Automated and Electric Cars takeover the show floor
The trend I noticed from this year's CES above all others was the prevalence of automobiles on the show floor. Whilst we are probably a good few years away from the technology becoming commonplace, especially in the UK, CES 2017 proved that electric cars can play with the big boys and that automated transportation is no longer the stuff of science fiction.
Japanese automaker Toyota were at the head of the pack with their bold looking Concept-i, which aims to apparently “build a relationship that is meaningful and human” between the driver and the vehicle's artificial intelligence system, called Yui. The entire vehicle aims to evoke a sense of a welcoming, friendly future, where machines and humans coexist in a happy, symbiotic relationship. This might sound more than a little creepy, but I'm going to err on the side of optimism here and say it's oddly charming. Toyota argue that the inevitability of high-tech cars means focus should be on the experience of the people who engage with those vehicles. The Concept-i is just that, of course (a concept) and probably won't be hitting the road as a production model, but the ideas presented by it will no doubt find their way into Toyota's future cars.
“Connectivity means extensive data sharing, which is not only important for safe and convenient mobility with a highly automated element but opens up other possibilities too” BMW
BMW, meanwhile, has transformed its 5 Series Sedan into a futuristic concept vehicle that can drive and park itself, understand gestures and even receive drone deliveries on the road. The German automotive brand has utilised connected home technologies into its conceptual car prototype, which aims to demonstrate how the next generation of personal vehicles will not only feature automated driving, but will also be able to connect up with the owners' other electronic devices, via the internet of things. Featuring a futuristic exterior with concealed wheels and strip lighting, the modified Sedan is linked up to BMW's digital platform, the Open Mobility Cloud. Users can connect to this using smartphones and smartwatches, or via digital touch points on the car. This system is able to recognise different methods of communication. It includes voice recognition, as well as a gesture-control system, allows users to give different types of instruction or to source information about their surroundings.
It wasn't just the big boys of the automotive trade that had something impressive to show off at CES this year either. Nuance Communications used the event to announce an exciting new Artificial Intelligence and Automotive Assistant capabilities for its Dragon Drive connected car framework. Dragon Drive now features always-listening multi-passenger communication and AI-enabled text messaging, as well as additional feature for driver personalisation. Nuance has expanded the capabilities of its Automotive Assistant, providing automakers with the ability to extend assistant capabilities to all passengers in the car. With its Multi-passenger interaction solution, the in-car assistant can communicate with multiple people in the car using Nuance’s wake-up word technology and identifying the passenger with voice biometrics. Nuance also announced advanced AI-enabled text messaging, which means that the automotive assistant can understand the context of an incoming message and proactively suggest a response or take an action based on its contents. Nuance’s AI-enabled text messaging also inserts additional context and information into an outgoing message dictated through the system.
“Automakers are redefining innovation in the HMI with conversational automotive assistants that bring artificial intelligence behind the wheel” Arnd Weil, SVP at Nuance Mobile
Home Entertainment never stops evolving
Whilst you'd certainly be forgiven for thinking that it will never get any better than 4K HDR television and Netflix, the denizens of CES once again went to great lengths to show us that home entertainment will never stop evolving.
The resolution of the world of tomorrow is going to be 8K (7680x4320 pixels), whether we like it or not, and thanks to a new HDMI specification, it will be with us sooner than you might have expected. The HDMI Forum, the people in charge of HDMI, announced version 2.1 of the HDMI specification at CES last week. The 2.1 version supports 8K resolution at 60Hz, as well as 4K at 120Hz. Also included in the new specification is Dynamic HDR, and a new cable supporting uncompressed HDR 8K video data transfer at a staggering 48Gbps. The new cables are also backwards-compatible with earlier HDMI specifications, and work with existing HDMI devices.
