CES, for a tech-loving adult is like Disney World for a child. It’s the closest you can get to traveling into another world. Some of the technology showcased at CES will come out this year, some in several years, and other gadgets will never make it to market. The enormous trade show is filled with items some would find useful, others would find unnecessary, and then there are ideas that seem like pure fantasy. Within the vastness of CES, there are too many displays to see everything, much less write about everything so I’m going to stick to the hardware that excited attendees the most for the year ahead.
“Because why not?”
One thing I took away from CES this year was that our kitchens are about to get significantly smarter thanks to networked devices (AKA the ‘Internet of Things’). For example, the Samsung Family Hub 2.0 Refrigerator now displays a connected touchscreen. If you’re like me and will stare endlessly into your fridge searching for something appealing, this could prove useful for you. There are now internal cameras showing your food. You can add these images to a shopping list and order through the Groceries by Mastercard app. If you share the refrigerator with a lot of family members, it allows you to create profiles and create an avatar of yourself. Who would have guessed that fridges would become gamified?
People looking for something useful in the kitchen that’s smaller will probably be interested in the Hello Egg. Geared towards busy millennials, the Hello Egg is meant to be paired with the Eggspert application. Besides the usual tasks that smart assistants typically do, the Hello Egg can plan meals for you based off of your dietary requirements, order your produce, and display video recipes with step-by-step instructions. None of these tasks can’t be done from your laptop, but it’s unique to have it all on a small, modern looking device in the shape of an egg.
But there in lies the problem with the networked devices on show at CES, it seems as if they exist to market you goods and services to solve problems that have already been solved. Think about the realistic amount of value for money you would be getting out of the Family Hub or Hello Egg? The cost of implementation for a networked, automated device will be high and undoubtedly bring these devices into the same built-in obsolescence as smart phones and computers. Automating a process that has been good enough for some time will only take us to a point of diminishing returns and signals another product being pushed on consumers by marketers.
That’s not to say that networked devices can’t offer us real value in the future. The ability to connect and carry out independent action using data should make us more energy efficient, smarter agriculturists and improve our overall quality of life. However, the examples of networked devices on offer at CES this year seemed to follow a trend of adding functionality for the sake of functionality with the added downside of high costs of implementation, upkeep and minimal value added.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
“Microsoft gets something right”
Ever since helping with the Google Expeditions Program, which used Google Cardboard, I’ve been extremely interested in virtual reality. So, luckily for me, this year CES was filled with companies showing off the latest in VR. The first I tried out was developed by Skyworth.
I was a bit worried at first as one of the chairs and headsets didn’t appear to be working, but the set I eventually tried worked fine. Although my chair felt like it had a good amount of movement, other attendees said their seat didn’t move much. I came away from the Skyworth booth with an overall feeling that the VR experience still had room for improvement and this seemed to be the narrative among other attendees as well.
The after hours events were awash with tech enthusiasts who all agreed that the most exciting product on show at CES 2017 was Microsofts Augmented Reality Hololens. The Hololens is an AR device that leaves the user in their current environment, but adds virtual experiences.
As I mingled and discussed the most impressive booths, trying the Hololens was the favourite experience for a lot of CES attendants. John Meurer, Product Architect at Shortcut, was one of these people. He seemed surprised that Microsoft had created such a futuristic next-gen headset and found the AR experience to be much more fluid than any VR headset he’d ever tried.
Attendees also agreed that video games would continue to be the key driver of virtual reality hardware this year. However early adopters at CES vented their frustrating at having to compromise the immersive aspect the VR brings with a drop in quality gameplay compared to conventional video games as well as higher prices. Moving forward VR will branch out into other industries with the potential to be an interesting gimmick for architects looking to immerse a client in a proposed design and interestingly enough pornography, no really, check out Engadget coverage of CES 2017.
However the general consensus among the majority of CES attendees is that AR will be the clear winner in an Augmented/Virtual reality future. The defining issue being that a VR experience has to be built around a virtual world rather then a real environment. Therefore VR has a limited real world application outside of entertainment as it has no connection to a physical environment. This is the gap that Augmented Reality will fill with its ability to combine virtual aspects with the real world around it.
“If not now, then when?”
This year Honda chose CES to unveil their new autonomous concept car, the NueV (pronounced New V). Armed with the insight that cars are parked for around 96% of the time Honda has positioned the Nuev as an investment that makes better use of that time, by working as an autonomous ride-sharing vehicle when not in use by you.
But before you sell your old car for this investment, remember that the NueV doesn’t exist yet. With a more concrete timeline in mind, Faraday Future showcased their FF 91 model whose production and deliveries are planned to begin in 2018. One of their most impressive features was the autonomous Driverless Valet parking system that can be used with the FFCTRL app. If you’re like me and hate parking and sometimes struggle to remember where you’ve parked your car, the FF 91 eliminates these problems. At CES, they demonstrated a car searching for a spot and backing itself in. They claim the app can be used to call for your car when it’s time to go as well.
Questions over the eventual roll out of driverless cars were rife among attendees this year. Although most agreed automation held the greatest potential to become a disruptive industry and completely transform the driving workforce there was no clear agreement of when this will actually happen. Every expert seems to have their own conflicting opinion on a realistic timeline for the roll out of mass production models. Some industry leaders such as Elon Musk view driverless car technology as a problem that has already been solved and is simply waiting for regulation to catch up to the innovation. Market forces are also driving the industry as technology companies such as Google, Apple and Uber all race to develop their own self-driving cars. It’s becoming more apparent that the only real barrier remaining in the way of immediate adoption of self-driving cars seems to be purely legal in nature, not technical or economic.
Although it seems as if self-driving cars could hit our economy at any time the trucking industry will most likely be early adopters for this technology. On October 20th 2016 an autonomous truck operated by Uber subsidiary Otto successfully completed a 120 mile commercial delivery causing many transport industry experts to drastically reassess their timelines for driverless automation. After witnessing the success of the Otto deliver, Daniel Murray, vice president of research at the American Transportation Research Institute altered his personal timeline for automation from 15-20 years to 5 years. With the inclusion of a number of favourable state legislative conditions he estimated that automated trucks and cars should hit major US highways within the next 5 years.
A grain of salt…
As always, the hardest part about navigating the showcased products at CES is being able to distinguish between the marketing fluff and the truly innovative. Sure, with the right application networked devices could have the potential to change the way we live our lives, but the products on offer this year made superficial use of the tech and seemed to simply be adding functionality for the sake of functionality. The high costs of implementation and the built-in obsolescence that comes with something like a smart fridge takes us to a point of diminishing returns on a process that was good enough before automation. However, having said that, there were clear winners to come out of CES this year. AR seems to be the market leader over VR, with the Microsoft Hololens being the talk of the town amongst questions over VRs ability to branch out and find real world applications outside of entertainment. And while the endless demonstrations of concept vehicles at CES reminded us we probably won’t be jumping into driverless cars this year, it does allow our minds to jump to all the possibilities to come in the not too distant future. The technology is there, the interest is there, the only questions that remains is when they will hit our economy and the role legislation will play. Will regulation remain a barrier or help fast track a new age in transportation. Only time will tell.