The Air Mattress on the Plane Guy, and the Future of Comfort
I recently returned from a speaking engagement in South Korea, and on my trans-pacific flights between San Francisco and Seoul I tried something new – an air mattress.
I had my doubts at first, but it turned out to be a total game changer!
Since I’m larger than most people, comfort has been an elusive commodity on the 10-14 hour flights I often find myself on. Even though I’m flying business class with seats that lay flat, after a few hours virtually every seat causes unusual pain points to develop.
The air mattress I took along was a Polarmile Ultralight Sleeping Pad that fits into a double-fist sized carrying case, but inflated to fit well on the United 787 that I was a passenger on.
Admittedly, I was rather self-conscious about blowing up an air mattress onboard, thinking the whole world was watching “as I prepared my campsite” on a crowded plane.
But that wasn’t the case. No one noticed, and more importantly, no one cared.
The online description for the Polarmile says it only requires 10-15 breaths to inflate, but I found it to be more in the 75-80-breath range. No, I wasn’t trying to maximize my lung capacity with each breath, but I do think they understated it a bit.
I also didn’t want it to be at full capacity. I wasn’t looking for a firm, rigid air mattress, but something that would mold to the seat as I adjusted it in various states of recline. So, close to full, but not full.
Since United already provided a blanket-like mattress pad for the seat, I placed that over the top of the air mattress to add another layer between the plastic and my skin.
Over the years I’ve tried many things to make the trips easier, and to be honest, very few of them worked. So my expectations were rather low.
I’ve found that when I start with low expectations, virtually any progress seems like a huge victory. But this air mattress experiment, not only was it a radical improvement, it continued to impress me flying both ways over the duration of the entire trip.
So why is this important?
It’s quite simple. Comfort has shifted from a “good enough” item on a checklist to a topic of elite cocktail party discussions and become an essential decider of brand value.
The Future of Comfort
The reason an air mattress adds comfort is because it diffuses natural pressure points over a broader section of the body. Distributed pressure means less chance of developing those annoying points of pain.
As we think through the idea of comfort, the three places where the human body comes into contact with the physical world most are the beds we sleep in, the shoes that we walk in, and the chairs we sit in.
Each of these primary contact areas has long been the center of our attention as we are always looking for a better solution.
Moving forward, we will expand our use of digital products, adding additional sensors to our body, greatly improving our ability to spot problem areas before they develop.
Not only will we have the ability to zero in on the precise location of the problem, but also the tools to uncover the root cause and solutions to remedy them.
Yet, comfort involves far more than physical contact. If our space is too humid, too dry, too noisy, too bright, too dark, filled with vibrations, offensive odors, or changing air pressure, our overall comfort changes significantly.
This becomes an increasingly important topic when we study the evolving landscape of comfort.
Very soon car companies will be competing with airlines for short and medium haul passengers.
Competing for Comfort
Very soon, traveling in an autonomous car will become a viable option. In many cases it will be preferable to flying in a plane to short-range destinations.
Rather than wading through the hassle of scheduling a flight, driving to the airport, dealing with baggage and security, waiting to board, crowding into tiny airline seats, enduring the flight itself, and finding transportation once you arrive, it’ll only take a few minutes to have a driverless car out front and you can ride comfortably for the next 6-10 hours, working on projects, watching movies, playing video games, or just sleeping as you make your way to your destination.
Suddenly airlines will be facing a new form of competition they never saw coming.
As an industry, they will have to eliminate many “layers of discomfort” before they can effectively compete with the cross-country autonomous cars of the future. And seating is only part of the equation.
If we expand our horizons, space tourism and traveling to other planets may not be far off, and the idea of comfort takes on a whole new dimension. Stresses on the human body and duration of travel will extend far beyond anything most of us have confronted so far.
Autonomous Vehicles will take the Lead
Once you are able to summon a vehicle to take you across town, the key differentiators will be comfort, cleanliness, and functionality. The relationship we have with our vehicles becomes a complicated equation, far different for every user:
- Can I wear a suit or fancy dress without worrying about some kid having smeared chocolate on the seats?
- Is it possible to dim the windows so I can sleep?
- Are there spaces for a computer, purse, briefcase, or small tote?
- If I bought a few things at my last stop, will they fit into the trunk? Can I hang onto this car so I don’t have to bring all my bags with me?
- Is there a fold out desk where I can do some serious work?
- When I’m on a Skype or Zoom call, how stable will my connection be, and how much road noise will I hear?
- If I have my kid(s) with me, are there child seats built in? Are there tray tables so they can play with toys, eat food, or just sleep.
- Will the car connect to the music on my smartphone? Can I watch videos or play games?
- Were there dogs, cats, or some other animals that I may be allergic to in this car before me?
- How comfortable will this car be on a 10-12 hour trip?
- Are there extra charges for dropping off the car in a different city?
- Was the last passenger smoking, vaping, sweaty, or suffering from some contagious disease?
- Can I meet with more than one person inside the vehicle as we’re driving around?
- Will it be possible to stand up, do exercises, or engage in some kind of workout while I’m traveling?
Over the coming months our thinking about autonomous cars will dramatically change.
Every person views transportation through a different lens. Blowing up an air mattress may have solved one problem, but it only scratches the surface of complex comfort issues that will arise as we move into a future with far more shared use options.
Future contact surfaces will have expansion cells that interact with sensors on our body. We will develop complex interfaces that share vast amounts of information with virtually every surface we come into contact with.
So far we’ve done a poor job of molding the world to mesh with us, the human users. Over the coming years, this will become the primary focus of design thinking.
The examples listed above were intended to spark your imagination, and only represent a drop in the bucket of what’s truly possible. Please let us know other ideas come to mind as you read this. I think we all want to know.
