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CES 2017: 10 Stories from Day One

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For almost 50 years, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has been seen as the tech industry's ground zero. This is the show, held annually in Las Vegas, though initially held in New York, that sets the trends for the year to follow. One of the largest trade shows to take place in the bustling city every year, it always starts the year with a bang and this year looks set to be no different. I'll be examining the show in more detail on Monday once the dust has settled, but for now, here are ten of the stories coming out of sin city's biggest tech show that piqued my interest this afternoon.

 

Faraday Future's electric car will offer the ultimate in-car connectivity

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Start-up tech company Faraday Future (FF) unveiled its first vehicle, the FF 91, ahead of CES. The electric car, which can accelerate from 0 to 60mph in under three seconds, is set to rival other electric manufacturers like Tesla, by adapting to the personal preferences of its users over time. Collaborating with internet company LeEco, FF designed the 91 to offer “the ultimate in-car connectivity” by integrating digital elements such as the user’s frequently used apps. Features also include facial recognition technology, which recognises the faces of both drivers and passengers and unlocks the car automatically as they approach it, meaning there are technically no keys required. The car greets the driver or passenger by opening the door automatically, while cameras inside the car use the same facial recognition technology to customise the interior settings to match that person’s preferences, such as seating position, temperature, driving style and music and films. The car’s glass roof, rear and side windows all feature glass dimming technology, which users can operate by tapping on the glass, while the driverless valet feature allows the car to park itself. Users can also get the car to return from where it is parked, or schedule a time and location to be automatically picked up. FF is now accepting deposits of $5,000 (£4,065) for the FF 91, which is set to go into production in 2018. The unveiling did run into something of a snafu, however, as the system malfunctioned during the launch presentation. After pressing the park button on a handheld remote, the car failed to move. The company's vice president of engineering, Nick Sampson, responded with the comment: “As a new baby, she's very, very timid.” Smooth stuff Nick!

 

CES organiser calls UK gov support for tech start-ups an “embarrassment”

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On the eve of CES, organiser Gary Shapiro branded the UK government's alleged lack of support for start-ups in the tech field a “source of embarrassment.” Shapiro made the comments to the BBC ahead of the opening of the Consumer Electronics Show, with the event organiser also stating that the UK's success in the field was being eclipsed by countries such as France, the Netherlands and Israel. Mr Shapiro explained: “Britain's been a little slow to the game honestly. We have a minister from Britain coming but there's not a lot of activity that we've seen at CES. I think it's a source of embarrassment. Now we're starting to see other countries take notice. We've seen that the Netherlands and others going in there big time.” According to the BBC, there are nearly five times as many French companies attending this year's event as British ones, something which Shapiro attributes to the French government focusing on helping its entrepreneurs. He feels this attitude hasn't been adopted by UK ministers, who he feels have a more short-sighted attitude. However, a spokeswoman for the UK's Department for International Trade (DIT) said that it was providing “targeted support” to its country's start-ups. UK start-up Smarter Applications, which is launching a fridge webcam at CES that alerts owners when food nears its expiry date, disagreed with the DIT however, underlining Shapiro's concerns by stating that other countries had offered them support when the UK hadn't. MD Isabella Lane, explained: “We've been invited to networking drinks from the Holland embassy and plenty of other European countries that have a presence there and support [their start-ups] by doing networking events. We don't have anything of that ilk and there is no UK government base over at CES.”

 

Lego Boost Kit aims to help kids learn coding

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Lego used CES as a platform to announce a kit for building and programming robots, which has been designed to encourage younger generations to learn how to code. Developed for children aged seven and older, the Lego Boost Kit allows users to assemble moving toys from a range of programmable elements and the Danish company's iconic plastic bricks. A block called a Move Hub forms a base component for the robots that can be paired with a motor, and a sensor that combines colour and distance detection. The kit comes with all the parts needed to build five different models: Vernie the Robot, Frankie the Cat, the Guitar 4000, the Multi-Tool Rover 4 (M.T.R.4), and the Autobuilder. A free app provides the building instructions and simple coding commands needed to animate each of the toys. Designed to mimic the process of building Lego, the interface requires users to link digital coding blocks in a horizontal layout. The Lego Boost app also includes instructions for adding movement to a builder's custom model. Three bases will be available when the product launches: a walking base for making animals, a driving base for building vehicles, and an entrance base for castles, forts or space stations. Lego Boost will be available from the second half of 2017, with a suggested retail price of around £130.

