A sense of the future at CES

Toyota’s ambitious plan is to enable people to offer services using e-Palettes.

CES is without doubt the highlight of my year. I’m like a kid in a candy store – except the sweets in this store are gadgets. When you think you’ve seen it all, a trip to the world’s biggest technology show puts things into perspective by giving a sense of where we might be heading.

This year the show celebrated its 51st anniversary and during this time over 700 000 products have been launched. It continues to grow year-on-year and 2018 saw over 4 000 companies exhibiting, including 600 startups. Over 180 000 industry professionals (the show isn’t open to the public) came to get a glimpse of the next big thing.

To put the size of the exhibiting area into perspective, it’s the size of 38 soccer fields or twice the size of the Mall of Africa.

Echo everywhere
To date, Amazon has sold close to 20 million units of its Echo devices, with the Alexa intelligent personal assistant embedded. The e-commerce colossus is betting on the future of voice control, and has a team of 5 000 people working on Alexa. The company is building partnerships across a broad range of industries from automotive to consumer electronics, embedding the Alexa assistant into almost any device with a processor.

But Amazon wasn’t getting all the limelight. Google
 is also getting in on the act. The search engine giant had a
 strong showing of Google Assistant embedded in many products and a huge advertising presence at the event. 2018 will be an interesting year to see what Apple does with its intelligent assistant Siri, and likewise Microsoft with Cortana.

Sophia from Hanson Robotics, is super smart and able to have semi-intelligent conversations with humans. (Andrew Lipovsky) Sophia from Hanson Robotics, is super smart and able to have semi-intelligent conversations with humans. (Andrew Lipovsky)
Screens supreme
If you’ve just purchased a new TV and thought you had the best that money can offer, CES has spoilt the party. This year Samsung displayed its latest premium QLED technology, featuring 8K screens. The picture quality is jaw-dropping.

An interesting concept launched by Samsung was The Wall – a modular solution allowing you to literally build a TV according to the size of your room. If you don’t want wall space cluttered with a big, black mirror, LG introduced a foldable OLED television. The 65 inch 4K television rolls up like a poster into a soundbar box below to free up wall space when not needed.

See what?
The AR and VR products on display proved that these areas are fast maturing. Until now these products
have been clunky and awkward to use, and visually unspectacular. The latest technology however moves the experience towards becoming seamless, and headsets becoming wireless.

Screens have improved considerably and devices are becoming standalone devices. Lenovo launched the Mirage Solo using Google’s Daydream Virtual Reality platform. The standalone headset has a 110-degree field of view and runs on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 VR platform.

An autonomous future
What excited me the most at CES were the developments in the automotive sector. This is where we get a sense of the future, as AI, IoT, 5G and other tech all merge together.

Toyota showed off a concept car called the e-Palette. The concept was not just about a car that drives itself. The strange looking vehicle looks like a see-through cargo container on wheels. Toyota’s ambitious plan is to enable people to offer services using e-Palettes. These next-generation vehicles can be adapted to transport people, deliver packages, or become a retailing solution like a mobile pizza restaurant or a store selling running shoes. It’s completely customisable.

Self-driving cars are closer than we expect. Ride-hailing company Lyft partnered
with BMW and Aptiv, a company focusing on automated driving, to chauffeur delegates around CES in a eet of self-driving cars. CES delegates simply had to hail a ride via the Lyft app and choose from 20 destinations across Las Vegas. Each car had a human behind the wheel as a safety precaution, but not once did they have to intervene throughout the duration of the show.

Aibo has a new lease on life. Aibo has a new lease on life.
Robot domination
With strides being made in artificial intelligence, there’s no doubt that robots are also evolving at pace. Honda unveiled robots designed to interact with humans to help in everyday tasks and locations - such as retail environments, to help less able bodied people around the home, or in industrial situations.

Sophia from Hanson Robotics, is super smart, able to have semi-intelligent conversations with humans, but how closely she resembles a real person is what freaked me out the most.

However, the robot that stole the show was Sony’s Aibo. Remember the cute robotic dog Sony introduced 19 years ago, and ‘put to sleep’ just over a decade ago when sales started declining. Well, thanks to advances in AI, faster chip speed and access to the cloud, Aibo has a new lease on life. Sony’s latest generation pet robotic dog
 is designed to learn from humans and it adapts its emotions accordingly to become a realistic companion.

A tidy solution
The wackiest gadget I saw at CES was a machine, from a company called Foldimate, that folds your clothes. Slightly bigger than a bar fridge, the machine has an opening at the top where you feed clothes in and a compartment at the bottom where the folded clothing comes out. Foldimate says the machine will cost $1 000 and will be commercially available in 2019.

The invisible touch
The predominant technology at CES was an invisible one. Every device is becoming smarter thanks to artificial intelligence and the power of the cloud. The possibilities are endless, and as more devices talk to each other and share information, we’re moving into a complex world where the technology starts developing its own ‘central nervous system’ – that’s where technology starts getting both exciting and scary.

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