The Air Mattress on the Plane Guy, and the Future of Comfort
I was thoroughly intrigued when I found out the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado was offering a degree in asteroid mining.
Yes, the idea of extracting water, oxygen, minerals, and metals from an asteroid sounds like science fiction to most people, but it’s not that far away. In fact, Colorado School of Mines’ newly launched “Space Resources” program will help people get in on the ground floor.
After thinking about the proactive nature of this approach, it became abundantly clear how backward thinking most colleges have become.
When colleges decide on a new degree program, they must first recruit instructors, create a new curriculum, and attract students. As a result, the talent churned out of these newly minted programs is the product of a 6-7 year pipeline.
For this reason, anticipatory-thinking institutions really need to be setting their sights on what business and industries will need 7-10 years from now.
The Risk-Averse Nature of Education
When Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen released his best-selling book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, his core message that disruptive change is the path to success, was only partially embraced by higher education.
While many were experimenting with MOOCs and smart whiteboards, changes in the subject matter of their courses still evolved at the traditional pace of discovery.
This is not to say colleges are not innovative. Rather, the demands of today’s emerging tech environment are forcing business and industries to shift into an entirely new gear. And that most definitely includes our academic institutions.
From a management perspective, it’s far easier to oversee a contained system where all variables are constrained. But during times of change, we tend to give far more power to the “unleashers,” who are determined to test the status quo and release ideas and trial balloons to see what works.
For this reason, managers and creatives often find themselves on opposing sides, and the winners of these warring factions often determine what we as consumers see as the resulting ripples of change.
Offering Pilot Programs
When Facebook bought Oculus Rift in March 2014 for $2 billion, the job boards went crazy, as there was an instant uptick in the demand for VR designers, engineers, and experience creators. But no one was teaching VR, and certainly not the Oculus Rift version of it.
Colleges have a long history of being blindsided by new technologies:
- When eBay launched, no one was teaching ecommerce strategies
- When Myspace launched, no one was teaching social networking
- When Google launched, no one was teaching online search engine strategies
- When Uber launched, no one was teaching sharing economy business models
- When Apple first opened their App Store, no one was teaching smart phone app design
- When Amazon first allowed online storefronts, no one was teaching the Amazon business model
- When YouTube first offered ways to monetize videos, no one was teaching it
Since most academic institutions are only willing to put their name on programs with long-term viability, the endorsement of half-baked agendas does not come easy. However, that is exactly what needs to be done.
Colleges can no longer afford to remain comfortably behind the curve.
52 Future College Degrees
As a way of priming your thinking on this matter, here are 52 future degrees that forward-thinking colleges could start offering today:
- Space Exploration – space tourism planning and management
- Space Exploration – planetary colony design and operation
- Space Exploration – next generation space infrastructure
- Space Exploration – advanced cosmology and non-earth human habitats
- Bioengineering with CRISPR – policy and procedural strategies
- Bioengineering with CRISPR – advanced genetic engineering systems
- Bioengineering with CRISPR – operational implementations and system engineering
- Bioengineering with CRISPR – ethical regulation and oversight
- Smart City – autonomous traffic integration
- Smart City – mixed reality modeling
- Smart City – autonomous construction integration
- Smart City – next generation municipal planning and strategy
- Autonomous Agriculture – robotic systems
- Autonomous Agriculture – drone systems
- Autonomous Agriculture – supply chain management
- Autonomous Agriculture – systems theory and integration
- Swarmbot – design, theory, and management
- Swarmbot – system engineering and oversight
- Swarmbot – municipal system design
- Swarmbot – law enforcement and advanced criminology systems
- Cryptocurrency – digital coin economics
- Cryptocurrency – crypto-banking system design
- Cryptocurrency – regulatory systems and oversight
- Cryptocurrency – forensic accounting strategies
- Blockchain – design, systems, and applications
- Blockchain – blockchain for biological systems
- Blockchain – large-scale integration structures
- Blockchain – municipal system design strategies
- Global Systems – system planning, architecture, and design
- Global Systems – large-scale integration strategies
- Global Systems – operational systems checks and balance
- Global Systems – governmental systems in a borderless digital world
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle - drone film making
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – command center operations
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – municipal modeling and planning systems
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – emergency response systems
- Mixed Reality - experiential retail
- Mixed Reality – three-dimensional storytelling
- Mixed Reality – game design
- Mixed Reality – therapeutic systems and design
- Advanced Reproductive Systems – designer baby strategies, planning, and ethics
- Advanced Reproductive Systems – surrogate parenting policy and approaches
- Advanced Reproductive Systems – organic nano structures
- Advanced Reproductive Systems – clone engineering and advanced processes
- Artificial Intelligence – data management in an AI environment
- Artificial Intelligence – advanced human-AI integration
- Artificial Intelligence – streaming AI data services
- Artificial Intelligence – advanced marketing with AI
- Quantum Computing – data strategies in a quantum-connected world
- Quantum Computing – quantum-level encryption and security
- Quantum Computing – quantum computing implementation strategies
- Quantum Computing – AI-quantum system integration
More so than any time in history, we have a clear view of next generation technologies. Naturally, we’re still a long way from 100% clarity, but for most of the technologies listed above, the shifting tectonic plates of change can be felt around the world.
Without taking decisive action, colleges run the risk of being circumvented by new types of training systems that can meet market demands in a fraction of the time it takes traditional academia to react.
The ideas I’ve listed are a tiny fraction of what’s possible when it comes to emerging tech degrees. Should colleges stick their neck out like Colorado School of Mines and offer degrees that may not be immediately useful? Adding to that question, how many college degrees are immediately useful today?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.