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Back to the future

Brother goes back to the future to reflect on devices and solutions designed with the future ‘front of mind’. 

Brother worked with renowned futurologist Michell Zappa in 2013 to probe the changes that workspaces would experience in the coming decades.

The research predicted that the office of 2040 would feature telepresence robots, AI automation, flexible transparent graphene computing displays, retinal screens and immersive 3D touch interfaces.

The more immediate future featured Bring Your Own Device infrastructure platforms and offices with eInk wallpaper - decor that changes colour depending on the time of the day.

Zappa highlighted four central ‘typologies’ of the future employee in turn, profiling the ‘creative nomad’ with the remit to generate ideas, clarify the complex, connect concepts and explore the boundaries created by technology such as time and space. He signposted ‘the leader’, ‘the penpusher’ and ‘the labourer’, whose role is to instantly interact with complex infrastructures dealing with data analysis.

It was a picture of workspaces and personnel perhaps reminiscent of the Hollywood blockbuster film Minority Report.

Four years on, Brother Nordic A/S has revisited Zappa’s predictions to probe the key question – is the future here yet?

What’s immediately clear is that our R&D continues to listen to the needs of the customer - with devices and solutions designed with the future ‘front of mind’.

Printing that’s got smarter

The original Zappa piece marked the launch of the pioneering landscape print technology unveiled in Brother’s Business Inkjet series at the time - our smallest, fastest inkjet all-in-ones with A3 capability. The landmark range boasted a bold, contemporary aesthetic too, curved edges, black and white styling and a gloss finish – an evolution in Multi-Function Centre design.

Now three generations on, our A3 inkjet proposition has continued to evolve and is a truly smart choice for businesses. The landscape print technology is still combined with a strong aesthetic - clean curves, bold lines but with matt black or matt white finishes introduced. To ‘future proof’ the devices further, better durability has been factored in. The devices are made from new materials, making them stronger and more durable than predecessor line-ups.

Meanwhile, we continue to unlock mobile print and scan solutions including Brother’s iPrint&Scan, Apple AirPrint, Google Cloud Print, the Brother print service plug in and more. These functionalities give employees the freedom to print from, or scan to, their smart devices – supporting Bring Your Own Device policies and nodding to the ‘BYOD infrastructure platforms’ predicted by Zappa in the 2020 timeline.

Vision in the future

Zappa’s research suggested that the means of conveying visual information would dominate the office of the future. It presented a vision of smart users, where technology is invisible or worn.

 

While the retinal screens referenced may be a way into the future yet, the head mounted displays predicted to enter the workplace in the 2020-2030 timeframe, are firmly here.

Brother’s AiRScouter head mounted display is at its third generation. The device brings essential information directly into the user’s field of vision, making it well suited to tasks that require communication with remote experts, to allow the user to share their point of view. In the office environment, the ‘smart glasses’ can be used for skills training, logistics and remote assistance.

 

They can improve speed, accuracy and efficiency in the workplace, as well as modernise workflow. And AiRScouter works with remote recording technology such as drone cameras to show the user different perspectives on tasks.

The future map also referred to the emergence of ultra-high definition telepresence platforms, virtual workspaces and ‘conjured workspaces’ – the concept of sitting down to work anywhere and being able to ‘call up’ the tools you need to do your job - via holograms and projections for example.

 

Brother’s vision in the future also lies in our OmniJoin HD web conferencing technology, which provides the perfect virtual meeting room and place to virtually collaborate with colleagues.

 

But its OmniJoin’s ‘intelligent video’ feature that gives it futuristic functionality - today.

OmniJoin dynamically adjusts to give the user the best possible quality web conferencing with minimal delay. It ‘intuitively’ responds to the variance of bandwidths for all participants, instead of just trying to replicate the host’s connection. Other web conferencing software might split a single HD stream across all users evenly, which isn’t ideal for low bandwidth users joining on their mobile for example.

 

New creative tools

Zappa’s research predicted that new creative tools would make their way into the future workspace including robotic workspace assistants, thermo-sensitive digital displays and augmented reality interfaces.

 

While the future on this front is clearly further away from today’s reality, as a technology brand we continue to bring new creative solutions into our hardware and to market as standalone propositions such as our Managed Print Services solution – which make automation more possible when it comes to monitoring print efficiencies.

That plays to Zappa’s predictions around pattern recognizing predictions, automated workplace monitoring and algorithmic report generation. Thoughts that ultimately point towards automation, avatars and the role of Artificial Intelligence to create ultimate efficiencies in the workspace of the future.

The Brother Solutions Interface (BSI) embedded in many Brother printers, MFCs and scanners is another example of the practicalities we can deliver for customers. BSI enables third party developers to build custom solutions for - or integrate with - our devices. Customised user interfaces can be created to provide new capabilities, helping customers improve operational workflow and security while reducing costs.

Flagship models in many of our current ranges also feature Near Field Communication. This enables a tap-to-print connection to be established, meaning users only need to tap their smart device to their machines – something to appeal to the increasingly ‘Millennial’ workforce of today and the employee of 2040 in turn – dubbed here as ‘Generation F’ to denote the ‘future’ cohort.

Bold snapshots of the future

 

At Brother, we believe we are seeing bold snapshots of the future embodied in our innovation. With continued commitment to pushing new boundaries, we will continue to be ‘At your side’ to our customers as far into the future - as we have been during our brand’s 100 year plus history.