Global tech lead, Sara Gourlay (@SaraGourlay), documents her observations and experiences at CES 2019. Here are her takeaways:
CES 1: Let’s Talk
The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) is holding its annual festival to all things tech at the Consumer Electronics Show this week. Why? Because there’s big money still to be made in selling technology to us consumers. For example, the CTA predicts that the total US consumer tech industry retail revenue will reach a record high of $398 billion in 2019.
However, there’s another reason to strap on your comfiest shoes and hit the CES exhibition halls: CES is a genuine barometer of how consumer behaviors are changing and how technology is driving new ways of thinking about living.
The most obvious example of this is in the smart home space. Smart homes have been talked about for some years and there have been some genuine early adopters of smart thermostats and security devices. We’ve seen how washing machines and cookers can integrate with digital assistants like Amazon Alexa or Google Home, but we’re really just at the beginning of a wave of smart home solutions that are genuinely transformative.
In its 2019 Consumer Trends presentation, the CTA talked about the progression of technology – from digital devices in the 2000s, to connected technology in the 2010s and now to an era of data driven technology. We have unparalleled levels of connectivity now, and with 5G just around the corner, that level of connectivity is going to grow. However, we’re talking about a different kind of connectivity, not human to human, or human to machine, but thing to thing.
LG Electronics has been leading the pack in bringing together home appliances and smart devices with its ThinQ AI platform. Last year LG talked about enabling your washing machine to start a wash based on the optimal time for hanging clothes out to dry – the theory being that the machine would connect to a digital assistant who would then connect to a weather service and make the decision based on available information. Today, LG is talking about an integrated home, one where contextual information is used to give you the most personalized living experience possible. A world where your digital assistant will give you information about potential levels of dust in the air to help you decide when to turn off the AC. Or where your digital assistant reminds you about that tub cleaning cycle you’re meant to run every 30 washes or so but never quite remember to do. Better still, a home where you never lose a remote control again because your digital assistant will be able to find it for you.
All this assumes that your digital assistant will speak to your fridge or TV of course, and that is going to be the next challenge. The reality is consumers rarely buy a suite of products from just one vendor (and, in the interests of full disclosure, I have no idea what brand the devices in my kitchen are and would bet I am not alone in that). The two dominant players in the digital assistant space are Amazon and Google, yet the digital assistants that are now embedded into almost everything could speak a different language. So we’re seeing the emergence of digital assistants to digital assistants, a kind of open source translation service for the bots in our devices, with a number of these on show at CES this year. My bet is those get overtaken by collaborative partnerships between the appliance manufacturers and the dominant players in time. What is certain is that our homes will change – the CTA predicts a 17% increase in smart home consumer spending in 2019, with 29.4 million units forecasted to be in American homes this year.
CES 2: Resilience Rebooted
I like to think I am resilient, that whatever happens I will keep on ploughing through and make the most of it. I am a Scot after all, we’re known for our grim determination (also wit, charm and good looks).
However, when we moved back to the UK some 18 months ago, and, in particular when I was convinced to move to a village in the High Peak surrounded by hills and sheep and with a propensity for snow and ice, I discovered that there is one thing that human resilience alone cannot conquer. The weather.
My travails are truly so minor compared to some of the cataclysmic moments in history that have so devastated cities and towns around the world. It seems almost expected to see a city brought to its knees by heavy snow, storm force winds, tornados, floods and tsunamis. It seems unthinkable that these cities can ever bounce back.
Three-quarters of the world’s population is expected to be living in cities by 2050 – that’s just three decades away. The majority of those cities will be in parts of the world that suffer from a more extreme climate than the High Peak, with 10 of the world’s fastest growing cities to be found in India.
Urbanization has been talked about for a long time, largely in positive terms. Yes, there are benefits in opportunity and access, but increased urbanization also brings more risk – economic, social and physical.
This year’s Consumer Electronics Show has a whole conference stream exploring how technology can be used to embed resilience into the very structure and fabric of a city. Using smart cities technologies, city planners are able to model, assess and plan for those times when you most need to be able to get back on your feet.
