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USAA Labs Shows Off Latest Tech At Innovation Exhibit

Paul Flahive
Texas Public Radio
Zak Gipson opens USAA's new innovation exhibit space.

There’s an unmistakable Disney’s home of tomorrow feel to an exhibit at USAA’s new innovation exhibit space, at its Fredericksburg Road headquarters. It’s called the empathy lab, and when you walk in, a disembodied voice — somewhere between Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri — greets you.

At first glance, nothing sticks out about the living room layout other than the number of tablet-like screens under a big screen TV. The suburban look is camouflage for the the number of products set up to assist people with different needs. There’s a smart mirror that provides commute times and weather. There’s a doorbell for the hearing impaired that uses the room’s lights to signal someone is at the door.

“It’s a place where we can showcase how connected homes can improve the quality of life for our members,” said Mitzi Ruiz, strategic innovation director for USAA Labs.

The centerpiece is how multiple devices are integrated specifically for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. USAA provides financial and other services for military members and their families.

“He’s just gotten back from a deployment and he’s sitting down with his son to watch a show on YouTube,” said Tony Farnsworth, who was running the exhibit.

As he watches, an advertisement pops up for the WWII movie “Dunkirk.” It triggers an emotional response, which a wearable device detects from his rising heart rate.

For dramatic effect, the room’s lights fade up with his increasing heartbeat.

The lights then change to a calming blue, after the TV changes to a beach scene. The thermostat adjusts the temperature downward — all things researchers at USAA labs said should help those suffering from PTSD.

Finally, Amazon Alexa dialed a preprogrammed friend.

“We want to be able to put ourselves in their shoes and help them,” Farnsworth said.

The empathy lab is just one of nearly a dozen exhibits in the of the 1,288 square foot space.

Drones and satellite maps USAA has used to facilitate claims sit alongside a mock up of an augmented reality rig, using Microsoft’s HoloLenses, a headset that lets you interact with 3-D models.

Credit Paul Flahive / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
USAA research engineer Carlos Chavez examines a digital engine in augmented reality.

“This could be used to help training for (claims) adjusters,” said Carlos Chavez, a USAA research engineer.

Innovating to meet member needs is the reason USAA labs exists, company officials said. But USAA’s innovation programs are also to engage employees. Company officials often talk about its 90 percent participation rate in the volunteer innovation program.

More than 700 patents are posted on the wall of this new exhibit space, many from employees outside of USAA Labs.

“Far too often in companies, it’s relegated down to a space where no one goes and sees,” USAA Labs head Zak Gipson said. “What we wanted to do is bring that forward.”

Friday’s opening also featured the debut of more than 20,000 square feet of USAA’s new facility, which includes a co-working space.

Paul Flahive can be reached at paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive


Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org