We want children to first and foremost have a fun and limitless play experience, adding the coding opportunity is the means to get there” Lego Design Lead, Simon Kent

 

Nvidia join the self-driving vehicle game

Nvidia (a company best known for their graphics cards) and automotive supplier ZF have teamed up to launched a self-driving vehicle system designed for commercial applications. The ZF ProAI system, which was being shown off at CES this week, makes cars, trucks, and other commercial vehicles involved in factory work and agriculture autonomous. It's not just cars and trucks, but other commercial vehicles that will benefit from the ZF ProAI system, which ZF CEO Stefan Sommer said is using Nvidia's AI I to “take a giant leap forward” in enabling vehicular autonomy. ZF ProAI works by processing inputs from multiple cameras, plus lidar, radar and ultrasonic sensors, allowing vehicles to paint a 360-degree view, as well as determine safe routes through traffic while tracking itself on an HD map. The obvious benefits of AI-powered vehicles are a drop in traffic congestion and fatalities. Nvidia had a lot to say on the subject of self-driving cars at CES. It also showed off the Nvidia BB8, a self-driving car sharing a name with everyone's favourite new droid from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It also announced a new partnership with Audi to put Nvidia tech in its fleet of self-drivers.

 

BMW also double-down on self-driving tech

Another company to use the trade show as an excuse to firmly throw their keys in the self-driving vehicle bowl was BMW, who claimed that as many as 40 autonomous BMW 7-series cars will hit the streets later this year. The self-driving Beemers are the result of a joint effort between the BMW Group, Intel, and Mobileye. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich says the self-driving cars have been “validated to the highest level of safety,” due in part to the fact that the companies have been able to pool their resources. BMW's fleet of self-driving cars will be put to the test globally, in real traffic, a step up from the controlled environment of a test track. On top of its new fleet of test cars, the partnership announced plans to release hardware samples and software updates to help spur on development of the platform.

 

The LG robots that will mow your lawn and clean our airports

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I already mentioned the fleet of intelligent robots LG were intending on showing off at CES this year, and lo and behold, the company surprised nobody by doing just that during the trade show yesterday. The trio of robots are meant to showcase LG’s advancements in artificial intelligence and its developments in the field of IoT (Internet of Things), the tech discipline focused on network-enabled objects that work in conjunction with web services. In an effort to give users a smarter home, LG showed off the Hub Robot, a robot that uses Amazon’s Alexa voice recognition technology and connects to other smart appliances you own. The Hub Robot uses an anthropomorphic design to interact with family and friends, and it can express emotions by showing a face on its built-in display. The company said the robot can also respond using simple body language, like nodding. It can be programmed to recognise family members using its built-in camera and give each person a customised greeting. But LG isn’t just interested in building robots to help you around the house. The company’s Airport Guide Robot can come to the rescue to answer your travel-related questions. It can also scan a passenger’s ticket, offer directions, or even escort you to the departure gate. Conversely, LG’s Airport Cleaning Robot is the foil to the informative airport guide. The company describes it as a robot vacuum capable of cleaning everything from carpet floors to tiles. Finally, there’s the Lawn Mowing Robot, which uses its fast-moving blade to trim grass safely and accurately. The Lawn Mowing bot uses the same sensors and bumpers as the airport robot to map obstacles, hedges, and trees.

 

Swagtron unveil hoverboards, electric bikes and more!

