it for you,” he said.