I’m just back from the normally-annual pilgrimage to CES. It’s the world’s largest technology event, a summit where you literally walk the industry – the only place I feel you can tangibly see where technology is and might soon be.
After a two-year hiatus the event was back. With Omicron concerns, the event was scaled back considerably in the month prior, with some big players pulling out (Microsoft, Meta, Amazon, Google etc). However, this for me made for a very interesting show. More time to spend with some of the smaller companies, more time hands-on with the technology and less-time stuck in queues waiting to get into stands/booths.
It was also great to see the event back, and in-person. With the one-year gap (last year’s event was virtual and for an event like CES, that just doesn’t work) it was good to see just how fast some of these technologies have developed.
And whilst there was a laughable amount of mentions of the metaverse – almost every exhibitor was trying to shoehorn in some reference to metaverse – there was much to find interesting on the floor.
So with that, here is a selection of the most interesting in show:
BMW – no surprise here, and probably one you’ve all seen or heard as it was very well covered. The company’s concept showed how e-ink panel technologies (think Kindle) can be used to create a car that can change colour on demand. Obviously, quite far from seeing the light of day as this was very much just vapourware at this stage, but it was a good reminder of how technologies can move across uses and then converge to create new use cases – in this case, low cost curved screens and e-ink technology. One could see how this type of technology may find its way into many more form factors (think cases for laptops/TVs and others – I expect, and then in time perhaps cars).
Bosch – less a specific piece of technology, but more its booth and the display of the e-vehicle chassis. Bosch is a big player in the world of mobility, historically providing components that go into many vehicle types and is now one of the big players in the e-vehicle market. This display stripped back everything to the core components needed to make a modern electronic car. What was apparent was just how few moving parts are needed – a combination of a few motors and lots of cameras and sensors. In essence, it’s not far off a smartphone on four wheels, which is why the traditional internal combustion engine vehicle manufacturers should be more wary of new competitors.
Sony – Sony announced at CES a new division, focussed on mobility, and the manufacture and design of its own car, which they had at the show. Whilst still pre-production, the concept car was more than a model and did actually work/drive. Whether this idea will ever make production or not, it did show clearly why the next chapter of mobility could be owned by a range of new providers and might provide a lucrative direction of travel (pun intended) for leading smartphone makers today (Apple is well known to be developing its own). Seeing the Bosch display, and then the Sony concept, makes the idea of an Apple car – in my mind – much more of a real proposition.
Samsung NFT (client) – perhaps obvious in hindsight, but with all these NFTs people now own, they’re going to want to have somewhere to display them on – and the Samsung Frame TVs are clearly a great place for that. Samsung announced an app that will make it easy for customers to display their prized NFTs – but also to go further to, they hope, to search and discover new NFTs to own and purchase. Even in decentralized systems, you need some form of central aggregation – could Samsung take on Opensea?
bHaptics and Mudra – Making the virtual more real. As we seem to be heading into a future where reality will become increasingly mixed, virtual, augmented, and real, there was clear evidence of the market building around these concepts. So, whilst there was little to be seen in the way of new face wear, there was plenty to be had when it came to peripherals. This included the likes of Mudra, showing off a very impressive wristband that enabled you to bring full hand gestures and controls into a virtual environment (including pressure applied), as well as companies like bHaptics which were showing a number of wearables that would provide real-life sensations to mimic the virtual experience (think vests that enable you to feel a virtual touch or virtual bullet) or could help provide sense of temperature to mimic the game or environment you were inhabiting. I expect to see many advancements in these areas over the coming years.
Chilisleep – Sleep seems to be a problem the tech industry has identified that needs to be solved. There was a huge section given over to showcase sleep aids, connected mattresses, sleep apps, connected pillows that use AI to adjust if you were snoring so your head position changes, and many other items. Clearly, when we spend a third of our time asleep, the industry has seen an opportunity to make some money out of this otherwise economically dead time. For me I still like Chilisleep who produce a device that enables you to perfectly control the temperate of your bed and even – if you have a partner – have each side of the bed a different temperature.
Vivoo – Connected-Pee - We’ve had a good 15 years’ worth of sensor development, largely driven by the scale of the smartphone market. These smartphone sensors have now started to create new markets, particularly enabling wellness tech. There were many examples on show, but the solution from Vivoo was quite impressive. It’s a connected pee-on-a-stick solution, which relays information to your smartphone via the camera. It’s a way to easily monitor health goals or concerns for those who like to monitor such things – looking at liver/kidney function, diet quality and ketone levels.
Altis – Peloton broke onto the market three years ago, nicely timed with the pandemic and the self-isolation that this brought, to demonstrate a hardware service fitness model that worked and appealed. This has, since, given life to a whole host of alternatives. Again, the fitness tech section at the show was vast but of interest to me were the likes of Altis, demonstrating an AI driven personal trainer in your home (delivered via a home device + subscription model for bespoke personal training). See here.
Lustre – I was interested to see the innovation taking place around use of light, particularly as it’s applied to beauty/cosmetics. Lustre was one of the standouts in this category, using specific light-spectrums delivered via a face mask or small plaster-like device, to treat common facial skin issues like acne or the dreaded pimple. Teenagers of tomorrow rejoice!
Ameca – I’ll end with Ameca, which probably stole the show for many. I was proud – as a Brit – that this was demonstrated on the UK pavilion and was a demonstration of advancements that have been made in this country in robotics. It was a real seeing-is-believing moment that pulled in the largest crowds. I’ve seen many of these types of audience-engagement robots in my time (Robothespian anyone?), but have to say Ameca was another level. The facial expressions were so close to human, and provided quite the uncanny-valley feeling, but I was also impressed with the dialogue and audience recognition. As the crowd asked for selfies, jokes, specific questions around its own existence, or more trivial things such as favourite spots in Las Vegas – Ameca was able to answer with very little delay and in a very natural and non-obviously scripted way. Very impressive indeed and shows a big advance in humanoid robotics.