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Biometrics

Wearables and Market Research

Google and long-time clothing producer Levi Strauss Co. have just partnered up to produce a whole new kind of fabric – a “smart cloth.” Called Project Jacquard, after the inventor of the loom, this new interactive fabric can be embedded into any fabric by way of an industrial loom. This means the new fabric is easy to use and can be wide-spread. These interactive threads currently function like a touchscreen on a phone. They can detect someone swiping or moving their fingers and can connect with other technology, like a smartphone. This means we might soon have another way to answer our phones or snooze our alarms.

Google and Levi are not the first brands to come out with “smart” fabric. Clothing brand Athos has embedded wearable sensors for heartrate, breathing rate, electrical activity generated by muscles (EMG), and more into workout clothes. The idea is that all of this information can be displayed for the user so they can better maximize their workout.

Recently, Researchers at University of California in San Diego were granted $2.6 million to develop smart clothes that help regulate body temperature. By using polymers that expand and shrink, their idea is to make a lightweight, washable, easy to use shirt that can thicken if the room gets colder or thin out if the room gets warmer. This will cut down on electricity and heating and cooling costs. The technology is still in the very early stages, but if it is developed as they hope, it could considerably help with natural disasters like the heat wave recently seen in India.

While Google is certainly not the first company to bring technology into fabrics, they are entering the market with new boundaries to push. As shown, other “smart clothes” use sensors or polymers in their fabrics. Google is working with threads that have microchips in them. These fabrics will be able to be programmed to do almost anything. While Google is designing the software and will be available for support, other designers will be in charge of the actual products. Levi’s, for one, will get their chance to use this new software in an exciting way. Perhaps they will embed a game onto the sleeve of a shirt, or maybe embed a TV remote to the arm of a sofa. Google will remain an interested partner, but the designing is left to other companies who may have a better sense of what the market is ready for and what customers want. We will see if this new wearable tech leads to a touch screen integrated into a shirt, new remotes that are embedded into a sofa, or even quicker doctor visits due to shirts that measure all vital signs.

In terms of the market research industry, this new technology could work hand-in-hand with biometrics to better measure responses to a myriad of things. Responses to commercials, brand messages, and advertisement campaigns could be tested more efficiently with this new technology. Wearable technology will be able to measure heart rate, breathing rate, and potentially other factors that are important physiological changes that come along with someone either liking or disliking a message. If we could use this wearable technology in conjunction with biometric measures like facial expression analysis, we will be able to get a better feeling for how customers actually react to a commercial, product, or branding message. Time will tell, but I think the combination of “smart clothes” with biometrics will soon become commonplace for market researchers.

Polling: What Can We Learn From the UK?

 While I do not normally follow British politics, I am interested in the opinion polling around their May elections. Polling is heavily relied on during campaigns so candidates know where they stand with the public and where they could improve. It also provides content for desperate reporters and news agencies looking to fill time and column inches.

The accuracy of the pre-election polls are important not only for people who want to know who is currently in the lead, but also for political campaigns searching for an edge for their candidate.

The opinion polls leading up to this year’s UK elections were particularly inaccurate. Nearly every popular poll had the conservative and labour parties placed within one percent of each other. The polls indicated that this election would likely be “hung” and that no party would have majority seating in the UK’s parliamentary system.

What actually happened is that the conservative party won the, albeit slight, majority of seats. The conservatives, led by David Cameron, secured 331 seats, which puts them in the majority (majority is considered 326 seats). Labour secured 232 seats, Scottish National Party (SNP) secured 56 seats, the Liberal Democrats retained 8 seats, United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) now has 1 seat, and other parties make up 22 seats.

Clearly, what actually happened is very different from the neck-and-neck dead heat that the polls predicted.

So, what happened? What went wrong with the polling?

Multiple sources (FiveThirtyEight, Telegraph, and The Conversation) have ascribed the misses to a failure of sufficiently accounting for the documented late swing towards the incumbent party (the Conservatives). This swing is something that traditionally happens in UK elections. According to Leighton Vaughan Williams’s article on The Conversation, another problem involved an overestimation of the amount of people that would be voting. The Conversation also points to the methodology of pollsters. Pollsters in most of these polls only supplied party names (conservative, labour, etc) instead of actual candidate names, which tends to “miss a lot of late tactical vote switching.” The late swing of votes, inaccuracies in voter turnout, and issues with the pollsters’ methodology account for possibilities of why the pollsters were so inaccurate. 

Granted, polling UK voters is a historically difficult task. Polls in the 1992 election were more inaccurate than this election and history repeated itself in 2015.

So, what does this mean for the future? Is this a harbinger for our elections in 2016?

It’s no secret that traditional polling methods are quickly becoming outdated. According to MPR news, political polling is evolving to monitor social media usage along with social media analytics. Another type of emerging technology in campaigns is biometrics.

While some countries have started to use biometrics at polling stations to help with voter identification, biometrics has the potential to be more. Using biometrics for polling purposes can help the system be more effective since it measures how much a specific person agrees with a statement, question, or wants to vote for a candidate. Even though this technology is new and still in development stages, I think it will change the accuracy and landscape of campaign research. The US presidential race of 2016 is sure to demonstrate some new polling methods, and it will be a good opportunity to observe what does and does not work in a rapidly changing industry.