Sony, meanwhile, introduced a new short-throw 4K projector, awkwardly named “New 4K Projector It's all here,” which can be used as a traditional 4K projector, but, as part the Life Space line, has a lot more to offer. In Sony's example, the projector is used to project “a vast amount of book covers” onto a surface. From there, you can pick out one you like and leaf through its pages. The Life Space UX line was shown off at last year's CES, as well, and the line, including Sony's portable 4K projector, LED bulb speaker, and a speaker made of glass, were all on display at Sony's booth this year. Sony also used the event to unveil its new line of 4K, HDR Bravia televisions, which are doing away with speakers entirely! The A1E series has Sony's Acoustic Surface technology built in, which vibrates the display itself and allows sound to output directly from the TV screen. The lack of speakers means the A1E series has a super-thin bezel that's uniformly super-thin around the entire set. The new Bravia A1E Series TVs come in 77, 65, and 55-inch configurations. They also come equipped with Android TV, giving them a Google-infused smart TV experience with voice control. No details on pricing or availability were given out by Sony, but you can bet they won't come cheap!
LG also unveiled its new top-of-the-line, razor-thin televisions during CES. Its 2017 OLED signature television line-up includes five new models ranging in size from 55- to 77-inches. The OLED panel on the 65-inch models measure a mere 2.57mm thick, something LG claims allows the television to be mounted to a wall using only magnetic brackets. The new line also offers Dolby Atmos sound technology, something LG says makes its new OLED's capable of simultaneously delivering cutting-edge imaging and state-of-the-art sound technologies. On top of thinness and high-tech sound delivery, the new line-up supports several different HDR standards, including Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HLG, which is excellent news if you're concerned with compatibility issues concerning HDR content.
The PC Gaming world flexes its muscles
Another trend I noticed making surprising in-roads at this year's show was the apparent resurgence in PC gaming tech. With the 'big three' gaming giants of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo saving the lion's share of their big reveals for E3, CES 2017 revealed itself as the perfect opportunity for the PC gaming world to bring out the big guns.
Ignoring VR for the time being, the big word for PC gaming this year appeared to be “immersion,” with Razer revealing not only a projector that effectively brings the game world into your room, but a super powerful gaming laptop with three, built-in 17-inch screens! Dubbed “Project Valerie,” the laptop in question uses a proprietary set of hinges, which deploy to reveal three monitors, equally sized at 17.3-inches and each sporting up to 4K resolution. When fully deployed, the laptop gives users an absolutely ridiculous resolution of 11,520 x 2160. Powering all those pixels is a desktop-grade Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card, which also makes Project Valerie perfect for VR.
During its CES keynote address last week, Nvidia took the lid off the newest iteration of the Nvidia Shield, its set-top streaming device. In addition to Netflix and YouTube 4K HDR streaming support, the Shield now supports Amazon Video in 4K HDR, as well. Also coming to the Shield is a new Steam app to allow users to stream Steam games from their PC, similar to Valve's own set-top device. The Shield is capable of streaming 4K HDR gaming content to a compatible television from a compatible PC. The new Shield also works with Nvidia Spot, a small little orb that integrates the Shield with Google Assistant from anywhere in your home you decide to place the Spot. Nvidia also used their keynote to introduce a cloud-based gaming solution to let PC gamers access its top-end hardware without needing to assemble a high-powered gaming PC. The GeForce Now service uses GTX 1080-equipped machines in data centres to stream games to PCs and Macs. Nvidia is selling the service by touting it as an alternative to upgrading or replacing older computers. The service is compatible with most PCs and Macs, and requires downloading the GeForce Now client. All you'll require is a decent broadband connection. The service is tiered, however, so that you'll get a better performance the more you pay. Nvidia offers a free 8 hours on a GeForce GTX 1060 PC or 4 hours on a GTX 1080 PC. From there, the pricing follows the same rule of halves so for $25 you get 20 hours on the 1060 or 10 on the 1080. Personally, I'd rather just shell out for the upgrade.
