CES is a whirlwind. With nearly 4000 exhibits spread throughout Las Vegas, it is humanly impossible to visit and dedicate time to each and every booth.
This year, companies from across every conceivable consumer sector were locked in a head-to-head race to incorporate smarts into everyday objects and increase accessibility to pertinent technologies. They were universally making a hard push to integrate adaptive tools and consumer-centric apps, all with the promise of providing a more holistic and informed experience to consumers.
Even goliaths of the tech industry found themselves embattled, as both Amazon and Google struggled to establish themselves as the main presence in home automation and artificial intelligence (AI) assistantship.
That said, we used our tech-savvy eagle-eyes to hone in on some of the more interesting displays. Here, we have distilled our many thoughts down into a handful of notable insights:
The “V” in VR stands for vomit.
Lucky for us, trying new virtual reality (VR) experiences is something we are familiar with, so we were interested to assess the technologies on the floor at CES this year.
We know virtual reality (VR) games are fun. And incredibly immersive.
For example, you can put on a headset in the middle of literally thousands of people and, within a few seconds, completely forget that anyone else is there. Your eyes, ears, and hands are instantly transported to an alternate dimension. And, as you start to explore your new surroundings, it is surprising how quickly you can forget the outside world.
But, while companies have gone to great lengths to design comfortable headsets and ergonomic hand controls, there is a bewildering lack of consideration for the rest of the body.
The only games and content that are truly immersive and interesting are those that keep a first-person perspective in an orientation that matches your actual body. Any discrepancy between your body’s orientation and the VR body’s orientation results in a nausea-inducing jolt back to reality.
Syncing the physical world to the digital is no easy feat, especially considering the vast and complex whole-body movements that are encountered in typical gameplay. Companies have started to design systems that allow users to strap-in for a specific experience (this writer attempted VR snowboarding on what was essentially a snowboard mashed into a piece of exercise equipment), but there remains a lot of uncertainty.
Will consumers want this type of equipment in their homes? How many experiences can a single system support (snowboarding, but not running)? How will VR really become integrated into our lives in the future?
Perhaps augmented reality (AR) will more readily bridge the divide.
Capture all of the data! Why?! I don’t know!
Welcome to the era of digitization. If there was one thing that our roamings through the halls of CES taught us over the past few years, it has been this: we are living in a unique period of human history, when everyone seems to want to track absolutely everything.
Sensors have become so small that they can be integrated into almost any device. Health and wellness designers have been especially keen to adapt to the trend, with products designed to gamify tooth brushing, measure and track your blood pressure, or adapt to your personal sleeping needs.
From left to right: Foscam home security system, Selinko NFC product marketing solutions, AR enabled Magik toothbrush by Kolibree
The theory is that tracking wellness metrics empowers consumers to better monitor their own health and more easily share data with their doctors: more information = better health outcomes.
Camera-centric AI systems cropped up in a number of applications and can now track and recognize your face, gait, body language, and routines. Some of the most cutting-edge tech can even detect dangerous or threatening behavior and will alert authorities when physical assault is imminent or when a weapon is detected.
Systems like these go beyond simple monitoring and start to encroach on the once human-only territory of decision-making.
However, most of the products at CES simply seem to collect easily measurable data, with very little thought given to how useful that data is. While we’re of the belief that information is essential to good product development and life in general, it takes a lot of work to process raw information into meaningful insights.
If you really want to track how humid it is in your pantry or how many times you can hula a hoop, you can buy a device for that. Just don’t expect it to enrich your life until more companies figure out how to turn hundreds of streams of tracked data into something truly comprehensible.
That warm, fuzzy feeling.
Drones and robots and touchscreens abound at CES, so it was surprising to see that there were several exhibits (tabletop Pong, pinball machines, flip boards, cassette players, etc.) that seemed to turn, purposefully, to bygone eras. Tactile interfaces, retro form-factors, forgotten media…a motley rebirth of things once discarded as obsolete and destined to live in the past.
In part guided by a big dose of nostalgia, but also by merit of being far more tangible than their sleek, digital counterparts, these products routinely captured the attention of passersby.
This trend also seemed to track closely with other color, materials and finish (CMF) considerations, such as the abundant appearance of more natural and sustainable materials in even some of the most tech-heavy products (think wooden wireless speakers and plush robots). It was commonplace to see hardware dressed with materials like fabric, cork, and stone and supplemented with soft curves and a nostalgic aesthetic.
From left to right: 3EA18 communication robot concept by Honda, Blue retro microphones, House of Marley speaker, Material Matters display
By extension, a similar mentality seemed to have been applied to the many robots of CES. Given that it’s difficult to embrace hard, plastic parts and form a bond with lifeless LCD displays, robotic designers are aggressively pursuing more humanoid designs.
Driving the future.
Car makers seem to be having a lot of fun playing with how to integrate new technologies into the vehicles of the future.
For some, the future focuses on enhancing the driving experience (assuming humans will still be driving cars in the future). These concepts measure the driver’s vital signs and brain waves and seek to improve comfort or anticipate needs.
Others envisioned the car of the future as a mobile workstation, complete with an inner conference room and OLED displays built into the windows.
Still others imagined a future in which the need to drive is almost eliminated by building mini-stores into vehicles that seek out consumers.
From left to right: Nissan’s brain-to-vehicle technology, Mercedes Benz smart vision concept vehicle, LG’s lawn mowing robot
What was most striking was not the highly conceptual nature of many of these cars, but the diversity with which their manufactures view the future. The same could be said of other up-and-coming technologies, where the innovation is so new that the industry hasn’t yet converged on how it is to be used.
For example, wireless charging is familiar to most modern smartphone consumers, but creative applications of it are just beginning to be explored. Manufacturers are starting to probe how induction charging can be integrated into tabletops and kitchen countertops. Imagine a kitchen wherein the appliances are powered directly through the countertop and there is no longer a need for any kind of stovetop. Quite the departure from the kitchens of today.
Into the great unknown.
The future is uncertain, but at a minimum, we can confidently say it will be tracked, digital, and full of wonder.
Big companies are aiming to provide turnkey and comprehensive smart solutions to offer valuable insights that will ultimately improve your business and quality of life. Granted, not all of the ideas are great and certainly not all of the products will survive, but a spirit of innovation is alive, along with a resounding belief that technology can and should be used to improve our daily lives.
While entrepreneurs and established companies alike may still be struggling to find ways to meaningfully integrate some of these technologies and systems, we are quickly moving into a future that was the stuff of sci-fi dreams not so long ago.
If there is anything one can walk away from CES with, it is the sense that literally anything is possible.