When times are good, smart cities technologies will enable us to plan traffic flow to avoid gridlock, they will help manage movement of people to avoid issues of crowd control and they can manage use of energy effectively across the urban area.
However, the game changer is how we use smart cities technologies to prepare and recover from disaster.
2018’s Hurricane Maria is the worst ever natural disaster to strike Puerto Rico and Dominica with thousands of people losing their lives to the storm. The challenge wasn’t just the initial impact, the real problem lay in reconnecting essential services like power, water and connectivity. The Puerto Rican health ministry was left struggling to manage with facilities more commonly found in war zones than in developed nations.
Smart cities technologies can plan a role in preparing for the bad days. Ensuring access to back up power sources, satellite phones and leveraging solar energy to power local health centers are all vital in the aftermath of disaster. But its also about access. With doctors unable to travel to patients and patients trapped in remote locations the ability to provide telemedicine services available could mean the difference between life and death.
It is easy to use hindsight – if only we’d planned for these problems. But, today with AI and data analytics we can plan and prepare for problems. We can use AI to predict what level of threat a storm brings with it, meaning cities will be able to predict to a high degree of accuracy where flooding is most likely and to take the necessary action to protect its citizens ahead of the storm making ground. That might mean investing in additional storm defenses or in having do-ordinated plans for evacuation and the resources in the right places to support the evacuees.
That same approach, the use of sophisticated data capture and analysis and AI will mean we have a better chance of forecasting and maybe even preventing famine. We’ll be able to feed the world more efficiently because we’ll have a better understanding of the realities of this ever-changing world.
In 2018 the Consumer Technology Agency announced the first CES Eureka Park Climate Change Innovators Awards, recognizing incredible technologies that will have genuine impact. This year more such innovations are being rightly celebrated, from autonomous text message-driven smart valve to address leaks and over consumption in pipes to my particular favorite, the GoSun Fusion hybrid solar cooker. The GoSun solution uses a mix of super efficient vacuum tube and a PV system to create a cooker that uses no fuel other than the sun, a game changer for post disaster situations.
And what this is really about is the one thing that CES celebrates so well – human ingenuity and resilience hand in hand with incredible technology. Now all we need is a technology solution to help us all bounce back from the inevitable CES colds.
CES 3: This Time It’s Personal
My surfing time increases dramatically every December and then again in the run up to the Consumer Electronics Show. In my online pursuit of the perfect gift I couldn’t help but notice a focus on personalization, everyday things made special by the application of a name or monogram. And while I’m sure we all enjoy those personalized socks or a shot glass set, that is only the tip of the personal iceberg.
For the past five years there has been a focus on personal tech at CES, from FitBits to Wi-Fi enabled personalized tooth-brushing programs. The ability to connect devices and analyze data that tells us about patterns of behavior means that there is seemingly no end to the way tech companies can find new ways of embedding personal and personalized technology into our lives.
For someone who makes her living thinking, consulting and writing about technology I can be something of a luddite. I am unconvinced by dog activity trackers for example, although arguably there’s a use in them for monitoring and managing working dogs. Equally I am yet to be persuaded that I need to be able to turn on my oven by voice control – although, again, if I was infirm or differently abled then maybe it would make all the sense in the world.
And that, in a nutshell, is why personalized and personal tech is taking off. Until now, we had to adapt to the technology. We had to change our behavior to use it. And admittedly some of that technology has changed us fundamentally – the mobile phone being just one example.
However, the advances today are somehow smaller and yet equally meaningful at the individual level. At CES Unveiled this week, B2B Cosmetics launched Emuage, the world’s first machine to make fresh and personalized cosmetics in minutes, making it possible for users to craft their own cosmetics based on texture, active ingredients and fragrance. With funding from BASF behind them, B2B Cosmetics is on track to become the world’s leader in cosmetics personalization.
Personalized also means making technology that enables the way you work – Adok has developed an autonomous device that turns any surface into a tactile display, integrating what they term an Intelligent Meeting Assistant that aggregates your apps to make the best use of your time. It might not be to everyone’s taste, but Adok is a viable alternative for those wanting access to the Internet tools they rely upon while working away from a laptop. In a similar way, an interactive wood panel developed by mui Lab has been created to serve as an alternate smart home control hub that allows you to access content, send and receive messages and control smart devices with a swipe of a hand; mui Lab claims this helps you keep a healthy balance between mindfulness and social media.
