Experience Radar: The Top Tech Trends From CES 2024, And Otherworld Expands Across The UK

At The WXO, we want to connect the dots across the Experience Economy and across the globe – so each month, we’ll be bringing you our round-up of the experiential stories that we think reveal something interesting, relevant or transferrable about the Experience Economy.

Welcome to the latest Experience Radar, where we’re finding out how robots are helping to tackle loneliness, diving into the event sauna trend heating up in the US, and getting a virtual handshake from a haptic glove.

1. Daybreaker Founder Launches Belong Center

Headline and above image: Belong Center, Global

Radha Agrawal, the social entrepreneur behind early morning rave movement Daybreaker, has launched a new venture called the Belong Center, a non profit aimed at tackling the loneliness epidemic sweeping the globe. A recent Meta-Gallup survey found over half of respondents from 142 countries felt at least a little lonely. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Agrawal’s Belong Circles are part social gatherings, part group therapy sessions that seek to strengthen human connections. The free sessions include guided meditations, breathwork and active-listening exercises. She also plans to dot yellow Belong Benches in parks across the US to create public spaces for connection.

“Everyone is talking about fitness and nutrition, but people don’t realise meaningful relationships should be seen as mandatory personal care,” Agrawal told the WSJ, adding, “Our sense of loneliness is literally making us sick.” Due to pop up in a dozen cities across the US this year, having secured US$750,000 in funding, Belong Center, whose board members include physician Mark Hyman and philanthropist Kimbal Musk, is one of several community-minded ventures that are securing investment from big name firms such as Sequoia Capital. SoulCycle’s founders recently launched a wellness centre called Peoplehood that runs guided group conversations aimed at improving relationships.

(The topic of creating belonging in cities is one that we’re exploring in this week’s WXO Campfire with Adam Scott of Freestate on How Experience Design Will Save Our Cities – stay posted for the full write-up, coming soon.)

2. The Top Tech Trends From CES 2024

Rabbit R1 at CES, Las Vegas

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas shone a light on the myriad ways in which tech is being cleverly used to make our lives easier and help us to feel less alone. Attended by over 135,000 tech obsessives, among the key trends dominating the show this year was the unstoppable rise of AI, which “is here to stay, deepening into all vertical businesses and consumer experiences and changing the very fabric of our societal, political and economical landscape,” according to Stanford professor and expert in the field, Fei-Fei Li. Among the AI gadgets on show was the Rabbit R1, an AI-powered, palm-sized assistant device that books taxis and restaurants through voice commands.

Advances in spatial tech were evident at the show in the form of mixed-reality headsets and smart glasses, including Apple’s recently launched Vision Pro and XReal’s $700 Air 2 Ultra glasses with spatial computing features. Helping to bring touch into the digital realm, multisensory tech also made waves at the show. Among the most interesting innovations were Phantom, a neuro haptic device created by Afference with adjustable rings, a lightweight harness and neural stimulator that communicates with the nerves in the finger, and HEXR, a haptic glove that enables sensations like handshakes in the metaverse.

3. Otherworld To Expand Across The UK

David Attenborough Immersive Anthology, Otherworld

Proving that punters can’t get enough of immersive entertainment, virtual reality experience specialist Otherworld is due to open two new sites in Manchester and Edinburgh this year to build upon its successful format. As reported by Time Out, the VR-based attraction already operates two London sites in Victoria and Hackney, alongside a sister site in Birmingham. Hoping to introduce more people to its metaverse environments this year via its bespoke immersion pods, little has been revealed about the two new Otherworld sites.

Otherworld’s latest VR experience taking place at its venues in London Victoria, Hackney and Birmingham is The David Attenborough Immersive Anthology, which lets you delve into a trio of short 3D films the natural historian has made for Sky. The experience lets you step inside your own VR immersion pod and go on a journey that takes in Kingdom of Plants, the insect-led Micro Monsters and Conquest of the Skies, which explores the evolution of flying creatures.

4. Robots Are Helping To Tackle Loneliness

ElliQ AI, US

With community and connection at the top of people’s agendas this year, it was heartening to see robots and AI tech being used as a force for good at CES 2024 to help tackle loneliness among the elderly and pets. Among the gadgets on display at the show was Intuition Robotics’ care companion ElliQ, which provides support for elderly people while helping to facilitate real world social connections. The latest version of the device now comes with upgraded hardware and AI enhancements, offering free flowing conversation, much of which can be processed locally for privacy.

