CES has served as the proving ground for breakthrough technologies and disruptive innovators for the last 50 years and this year was no less exciting (especially given the power cuts and the worst rain storm in Vegas for 73 years). Everything is getting smarter, powered by AI. Unlike past years, CES 2018 wasn’t just consumer electronics and computers – now, nearly every product is a tech product, from bicycles to desks, thanks to the IoT.
AI and deep learning systems are becoming more sophisticated and able to reflect business processes. They’re very much having their 3D printing moment, where they suddenly are finding real world applications, both in the home and public realm. Honda’s new concept robots are just adorable, but most importantly, they’re actually useful; 3E-B18 is a robotic chair, and 3E-A18 was built with social empathy in mind. LG have a little porter robot to help with luggage, a serving robot and even a shopping cart to help with checkout. There’s even an Omron Forpheus ping-pong playing robot (something our office is distinctly lacking). However, they’re more cute than actually functioning at the moment – there was a lot of falling over and there were many embarrassing moments duringdemos. Sony’s Aibo robot puppy was this year’s exception however, and shows how far the field has advanced since its predecessor was pulled from the market in 2006. The market for consumer and business robots is expected to hit $1.5 billion by next year and the triumvirate of technologies that is connected sensors, voice activated systems and deep learning mean that we’ll likely see multi-purpose robots in the workforce (as well as schools and smart homes) in the next several years – shop floors, accounting, law, assembly lines, etc.
This was a new category last year. People are increasingly anxious about crime and data theft, so the ability of connected devices to record and report on this represents a natural consumer market. This year we saw a tendency for products to draw attention to their security features; there are Gentex Corp. rear view mirrors that can scan an iris to make sure it’s really the driver it’s supposed to be, and multiple facial recognition security cameras off the back of Netatmo’s Welcome & Presence.
They’ve been gathering momentum for quite a while but CES this year firmly established that conversational interfaces will be the communication medium going forward. According to some experts, more than 90% of communication is done by voice and by 2020, it is anticipated that 200 billion searches per month will be done by voice activation rather than typed text. Smart assistance is growing faster than any other category since the introduction of tablets, and with a 279% increase in sales, and an estimated 43 million products being shipped in 2018, voice interfaces are here to stay. Only Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft really have the richness of search data to offer a serious product, and the competition between them is compelling. Google hit back at Alexa this year, virtually taking over the whole of CES with ads for Google Assistant and erecting a small house, complete with giant screens, multiple levels, and a rooftop coffee bar, rather than just having a booth inside. Both assistants can be fooled, but they’re taking steps in the right direction. Google Home is getting better and better at finding and playing music, notifying users when flights are cheap and mapping routes, and Google’s “smart displays” are a direct answer to the Amazon Echo Show and Echo Spot, the first-ever Alexa devices with screens (video screens added to voice assistants are hugely exciting as it brings the features of other devices into the home hub). But Amazon are still leading the way with Amazon Echo Show and planning to turn Alexa into a platform – they want to start paying developers of the 30,000 Alexa “skills,” or apps, which could see Alexa transformed into an economy and ecosystem all on its own.
Smart City Infrastructure
By 2030, cities will comprise 60% of the population. CES showed that IoT-connected sensors and data gathered from existing systems will power the delivery of safer, efficient services, more cost-effectively. Ford’s Transportation Mobility Cloud, for example, is designed to help connect smart transportation services and reshape the way smart cities are built. Smart infrastructure will optimise traffic lights to reduce accidents and traffic, plant sensors in bins to help manage waste, make video street surveillance smarter and help with water sanitation.
5G is poised to change the world. IoT wouldn’t be where it is today without it’s support and multigigabit download speeds. It means longer life for IoT devices, less latency, and will enable the connectivity needed for devices to process huge amounts of data at the edge, rather than central locations like public clouds or enterprise data centres.
