Having not been to CES for a few years, it was interesting to see how it has evolved over the past few years. It is still massive – 175,000 people converging on Las Vegas over the course of a week and hotel rates that remind you how scarce rooms are. The Chandelier Bar is still one of the best places for people watching. And, it is still a launching pad for the big electronics companies, with massive activations from Samsung, LG, Google, Sony, etc. Also, year over year, it has become an increasingly more important showcase for automotive tech and concept vehicles. What was a nice surprise were the number of kickstarter products and start-ups showcasing in the Sands Trade Halls.
So, here are some of the things I found interesting in 2018.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall – Voice Activation, Voice Assistants and Smart everything
It was impossible to escape the Google Assistant and Amazon-enabled logos on booths and devices. Apple Home Kit was well under represented, which is consistent with their continued lack of CES participation. It is a Google vs Amazon competition right now and Google spent enough money to demonstrate their desire to win in this space (never mind all of the advertising money they spent, they also had these giant gumball machines placed all over the city to give away products – each of them had a line-up at least an hour long from 9am-5pm every day).
Voice activation was demonstrated with lighting (like this one from our Toronto-based friends at Nanoleaf),
TV, speakers, driving and what i found most interesting, the Smart Kitchen from LG and the Smart Bathroom from Kohler. Not only could you speak to those devices, but they also spoke to each other.
The LG fridge scans your food and lets you know when products are going to expire; it analyzes the the contents of your fridge and suggests recipes; it then sends the instructions to the oven to pre-heat as necessary and you can manage a series of timers through voice assistance. Finally, at the end of this meal, it lets the dishwasher know what was eaten so that it can optimize the cleaning process for the type of food that was consumed. Integration with Amazon also allows grocery ordering in areas where it is available.
On the Kohler front, they are moving towards a touchless bathroom, with sensors on everything from the toilet seat that opens when you approach it; hands-free tub that auto-fills customized to your preferred temperature; multi-sensory shower experience with customized temperature, lighting and voice-activated music, a voice-activated mirror with hands-free light control; and a touchless sink that you manage with an app to help pour exact measurements for recipes.
The “Smart” buzzword was taken to a new level with the Panasonic Smart Stadium concept – everything from facial recognition to replace ticket taking; Drone-delivery of food and beverage to individual seats and Augmented Reality experiences sharing real-time data with sports fans. There were also several examples of Smart City applications that used real-time data to help with air quality, water management and energy efficiency.
On the automotive front, most cars have integrated Amazon or Google into the passenger experience. It was impressive to see how many tech partners Ford has integrated into their cars – open innovation and integration has given them a clear differentiator in the tech space. Also, impressive was seeing Innocean enter the product space with their Smart Driving Glasses, designed to increase safety in the driving experience by using AI and AR to help address driver fatigue, assist hearing-impaired drivers and improve efficiency for eco drivers.
Passengers Wanted – Autonomous Driving
Several automotive brands had their autonomous vehicles on display. My personal favourite was the Ford with the not-so-subtle integration of the Domino’s logo revealing that autonomous driving pizza delivery is coming to a town near you. There were also some unexpected options like a Back to the Future inspired Air Taxi concept and #AccessibleOlli – the self-driving and accessible public transit option (also, it was apparently 3-D printed, so it won buzzword bingo in one single exhibit).
To get people more comfortable with autonomous driving, there were several VR-based and 4D-based demos to allow people to visualize the experience in a controlled environment. Intel also had a stripped down version of an autonomous vehicle that showed the “Intel Inside” sensors, cameras and other technology that increase the safety of the vehicle. The demos definitely demonstrated that there is more of a human hurdle of accepting autonomous vehicles on the road vs the technology being a barrier at this point.
The integration of man and machine continues to frighten people (or inspire if you’re Elon Musk) and pervade Silicon Valley start-ups. Nissan had a huge activation about how they are measuring brain waves to improve the AI and driving experience of their cars. Neuroscience is used to capture emotion, reactions and other insights to help mitigate emotional duress and anxiety and make the passenger experience as positive as possible in the future.
Toronto start-up, Muse, also had a huge display for their expanded meditative products and they introduced the API to allow developers to apply neuro-training to to their products.
There were also a few medical devices that played in the self-diagnosis area – you can test yourself for the flu, you can manage you vision and prescriptions and even improve your hearing. And for the first time at CES, a Toronto-based cannabis startup, Vapium Medical, introduced a medicinal vaping tracker that collects data and gives doctors a data-centric platform to understand what strains and products are most effective for their patients.
IMHO, one of the more controversial applications of DNA testing came from Orig3n and their the ability to test your DNA to see what kind of athletic ability you are suited for. Personally, I don’t need to test to understand know that “waterboy” was my only real option. Gattaca is here now, I suppose.
Sleep Hacking / Smart Sleep
There was a significant amount of floor space dedicated to sleep hacking. Most of the companies had smart pillows, smart mattresses, smart blankets, “sleep management systems”, etc. Basically sensors have been embedded into everything to help you diagnose, manage and improve your sleep patterns. However, the biggest line up was at the NuCalm booth where they claim to be able to give you the benefits of 2 hours sleep in 20 minutes with their “patented neuroscience technology”.
AR continues to show up at CES in minimal but better use cases. One interesting use case was a smart mirror that made brushing your teeth far more entertaining for children. The second was a car configurator from the people at JEEP. Both based on human insights – children hate brushing their teeth; people hate talking to car sales people.
At home making continues to have a place at CES, with CNET using print your own tote bags as an activation idea; Ricoh introducing the first silk screen your own garments at home and O2 allowing people to print their own custom finger nail designs.
The biggest delight for me was the revival of Polaroid. They were at CES in a big way with nostalgic products like their original cameras and a whole slew of new innovations with 3D printers, 360 cameras, VR goggles, mobile phones, and of course, photo printers.
Probably one of the most popular exhibits was Sony’s robotic dog, who could play fetch, react to human touch and demonstrate a level of dog-like emotion when interacted with. To continue on the pet-related theme, there was also a self-cleaning cat litter box. And for those who hate doing laundry (like my niece), there was machine that folded your laundry for you.
VR has grown up and is now being applied more strategically. From the aforementioned driver experiences to being applied to improving athletic training or just plain fun, with this interactive snow ball fight.
And finally, wearables have also evolved past the wrist-based fitness tracker. Sensors are being added to all sort of use cases. Tappy allows companies to add contactless payment chips into their products; GPS tracking for your pets (or humans if you’re up to speed on the latest season of Black Mirror); Running gear to help improve your running performance; Smart underwear to manage sleep, stress & activity; Heck, you can even improve your horseback riding skills with this smart saddle. One of the gutsier booth designs had to to Foreo and their kickstarter-backed Smart Face Masks. The booth, designed like Area 51, basically told people to go away… and of course, people lined up for it.
An honourable mention goes to LG for their curved OLED wall. It was such a simply-executed walkthrough experience, but you felt like you had suddenly arrived inside Blade Runner and quickly got lost in the beauty of the imagery.
Last mention of course, was the drone show, for its sheer Vegas-like spectacle. Over top of the Caesar Hotel, this show had people and cars stopped in their tracks.