The Internet of Things actually becomes a thing
The internet of things is one of those buzzwords (or more accurately, buzz phrases) that has been doing the rounds for a while now, but now the concept of a connected home is becoming more mainstream, companies appear to be designing bolder and more interesting appliances and platforms.
Amongst a slew of other big announcement, LG used CES 2017 to introduce its new smart refrigerator, which features a 29-inch touchscreen and Amazon Alexa support. The Door-in-Door refrigerator lets you check on the food inside without needing to open the door and stare wistfully at the contents inside. The function is activated by knocking twice on the door. A super-wide angle 2 megapixel interior camera lets to view the contents from several different angles using your smartphone, which means you can be at the grocery store and see what you need on a whim. Alexa support lets you order more food items through Amazon Pantry, or search recipes online. Basically it's the refrigerator of the very-near future. A “Smart Tag” lets you tag items in the fridge to let you know what's inside, and you can program the expiration dates for items as well. It also lets family members leave notes and to-do lists on the screen, which is always handy.
Panasonic showed off a robot egg at CES 2017 that could serve as a desktop companion in the future. The proof of concept robot is described by Panasonic to have “human-like movements and communication skills,” is equipped with Wi-Fi to access cloud data, has an embedded projector, and is “about the size of a standard kitchen countertop blender.” There were no announcements on when or if the robot will be available for consumers, as the egg was reportedly only being shown off at Panasonic's booth for feedback on its features and functions. Panasonic has, however, already submitted patents and other legal applications for the robot.
Hubble Connected, the cloud-based IoT platform from Binatone for the Emotional Home, also announced several new innovations at CES. HUGO, the world’s first truly intelligent smart camera, was unveiled together with IVO, an integrated hub for the home and nursery; both with Alexa Voice integration. Additional updates from Binatone's partnership with Motorola also included a new portable home monitoring solution together with a suite of new Smart Nursery products, True Wireless audio and a retro inspired range of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi portable speakers, while the Hubble Connected platform introduces Emotionalytics (literally emotional analysis) and a host of other new services and technology advancements that keep users in touch with everything in their homes. Notice how often Alexa is popping up here? I'm sensing a theme.
The internet of things is even planning to take over our bathrooms. I'm not talking about smart toilets here, but smart toothbrushes. Kolibree, a tech firm specialising in dental products, used CES 2017 to present the Ara Toothbrush, which collects data about users' brushing habits, even when not connected to its corresponding app. The product is designed to help users improve their oral health, by providing feedback about brushing techniques collected by integrated artificial intelligence. The brush uses low-energy Bluetooth (there's a great pun in there somewhere) to connect to an app, which displays brushing data including frequency, duration and areas covered. However, even when not linked up to the app, it still collects and stores this data until transferring it over during automatic syncing. The brush's AI learns its user's habits to provide more accurate data and, as a result, let you know how best to look after your teeth. It also boasts a two-week battery life and retails for just over £100. SOLD!
Cameras step out from behind the smartphone
The concept of a humble, standalone camera might sound a little quaint given the modern advancements in smartphone camera technology, but the industry is hitting back this year by producing not only products that can be used in tandem with smart devices, but bespoke products that offer features you simply wouldn't or couldn't find in an iPhone.
The next generation KODAK PIXPRO 360 4K VR Camera has adopted a compact, single-body design to target the rapidly growing 360° VR video consumer market. The 4KVR360 adopts a minimalist approach to an all-in-one 360° VR camera, with two 4K fixed focus lenses housed on either side of the futuristic camera body. Each lens is designed to work in tandem, to capture full 360° 4K Video and easily upload 360° content to social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube via the camera’s Smart Device App on the go.