Even smarter smart homes
CES 2018 seemed to mark the beginning of the end of “dumb” household products. Netatmo also unveiled their Facebook-friendly chatbot that lets users text their house from their smartphone, and even ask who’s in. The company are allowing for greater mobility and privacy, and in tune with the importance of an omnichannel experience for consumers – it’s an amazing step forward. Kohler have a whole smart bathroom range complete with a bath that fills itself, a mirror doubling as an Alexa speaker and an intelligent toilet with sensors that activate a foot warmer, heated seat, ambient lighting, a bidet (why not) and music. We also saw the TV market adopt organic light-emitting, energy-saving diode displays, with LEDs thinner than a strand of hair, the world’s thinnest laptop, Samsung’s ‘The Wall’ – which is just as it sounds, a wall-sized TV – and even a rollable screen from LG that must be seen to be believed. Tech like this could pave the way for entirely new ways of consuming media. We also heard Innovid explain how their world’s leading video marketing platform enables advertisers to create, deliver and measure personalised video experiences on any device.
CES this year showed that health and medical technology is about more than just exercise now. It’s a rising category and disruptive technology is getting increasingly personal, with AI and machine learning leading the way. NeoMano gloves, for example, help paralysed hands to grip, and the Prevention BioMetrics Head Impact Monitor System (HIMS) has advanced sensors designed to save athletes lives, alerting medical staff if an impact is detected and offering the best response. There’s even a handheld device from Nima to scan for peanuts in food, for those with allergies. Xemona’s e-skin pyjamas, designed for dementia patients, have tiny sensors that detect signs of movement or distress in the wearer, eliminating the need for constant surveillance or confining patients to rooms. We also saw customized hair and skin products like L’Oreal’s UV Sense, a tiny dot you can wear on a fingernail to tell you how much sun exposure you’ve had per day. Not only will this help prevent skin cancer, but it’s a key step on the micro-wearable computing journey that will revolutionise healthcare and the world. We also saw Black Box VR building the gym of the future (in San Francisco this year, hopefully), which looks amazing, and so much less boring than just sweating in front of a mirror. Just the beginning of the VR fitness market. The Lishtot Test Drop stood out too, with its ability to analyse the quality of drinking water by examining the electric field around it.
AR has taken VR’s place as the exciting new category we thought was only possible in Sci Fi. Just look at the Deepframe AR window, that turns you into a life size hologram (who else wants a Leia robe?) Though the AR market is growing, devices are mostly still single-purpose, e.g. glasses that control drones, but these immersive tools will help companies promote collaborative environments for workforces. Though AR & VR are still likely a decade away from their full potential market size, CES this year said a lot about the industry’s current momentum. AR advancements made by Google, Microsoft, etc., both before and after Glass and the HoloLens, are combining into a new movement that’s taking AR closer to consumer fashion. At CES we saw the Vuzix Blade, normal-looking glasses that are actually a more sophisticated, enterprise version of Google Glass, with a larger, brighter display in full colour. Its built-in camera means that it could later incorporate more interactive AR apps, like the sort we expect from the HoloLens. This certainly felt like a consumer product rather than just a fanciful concept. DigiLens’ MonoHUD, which goes into production later this year, has used technology similar to the HoloLens to build an attachment for motorcycle helmets that provide an interactive heads-up display for the road. With companies working on making them bigger, perhaps all car windscreens of the future will also function as intelligent AR displays, overlaying information onto the road? VR and AR are reshaping the customer experience, and brands need to leverage new technology and think about content creation to drive engagement further. It’s a marketing goldmine.
The steadiest and most enduring of all the CES trends, it’s an important part of the attempt to make personal data highly mobile. Self-driving cars will be combined with voice-activated, virtual assistants and AI to boot, as well as anti-collision information, available parking, and huge opportunities for public transport. Byron’s electric car is planning a 2019/20 consumer launch, and their car feels more like a living room than just a way of getting around – there’s a huge screen that stretches across the whole dashboard, complete with facial recognition. The Toyota e-Palette was also a hugely exciting unveiling, taking us even further into our self-driving future, which will see autonomous transport enter into the supply and demand chain. This will revolutionise the way small businesses can function.
We’re also personally very excited about the wireless charging solutions from Powercast and Energous that power multiple devices over the air. Kingston’s new Nucleum is Amazon’s number 1 release in the category and allows users to connect to 7 devices at once, making it the ultimate travel companion. Their 2TB DataTraveler Ultimate GT USB 3.1 portable SSD is the highest capacity thumb drive in the world too, sporting 2TB of flash storage. That’s up to 70 hours of 4k video. The Sgnl wristband, too, turns your finger into a phone via audio vibrations that travel up through your wrist. Incredible. A lot needs to happen over the next 12 months but it feels like 2018 will be the year where we build upon existing technologies, and refine and properly integrate them into our everyday lives.