As the annual CES tech-fest in Vegas takes it’s final roll of the dice, it’s time to decide whether the 2016 event came up ‘aces’ or was simply ‘craps’ ?
Overall, I’d say it was a solid (yet unspectacular) year for consumer technology and my initial preview predictions didn’t fall far wide of the mark. Virtual reality, wearable tech, drones, robots and the Internet of Everything (from connected bras to smelly alarms) all featured highly. That said, there was no breakout piece of kit which captured the imagination of the geeky cognoscenti. Best described as a year of evolution rather than revolution. And that was best epitomised by the noticeable increase in the amount of car manufacturers touting their ever-evolving wares this year.
Only five years ago there was no automotive presence at CES. This year, ten major car brands were in attendance and the amount of space they had taken was breathtaking (25% more than in 2015). BMW, for instance, had a rather swish dedicated area just outside of the main auditorium which even featured test drives of both the i8 and i3 electric models.
What became very clear, very quickly, was that they were actually all pushing the same 3 key themes:
1. Electrification – whether it was the glitzy launch of the Bolt from GM in their oversubscribed keynote, or the rather magnificent Batmobile-esque FFZero1 from Faraday Future, or the VW BUDD-e minivan (which to me resembled a modern day version of the Scooby Doo ‘Mystery Machine’) every manufacturer wanted to show off their spiffing new electrically powered products.
Mercedes went one better and showcased their new concept the IAA which has a ‘shapeshifting’ rear end (don’t ask) which apparently reduces the drag on the vehicle.
2. Connectivity – there was once a time when the only way to connect with your car was by putting the key in the ignition. Nowadays, most cars don’t even have a key but can easily boil the kettle for you at home whilst on the move…
Ford, for example, took great delight in demonstrating their new Android and IoS compatible Sync3 system. With its associated app functionality users can control connected devices inside their homes plus interact with Amazon Alexa voice recognition to deliver real-time information about the vehicle itself.
VW have gone one step further and entered into a strategic alignment with the mighty LG. The aforementioned BUDD-e basically connects to your LG equipped SmartHome. Volkswagen demonstrated that from your Mystery Machine, sorry BUDD-e, you can open the front door of your home to let people in if you are running late. Or maybe you want to check the contents of your LG fridge with it’s built-in camera to see if you need to order a takeaway for dinner or can feast on left-over lasagne.
3. Autonomous Cars – the trend for self driving cars has largely been driven by the first foray into the market by Google. In a meeting with the John Krafcik, CEO of Chauffeur (Google’s autonomous vehicle division) he told us that their reasoning behind producing a car which can drive itself was very simple and yet equally compelling. Over 1.2 million people are killed each year in car accidents across the globe. To put that into perspective that’s the equivalent of a passenger jet crashing every 2 minutes for twelve months. And the main cause of all this carnage? Well over 90% of these accidents are caused by human error. No wonder they want to remove the organic bit behind the wheel.
But not content with Google muscling in on their turf, the car manufacturers have decided it’s their turn to get in on the act. You would maybe expect to see self-driving cars from the likes of Ford (pictured below) but may be a little surprised to see the likes of Hyundai / Kia also jumping on the bandwagon.
So there you have it, with not much more news apart from increasingly bigger / thinner TV’s and even smarter SmartPhones the automotive boys stole much of the limelight this year and I’m finally ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ (unless El Nino has other ideas of course).
Christmas is barely over and the annual pilgrimage to the tech mecca that is the Consumer Electronics Show has already started with an expected 200,000 geeks and gear heads descending on Las Vegas as I write. As ever, it promises to be bigger (2.4 million sq ft of space, up 10% on last year), brasher and bolder than ever before. But frankly that’s the same every year – it is Vegas after all. Baby.
The doors don’t officially open until Wednesday but the anticipation levels here are already cranked up to eleven and the rumour mill is humming like a flux capacitor. So I’ve scoured that interweb thingy and (beyond the usual slew of larger TV’s and smarter smartphones) I have compiled a list of the top 7 areas of focus at this years tech-fest:
1. Connected Cars – only 5 years ago, there were none of the automotive manufacturers here at CES. This year? There will be 10 of the major car makers present and a further 100 smaller auto tech companies exhibiting their wares. Last year Mercedes unveiled their autonomous ‘living room on wheels‘ the F015 and there are noises being made that Ford have been working with Google on their own version which may be showcased at CES. What we do know (because they have officially announced it) is that BMW are going to be showing off their new Air Touch system which is effectively a 3 dimensional hand scanning interface for controlling a whole array of functions within the vehicle. Bye bye buttons on the dashboard?
