C2 goes to CES: Insights from the world’s largest consumer tech trade show

By Jessica Gibbons

Attending CES can be a mixed bag.

You know there are going to be people everywhere, lines for everything (except the women’s bathrooms), and that you will never be able to see and truly experience everything – since there are more than 4,000 exhibitors displaying nearly 50 football fields worth of shiny new toys – so you need to make peace with your FOMO.

It’s easy to get swept up in the hype. Will the future of tech be revealed at this trade show? Maybe not, but there will be more than a few educated guesses. Much of the tech on display seems cool, but if it doesn’t solve problems or uses gimmicks to attract eyeballs, we won’t be seeing it at the show next year.

Besides, the most buzz revolved around something we can’t hold or touch: artificial intelligence.

 

Hey, Google…

The clear media darling this year was the AI software used to make smart gadgets run.

In a battle of conversational interfaces, Hey Google was definitely trying to assert its dominance, throwing down the voice-activated gauntlet and showing up everywhere on the strip, on the monorail and on everyone’s lips.

(Perhaps we are now fully moving towards a future like the movie Her.)

While the masses might still be confused about what AI is exactly, or fear the worst of what will come (massive job losses! Skynet!), you could see AI’s practical side at the CES.

For example, chipmaker Nvidia showcased two software platforms, Drive IX and Drive AR, which use facial recognition to start a car and can detect whether the person behind the wheel is too drowsy to drive. There are predictions that voice controls will soon become part of the driving experience, enabling automakers to develop their own AI virtual assistants behind the wheel.

LG is also betting big on AI, they launched ThinQ: a “living ecosystem of connected appliances” to free us from the mundane, domestic tasks of everyday life. LG’s kitchen of the future – think refrigerators, dishwashers, ovens, washers and dryers – will be voice controlled.

Seemingly absent from the tech spectacle, however, was an ethical conversation around privacy and the tradeoff between the data we share and the convenience all these smart gadgets will provide. What will corporations do next, once they know so much about how we live? And how will that information be used? All this remains to be seen…

Tech that doesn’t suck

One big takeaway from my time in Vegas is that everything is getting smarter, from smart cities, to smart homes, to smart workouts, to smart cars and sustainable products, too.

Ford was asking big questions about the future of smart cities

Panasonic was making a play to connect all its products through HOMEX

 

And, once again, TVs got thinner, more flexible and sharper this year. One clear winner on this front was the LG fully rollable, 4K OLED (organic light emitting display) screen, which rolls up like a newspaper when not in use so it doesn’t dominate your living room.

On the automotive side, we saw a blending of man and machine with Nissan launching its Brain-to-Vehicle (B2V) technology, which interprets signals from the driver’s brain and uses the information to assist with driving and help the vehicle’s autonomous system learn from the driver.

Just connect your brain waves to your smart car, turn the key and let it help you drive

 

Taking a page from the book of Black Mirror (season four, episode three), Toyota and Pizza Hut unveiled the first fully autonomous delivery concept vehicle, which they call the e-Palette.

Pizza Hut tweeted out this image to announce the Toyota partnership, hailing the advent of smart pizza delivery

The e-Palette also has potential beyond pizza, helping to make last-mile delivery systems less painful

 

The dumbest smart tech

Of course, some products at the CES don’t live up to the hype…

As Slate put it, for example, “This Nonfunctional $980 Laundry-Folding Robot Is the Most CES Thing Ever.” Its rival, the Laundroid, takes 10 minutes to fold a single shirt, is the size of a small fridge and will cost you a cool $16,000 if you’re really too lazy to deal with your own clothes.

Beyond this particular laundry-folding war, the iKeyp smart safe made headlines when it proved easy to crack wide open. And sometimes, even in Sin City, sex doesn’t sell: these stripper robots fell flat.

 

And finally, the existential questions…

Critics suggest Vegas cannot keep up with CES’s growth and mobility needs, leading many to ask: where next?

 

Will tech eventually outsmart nature?

Probably not. Between a leaky ceiling and a power outage that left CES attendees dodging puddles and in the dark, Mother Nature proved shes still winning.

What’s the real story here?

In my mind, there are actually two stories to be told: There’s the tech – a display of the latest and greatest (as well as the flops and failures) on the trade show floor – and then there are the private meetings between tech titans who are thinking five years into the future. Are the technologies on display at CES already obsolete? Are we already behind the curve?

Is it time to move away from Vegas?

While Las Vegas has been home to this consumer tech fest since the 1970s, many left the convention this year wondering if the CES should move to an innovative city.

“As it stands, the city that wants to play host to thousands of technologists isn’t very technological,” wrote TechCrunch reporter John Biggs, citing infrastructure and mobility issues that marred the event. He even suggested that, since most business is now done electronically and algorithmically, we might not even need to meet in person at a convention at all.
Personally, I couldn’t disagree more: I think that people at CES still really matter. But perhaps it’s true that our connections can be built beyond the traditional trade show – and the blackjack table – in more meaningful ways.