The same amount of energy is being poured into making alone time less anxious for pets through play. Ogmen RoboticsOro bot moves around the house while you’re out initiating play or training sessions to keep your furry friends happy. It’s even able to respond to signs of anxiety by playing soothing music. Samsung’s Ballie home robot can interact with pets, dispensing food via a connected smart feeder and projecting videos to entertain, while Japanese start-up One by One Music has developed an AI model that can compose and play music via a laptop or smartphone, which is claimed to help reduce anxiety in dogs by up to 84%.

5. Live Events Are Driving Experience Economy

Renaissance World Tour, Beyoncé, The Netherlands

With the global thirst for IRL experiences showing no sign of slowing, next-level live events are helping to push the Experience Economy in an exciting new direction. As reported by The Drum, the landscape of live events and experiential marketing is undergoing a transformative evolution, driven by the convergence of digital innovation, a fresh emphasis on connection, and changing consumer tastes. According to The Drum, to thrive in this brave new world, “brands must open new storytelling portals with multiple points of connectivity and novelty on the customer journey.”

Consumers are proving that they’re wiling to shell out, even in our turbulent times, for live events that go the extra mile, such as Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, which is due to inject billions into the US economy; Beyoncé’s $600m Renaissance Tour; and Bruce Springsteen’s latest extravaganza, which are proving that people are happy to pay a premium for a memorable spectacle that helps them feel connected to something bigger than themselves. “The success of events will be measured by the depth of emotional engagement and the strength of the community they build, both on- and offline,” says The Drum.

6. The Wellness Trends Making A Splash In 2024

Heart Space installation by Krista Kim, Dubai

The Global Wellness Summit (GWS) has mapped out what it deems will be the key wellness trends taking hold around the globe this year in its 2024 Future of Wellness report, which highlights how there is no longer one wellness narrative. While the luxury end of the market will continue to flourish, we’ll also see the emergence of what the GWS has dubbed ‘softcare’, which is more affordable and prioritises emotional wellbeing. Among the wellness trends featured in the report is the rise in male retreats such as Evryman and Junto, where decoding masculinity, unlearning stoicism and sharing feelings is the focus.

The burgeoning longevity industry, which is set to be worth $610 billion by 2025, isn’t going anywhere, as the super rich aim to make themselves immortal at high tech longevity clinics offering advanced diagnostic testing to identify issues before they become a problem. We will also see homes doubling as high-tech health hubs this year that move beyond meditation rooms and cold plunge pools. Expect to see houses kitted out with medical-grade health-monitoring systems and smart furnishings that adjust in real-time to individual wellbeing needs. We’ll also see more travellers going on pilgrimages to sacred sites to get closer to nature, form new connections and find enlightenment.

7. Event Sauna Trend Heats Up In US

Smoke Sauna Sisterhood documentary

Saunas seem to be everywhere at the moment, and the trend for ‘Aufguss’, a German term that translates to ‘wellness theatre’, is taking root in the US. As reported by The Guardian, ‘event saunas’ such as the Awana Spa in Las Vegas are having a moment in America. Rather that the traditional “sweat it out in awkward silence” format, these experiences are manned by ‘sauna meisters’, a sauna MC that keeps the audience entertained with high-octane pop songs, towel-waving antics and dropping ice infused with essential oils on to the hot stones and wafting the citrus-scented air at the audience. Meaning ‘infusion’, the aufguss trend has long been popular in Europe.

Events can include performances of The Picture of Dorian Gray and Billy Elliot to gladiatorial battles between sauna meisters watched by a 300-strong audience in Poland. There’s even a World Aufguss Championships celebrating the best in sauna theatrics, choreography and music. The wellness theatre trend is starting to swell in popularity in spas across the US – Resorts World Las Vegas hosts four sauna events a day at weekends, with dancers doubling as sauna meisters. On 3 March at the Waldo Theatre in Maine, attendees can enjoy a rejuvenating sauna experience that encourages open conversations and shared moments of healing, followed by a screening of Estonian documentary film Smoke Sauna Sisterhood.