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Swagtron, a company probably best known for its T-line of hoverboards, had a slew of products to show off at CES, including its SwagSurf electric surfboard that lets you board across the sea at speeds just shy of 15 mph. Also part of its 2017 product line up is the SwagRoller electric unicycle; a device that can cruise at almost 10 mph with a range up to 9 miles. Swagtron is also showing off its T6 off-road hoverboard, with 10-inch, tubeless tires sitting on aluminium rims. The fastest device Swagtron has on deck for 2017, however, is its new electrically-assisted bicycle, the SwagCycle Urban E-bike. The company lists the bike's top-speed at a recorded 40 mph, with a maximum range of up to 55.9 miles on a single charge.

 

Honda go full high-tech and team up with Visa for unique in-car payment system

Honda introduced two new technology-packed vehicles during CES this year: its Riding Assist Motorcyle and NeuV Concept Smart Car. The NeuV (which stands for "New Electric Urban Vehicle") is a concept car Honda built based around the idea of bringing extra value to car owners when they aren't using their cars. When not in use, the idea goes, the NeuV would serve as an automated ride sharing vehicle, ferrying customers to their destinations while you sit at home. The Riding Assist Motorcycle, meanwhile uses robotics tech originally designed for Honda's self-balancing personal mobility device, the UNI-CUB. The technology greatly reduces the chances of the bike tipping over when at rest. It looks pretty sweet, too! Honda also used CES this year to show off their new partnership with Visa, which has resulted in an in-vehicle payment system designed with the car in mind, and. To demonstrate its new system at the show, Honda is using fuel pumps from Gilbarco Veeder-Root and smart parking meters from the IPS Group. It's similar in function to the payment system you may have on your smartphone in that it does away with the need to hand over cash or swipe a plastic card. If you pull up to a compatible device, the car will let you know you can pay for fuel or parking using the system. IPS Group's smart parking meters are already on select streets across both North America and Europe. Gilbarco Veeder-Root's compatible pumps let customers select an amount and pay for fuel before stepping out of the vehicle, effectively taking all the guess work out of fuelling up!

 

Razer projector turns your whole room into a battlefield

Razer have revealed Project Ariana, its new Chroma-enabled, whole-room projector that reacts in real-time, surrounding users in video and lighting effects during game play. On top of its new Chroma projector, Razer has also opened up its technology to third-parties such as Philips Hue, Lenovo, Antec, and more. The projector is not a traditional, stand-alone projector. Instead, it utilises an ultra-wide fish-eye lens to project images on an entire room to provide better immersion in enabled games. Project Ariana adapts the projection of in-game elements to the dimensions and features of the environment in which it's being used. It uses a pair of 3D cameras and proprietary calibration software, to automatically adjust to furniture and lighting conditions. Just when we thought the HTC Vive was as immersive as games were ever going to get!

Having a game literally surround a gamer completes the entire ecosystem of gaming” Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan

 

Panasonic use IBM Watson in new automobile tech

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Panasonic used CES 2017 to underline its plans to make driving more exciting in the future. The company announced collaborations with auto and computing companies for both “infotainment” and self-driving cars going forward. IBM is teaming up with Panasonic, and is using its Watson technology to develop an “eCommerce infotainment system” called Panasonic Cognitive Infotainment. The platform promises such conveniences as an eCommerce transaction with a quick service restaurant, meaning you could, for example, order a meal while on the road and have it paid and readied for delivery when you arrive. It's also working with Qualcomm to create Android-based infotainment systems. The initiative uses Android 7.0 technology and offers auto makers a way to consolidate technology experiences over an entire vehicle line-up. The first car to utilise this concept is the Chrysler Portal concept minivan (above), which is designed to “create the utmost affordable, adaptable and upgradeable autonomous automobile experience,” according to Panasonic.

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It's only been open to the public for 2 days now, but, as you can see, there's already so much to discuss. Join me once again on Monday for an examination of the top trends and everything that was unveiled over the weekend alongside some intriguing industry insider insights.

Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and struggling musician from Kidderminster in the UK.

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