Also, as a outside bet for something revolutionary take a gamble on a Chinese firm called Faraday Future who claim to have a concept which, in their words at least, will “define the future of mobility”. Sounds interesting right and given their name I’d wager that it is most likely an electric vehicle? A Tesla rival maybe? Oh and the ‘spy shots’ make it look like the Batmobile…
2. Wearable Tech – this sector was the bleeding edge of revolutionary thinking just a few years ago at CES but is now much more part of the mainstream, epitomised by the likes of Fitbit. They have a major press conference lined up for Tuesday morning so expect a big announcement. Given their ‘teaser’ for this event (a little flash of leather) I’m guessing some kind of fashion related tie up? In fact that could be a common trend this year with the likes of Huawei set to unveil a smartwatch that will apparently appeal to women and a company called Wisewear going one step further and releasing a range of high-end connected jewellery. Jewelification if you will. It’s a thing. You read it here first. Live with it.
And some of the more, shall we say, quirky offerings? Well from Digitsole we get the spiritual successor to the self-lacing training shoe from Back to the Future 2. Great Scott! There is also the OMBra which aims to measure a woman’s biometrics via a piece of clothing already worn daily. And finally, there is apparently a preponderance of pet related tech such as PitPat which is an activity tracker for your pampered pooch.
3. Day of the Drones – again, becoming much more of a mainstay at CES these days with all eyes looking skyward to see what the guys from GoPro have got to offer in the guise of Karma which is reputed to have a full 360 degree view and (most importantly for dodgy drone pilots like me) collision avoidance functionality.
Safety does appear to be a recurring theme this year with drones, like the new product from Fleye which has hidden rotor blades (and looks a little like an upturned desk fan) plus an exciting development from UK firm Intelligent Energy who will be demonstrating their hydrogen fuel cell which allows a drone to stay airborne for hours instead of minutes (or, as we established earlier, seconds if I am at the controls).
4. VR becomes a Reality – Oculus Rift was the darling of CES when it launched its virtual reality headset on an unsuspecting world just 3 years ago. I queued for a few hours back then for a go and was blown away by what I (virtually) saw. Rapidly snapped up by Facebook in $2 billion deal in 2014, we have seen refinements but no finished product. That is all set to change with the breaking news that pre-orders open on 6th January. Immaculate timing. And if that’s the case, then surely we will get to see the finished article at CES?
But it’s not just about Oculus, there are plenty of big hitting rivals keen to grab their slice of the virtual pie. Sony are expected to release details of their PlayStation VR headset with rumours of smartphone compatibility and HTC are also doing a press conference this afternoon on their very own updated / revised Vive unit.
5. Rise of the Robots? – ever since the very first CES show way back in 1967, robots have been an ever present theme. We are fascinated with them but, to date, manufacturers haven’t been able to make them truly viable for consumers. Our attempts have been clunky at best and downright embarrassing at worst. So with 71% more floor space at CES dedicated to robots than last year is 2016 the year to change all that and launch us into a dystopian world of RoboCop and the Terminator? The answer to that is an emphatic ‘no’ given what is on offer.
Japanese firm, Flower Robotics reckon their little robot will bring ‘beauty’ to the genre as they have designed their metal friends to be as aesthetically pleasing as they are practical. Call me a cynic but I’m not convinced – to me it just looks like an LED light bulb, with two plastic spoons strapped to the side and a webcam plonked on top. A much more practical and worthy contender is Leka which is a robot developed to help stimulate children with autism and other developmental disorders.
6. Internet of Everything – the buzz phrase for the past few years at CES has been IoT – the internet of things. This year, I think it will finally morph into IoE, the ‘internet of everything’. The trailblazers were Nest with their smart plugs and app controlled central heating systems. Now it seems everyone has jumped on the proverbial bandwagon if you take a mere glimpse at the dazzling array of connected items that are being touted this year. I honestly can’t think of anything that is left that can be digitised and / or app’d. Here are just a few examples of what’s on offer this year…
– a shower head that tracks how much water you have utilised (have I missed something but why would you want to do that?)
– a vibrating sofa to alert you when your favourite TV show is about to start (the mind boggles as to what kind of content you might watch with this gadget)
– an alarm clock that will wake you up with a smell rather than a noise – odours on offer include croissant, peach and (erm) money? (very apt for Vegas I suppose)
Seriously though, you cant make this stuff up.
So there you have it, my top 6 predictions / watch-outs for CES 2016. Keep reading over the next few days as I get down to the CES floor for a ‘walk about’ and bring you an up-to-the-minute status on all the other tech that’s on offer plus a closing review with a ‘best and worst’ tech from this year’s event.