But wait – personal tech doesn’t just help humans. Thanks to Volta our furry friends can now benefit from some personal consideration, too. Volta, a global cognitive skills provider, is using artificial intelligence to make every pet’s dream come true – a safe and clean way of protecting their food from other pets, children and strays. The Mookkie is an AI powered per feeder, which visually recognizes the individual pet and opens the feeder allowing the pet – and only that pet – access to the deliciousness within. The camera on the Mookkie uses authentication systems, not unlike those used to unlock iPhones, to ensure the right animal gets the right treat. And that has to leave the average kitten feline groovy.
CES 4: Health, Mindfulness and a Loving Companion
It is a fact that no one leaves CES feeling younger than the day they arrived. Punishing hours, miles and miles of show floors, the crowds, the noise, the late nights… it takes a toll. All of which somewhat explain how much innovation is happening in the health and wellness space.
CES exhibitors seem understandably focused on the need for a good night’s sleep, with a myriad of sleep tech solutions like Dreamlight’s smartest sleep mask, which uses lighting, sound and even genetics to help people sleep better. You do have to put in a bit of effort by adopting mindfulness techniques like deep breathing practice, but the mix of internal orange pulsing lights and therapeutic ambient surround sound hypnosis therapy should get even the most hardened insomniac off to sleep.
If it’s stress that’s keeping you awake then you might want to try the Lussaya, a duck-shaped connected object that performs a variety of wellness-related actions such as aromatherapy and light and music therapy. However, if you’re enduring the absolute sleepless joy of new parenthood then the Smartbeat video baby monitor, which reports the exact breath rate of a sleeping child, should at least reduce some of the anxiety so many parents feel with young babies.
Still not sleeping? Cuddle up to a sleep robot instead. Somnox helps improve sleep through breathing regulation and soothing sounds and it can be personalized via an app to suit your individual sleep preferences. Somnox even believes its sleep bot gives you affection.
The start of life is of course a wonderful time, but sadly none of us stay box fresh. Health solutions and technologies designed to help people age well were a major focus of the show, from relieving specific symptoms to monitoring and analyzing physiological data. French medtech firm Chronolife is showcasing a medical device that doubles as a t-shirt; however, this is no ordinary t-shirt. The shirt comes with 10 sensors embedded to generate continuous data on six important factors – EKG, pulmonary respiration, abdominal respiration, skin temperature, physical activity and pulmonary impedance. This could be a game-changing solution for getting accurate information on patients and for getting people out of hospital beds and back home quickly. In fact its HOTS algorithm will be able to detect and predict heart failure events in real time, potentially saving many lives.
Sometimes, as we get older, technology can pass us by, but technology can also help people live a more comfortable life in old age. E-vone has created something that is both smart and simple in its range of GPS-enabled shoes. E-vone uses a device in the sole of the shoe to detect falling or abnormal movement, which then triggers an alert message to be automatically sent to your provided emergency contact or emergency services. This is a perfect solution for the elderly, those working in harsh conditions and security personnel.
Simple ideas well-executed seems to be a theme in this area: WHILL has taken the old-school wheelchair, the design of which hasn’t really changed that much over the years, and transformed it into innovative, stylish personal mobility vehicles with autonomous drive.
Still, even the longest of lives needs a little companionship at times and luckily enough, CES has that covered, too. LOVOT is a companion robot of maximum cuteness. It’s not a useful robot, it won’t fetch your paper or turn off your lights – it is an emotional connectivity device loaded with advanced emotional robotics technology like touch sensors and over 2.3 billion eyes-specifications making it more, well, human. GROOVE X, the creators of LOVOT say “it begs for attention and gets in the way of those it lives with, and at times will shy away from people it does not know. It is adorable just by being there.” Strikes me that what GROOVE X has invented is a cat, but one that doesn’t need the automatic feeders or intelligent litter box. Quite a lot to love about that.