Every year, just after we pack our New Year’s party hats, we print our boarding passes for Las Vegas to attend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). 2017 marked the 50th anniversary of the annual geek fest; and this year’s show did not disappoint, with a record attendance of over 175,000 and over 2.5 million (yes million) square miles of exhibit space. We attend every year, of course, to see the latest and coolest gadgets that may or may not be coming to the market; but, perhaps even more importantly, we attend to get a sense of trends in the tech world that ultimately will impact the way our colleagues and we will work, play, and live in the near future. So, here is what we observed from CES 2017.
Not surprisingly we saw many robots at CES 2017, as we are poised to plunge headlong into the intelligent machine age. There were robots that would interact with you, clean your house, take your order, assist you in a retail environment, mow your lawn, fold your laundry, and the list goes on. Last year we introduced many of our readers and presentation attendees to Amazon’s incredibly popular and engaging Echo (Alexa). Alexa is just the tip of the iceberg in the emerging procession of digital assistant devices. We saw robots that could move throughout your home and respond to voice commands just as Alexa does, but could actually perform manual tasks at your command as well. We really wanted to take one of these home on the flight with us, but security was really tight and those robots are really smart. So, we didn’t try to snatch one.
Another popular theme at this year’s show was health and wellness tech. Business leaders have learned that a healthy and motivated workforce is a productive workforce. So there were many exhibitors at CES with technology to help consumers stay active, track health metrics, and work in a more ergonomically-friendly environment. Fitness trackers have become very popular, so gadget makers are seeking even more clever ways to get these sensors on our bodies. One of the newest wearables that caught our attention was a fitness ring called Motiv. We saw a demo of Intel’s new sensory feedback sunglasses that can track your vital stats while exercising and provide personalized coaching feedback at the same time. There were also smart bike helmets, smart scooters, and even smart chairs. A new movable chair concept from Honda was one of our favorites. At a more mundane level, sit-stand desks seem to be the default option for new office furniture, and, of course, you can supplement these units with treadmill bases or even stationary bikes along with monitor arms that can levitate multiple computer monitors without taking up more desk space. Eye tracking software has been around for a while, but has improved considerably since we first saw demos a few years ago. This software along with vastly improved voice recognition systems promises to expand computing options to users who have disabilities.
We went to this year’s show expecting to see a raft of new virtual reality (VR) applications, but after touring the incredibly crowded VR section of the exhibit hall, we were a little disappointed. Everyone has probably seen the television ads for VR googles from companies such as Samsung and Google, and many, like us, have purchased one or two (or more) of these VR contraptions to try out. Yes we enjoy/endure the virtual ride on a roller coaster or watching a movie in VR; and many gamers (not us) really are into the many VR gaming applications. But outside these niche applications, we did not see a lot of new uses for virtual or augmented reality, much to our disappointment. This technology is still new, and we do expect to see applications of this technology in the workplace; but it still may be a few years out.
The automotive industry is investing heavily in exciting new technologies that promise to fundamentally change the way we think about travel. The huge auto technology-centric exhibits at CES made us think perhaps we had stepped out of Vegas into Detroit. Yes, self-driving cars are coming; but we were disappointed that we could not find any exhibit where we could actually get a test ride. We saw plenty of concept cars: electric-powered, self-driving, and even interactive; and we saw plenty of video demos of how these new automobiles will work. But we do believe the appearance of these new age vehicles en masse on our city streets is probably being delayed by considerations of security, safety, and liability. Nonetheless, we really can’t wait for the day when our car notices that we are beginning to get tired behind the wheel on a long trip (as we saw in the Toyota demo) and proactively tells us that it (the car) is taking over driving for us. Prius, take the wheel.
Finally, one of our favorite “gadgets” this year was the EHANG184, an Autonomous Aerial Vehicle (AAV –because everything in the tech world has to have an acronym). This vehicle is essentially a drone capable of carrying a person, sort of like an aerial taxi. The vision for this device is to taxi people over short distances through the air, without a pilot. So when you need to be in federal court in 30 minutes and the downtown corridor is gridlocked, you would simply call for the EHANG drone to pick you up and fly you through the air to your precise destination, land and deliver you to the courthouse. Oh man, we can’t wait for this one to become mainstream. Bring on the future. Bring on the tech.
–Bill & Phil