A Botched Walk Through Uncanny Valley

Uncanny valley is a hypothesis that states things look cute if they kind of look human, until they look really human, but not quite human. In that case, the natural response is repulsion.

The concept of uncanny valley has been around for quite some time. Masahiro Mori, a Japanese professor of engineering at Tokyo Institute of Technology proposed the now-famous concept of the uncanny valley in the 1970’s. You can check out his seminal article here.

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Hollywood took interest in the concept of uncanny valley as some films and characters seemed to test worse than expected. The reason may well be found in the level of likeness to human and where they land in the uncanny valley.

While the total body of research on uncanny valley is fairly extensive, one area that stands out as interesting to me is that of miss-match. That is, characteristics are miss-matched in relative human likeness. So a robot with on outward casing of metal should have a “computer” voice, whereas a robot that looks damn near human should have a damn near human voice. Robocop, well you nailed it. Part human, part robot, and the voice that matches = less revulsion.

So what? Recently I walked into the room with the television in it (what do you call that room?) to be dropped to the depth of uncanny valley. On the television and much to my dismay was the image of a guy who had all kinds of implants on his body to make him look more muscular. I was immediately repulsed, hit record and started some popcorn. I had walked into the middle of an episode of the television show Botched. What struck me aside from the sheer sadness of the tragedy of being that unhappy with the body you are in, is how some of the featured… participants I guess I could say, look less human than human.

I’ve experienced the feeling with Michael Jackson as he transformed himself into something other than healthy human looking.
Am I judging people who seek medical help to enhance their appearance? Nah, I don’t really care how much silicone gets injected in various body parts or how people alter their looks. I do find it interesting to have some theoretical basis by which to understand my repulsion of the highly altered.

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FuelBandSix keys for Nike to coach FuelBand to all-star success

Wearables like Nike’s FuelBand and Fitbit’s Flex and Force have tremendous potential for athletes and non-athletes alike. By stopping development on FuelBand1 Nike could be walking away from a potential all-star that only needs sound coaching.

Here are six ways the FuelBand could still lead the wearables market. Nike needs to shift approach either on the current hardware or through partnership with other manufacturers and device platforms.

1. Make the FuelBand for elite athletes: Nike keyed in on the Bill Bowerman quote; “If you have a body you’re an athlete” in designing the FuelBand. Nike’s proven path would be to design the FuelBand for highly trained athletes. Nike should deliver a tool for elite athletes and everyday athletes will follow.

 2. Inspire through social competition: With the launch of FuelBand SE Nike has attempted to qualify fuel based on activity type. This needs to be fully developed to enable cross discipline competition. Currently the value of fuel so greatly skews toward some activities like running any other sport type doesn’t stand a chance. Make the cross discipline competition social to ignite the users.

 3. Tighter integration with other Nike tools: Nike Training Club app is a serious tool for athletes not a toy. The app gives approximate fuel value to workouts, but you can’t earn Nikefuel unless you are wearing the FuelBand. That is a mistake. Nike should allow for users to take those Nikefuel as qualified versus those who wear the band and earn non-qualified Nikefuel. Discount them by 25% perhaps… but get more people using Nikefuel through various apps. Integrate and expand.

 4. Convert Nikefuel to targeted sales: You shouldn’t have to be a “fuelionair” to unlock special purchase opportunities. Now that Nike is collecting information on what kind of sport activities FuelBand wearers are participating in, very targeting buying opportunities can be provided to consumers by sport. Nike can leverage the ID program and connect with consumers is a sport specific and personal way using existing capabilities.

 5. Improve form and function: Nike doesn’t need to reinvent the technology or function of the FuelBand to consistently offer more beautiful options. One of the projects recently killed was development of a sleeker FuelBand. The FuelBand in its current state is a good first step, however the band is too large and not aesthetically pleasing enough through color options alone. Sleeker, more beautiful, more flexible and dressier options would all be ways the form could be improved.

6. Integrate with off-platform tools: Several activity types need to be added and appropriately valued. The technology to integrate with Garmin is there and used to great success by the likes of Strava. Nike has thus far not wanted to use other tool API to calculate Nikefuel. Making a waterproof FuelBand for swimmer and allowing for integration with Garmin would be quantum steps forward for this underserved population of athletes. While these are not core sports to Nike’s business, leaving them out of Nikefuel slices off a key segment of athletes who are potential customers.

The good news for Nike? Development continues on the digital consumer applications the FuelBand and other applications leverage. Perhaps as Google and Apple enter the space, Nike decided to exit rather than fight. Using the current “If you have a body you are an athlete” mass market strategy, it makes sense not to compete with Google and Apple. Or perhaps Nike’s exits tips towards a future partnership with one of the electronic giants.

Nike has a huge advantage for market penetration in the form of highly trained athletes that lead trends in virtually every sport segment. Once captured, I can think of only one way for Nike to become stickier in the lives of consumers than integrating via a wearable device. And that is actually transforming their lives through exercise.

1http://www.cnet.com/news/nike-fires-fuelband-engineers-will-stop-making-wearable-hardware/

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