The centre of the consumer innovation universe, also known as the Consumer Electronics Show or CES, ended last week and as is always the case each year, it was bigger than ever before.
Not even a deluge of rain and a subsequent power cut could dampen the rush of new tech. Indeed, this year, having followed Twitter avidly along with the usual tech commentary, the showcase of tech is broader than it’s ever been. So what should innovators be paying attention to? Here’s a brief round-up of my favourites.
Google turned up
My sole visit to CES was a sobering four years ago sadly, and back then several names were conspicuous by their absence. Google, Apple and Microsoft were clearly entertaining key delegates behind the scenes in corporate hotel suites, but didn’t face their fans – until now. Google pushed their new Assistant product very hard, with lots of digital and outdoor advertising, even sponsoring the Las Vegas monorail. They took up some space outside too that included a photo booth. Start as you mean to go on guys.
Clever sensor tech abounds
TechCrunch called out TestDrop, a small, guitar-pick sized sensor that can tell you if the water you’re about to drink is safe, as one of the stand-out innovations at CES. The device uses a small, electromagnetic field held close to the water and uses this to determine if the water is diluted with anything it shouldn’t be. TestDrop also pairs with an app to give more detailed information. This type of innovation saves lives but asks little more than a sensor that you can fit on to a keyfob. Clever stuff.
From Sony’s updated robotic dog to Omron’s Forpheus ping-pong playing robot, automation was another key theme. The problem remains in coming up with a robot that doesn’t make us laugh or coo. These use cases are, in isolation, impressive, but they’re desperately short of long term appeal or meaning. I’d urge robot tech leaders in this space to take it more seriously; the first company to make a truly useful robot would steal all the headlines from other more gimmicky ideas.
Let’s talk voice assistants
While Google was pushing its Assistant, others continued to announce tie-ups with Alexa using its Skills interface. Toyota have created an Alexa link so expect to be conversing with your car more soon, much more than the fragile voice command systems that have been around for a few years now. This could be a very happy marriage indeed, with opportunities like Spotify playlists through car speakers, answers to traffic or navigation queries and of course, the ability to shop while you drive. Indeed, there were lots of vehicle innovations at CES; autonomy is the clear leading theme but connected cars are a close second.
5G really is just around the corner
Lots of mention in Vegas of 5G. For fans of data on the move, the promise of 1GBps is just too tempting to think about, but this really is a piece of tech that is fast getting out of the lab and into the real world. The standards are in place and tests continue around the world, with what might become an arms race to get the tech launched: this can only be good for consumers. I’ve barely made it to 4G yet but the pace of development sees no sign of faltering.
Modular TV screens could be in the home soon
Samsung unveiled a stunning 146″ wall screen. This would be impressive in itself but the key takeway here was the word “modular”, which might allow home owners to build their own MicroLED walls in anything up to 8K resolution. Screens continue to change and perhaps the ultimate disruption in this market is, potentially, no screen at all – your wall becomes the interface. Samsung said that the screen uses an AI-driven algorithm to upscale 4K or standard definition pictures to 8K. Throw in their own Voice Assistant, Bixby, and an upgraded version of their Smart Hub software, and you could argue South Korea’s finest really hit the mark in Nevada.
Nest x Yale lock finally launched
Two years in the making, at CES we finally saw the first real Smart Lock launched. The key-free interface holds up to 250 passcodes but the clever bit is the connection to Nest, which links to the Smart Home management suite. We can expect more corporate tie-ups like this as the true connected home takes shape, much like Alexa opens its Skills interface.
I’m sure there were the normal plethora of headphones and mobile phone covers, but what really struck me was the breadth of tech this year. No stone was left unturned and it bodes well for next year. Let’s hope the power stays on.