FLIR Systems, meanwhile, announced the launch of five new thermal imaging cameras, including two new third generation FLIR ONE thermal camera attachments for smartphones, two new dual sensor thermal cameras for drones, and a ruggedised compact thermal camera for home and building inspectors. All five products feature FLIR Lepton, FLIR's revolutionary thermal micro-camera core, and FLIR's patented multispectral dynamic imaging (MSX) technology, which dramatically improves image quality and readability by dynamically embossing high-fidelity, visible-light details onto the thermal imagery. The company also unveiled the drone industry's first multi-sensor camera, also featuring FLIR's Lepton thermal micro-camera core, a high-definition (HD) 1080p visible camera, and FLIR's patented MSX technology. The FLIR Duo and Duo R offer versatile onboard recording to a micro SD card and real-time remote control of camera functions and can be mounted to any airframe capable of holding the most popular action cameras.
The VR backlash?
One final thing I did notice about CES this year was the surprising (at least comparative to earlier years) lack of virtual reality. Honestly, given the widespread coverage the medium has experienced over the last 12 months, it was about time it experienced some kind of backlash, but I wasn't expecting it to be almost completely absent at CES 2017. With few announcements of note to focus on, I instead noticed just one interesting VR activation at the show. The most interesting thing about it is that it didn't actually involve VR at all.
Tinder tricked attendees into thinking it had found a more novel solution to modern dating than thumbing through pictures of potential romantic matches on your smartphone. Looking to capitalise on the trend for all things VR, the dating app unveiled a spoof headset designed for two people. Dubbed Tinder VR, the company claimed in a blog post that it felt inspired to create its own version of the tech in the new year. “But here’s the thing: our mission has always been to get people together to have real experiences in the real world,” the company added, “so how do we reconcile the fact that VR is the antithesis of this?” The answer seemingly came to the LA-based firm in the form of “removing the V from VR.” The result was a multi-user VR headset designed with the Tinder experience in mind, and like the app it only works when both users opt in and places them face to face. Tinder put the fake product on display at CES, alongside the caveat: “Welcome to the future. It’s all about human connection. Give it a try—you might enjoy it.” A truly wonderful idea.
Matthew Franey, Chief Executive Officer at Foxtrot Papa
Forward-thinking marketing professionals will be keeping a close eye on this year’s CES in Las Vegas. This event not only helps marketers to gauge what's on the horizon for consumer tech, but also hints at the impact and opportunities this could have for brands.
CES was originally created for and attended by technology giants and start-ups. However, with the automotive industry on the brink of a major shift towards connected, electric and even driverless cars, and auto companies looking for alternatives to traditional car shows that are increasingly expensive and less attractive to visitors, this year's CES has attracted major automotive players.
With the likes of Apple, Google and Samsung steaming into the auto industry, automotive companies need to join them, as they won’t beat them. Car companies, both old and new, have a long journey ahead of them as they seek to bring automotive tech into the mainstream, and will therefore need to think and act the same as the tech giants if they want to achieve this. Traditional automotive marketing has opted for the slow and steady approach, but in attending events such as CES, the opportunity is there for automotive brands to openly market new tech advancements as they occur. It is this approach that will ultimately align car brands with their tech counterparts, as the latter will always market themselves this way.
Matt Gee, Head of Digital Transformation at Isobar
CES 2017 has not been about the big ‘I’ that is innovation, rather the smaller I’s’ of iteration and integration. The evolution of the big tech trends of the past few years – AI, machine learning, voice recognition, robotics and connected ‘smart’ products are firmly making their way into the consumer market through a proliferation of devices and gadgets on show at CES. Smart beds and showers, child and anger management robots, autonomous driving and Alexa everywhere are a few examples of some of the highlights on show.
These new touchpoints signal a future where machines do more and more of our heavy lifting, freeing our time up to simply give instruction or make easy decisions. Integration into our daily lives as an extension to natural language and emotion will eventually render much of the current fanfare on show as background rather than foreground, where the current narrative lies. It is at this stage where the next wave of innovation will be born. Amazon is already positioning itself for this, as are Google, Microsoft and inevitably Apple.
For clients and brands, leading with behavioural rather than product solutions which are repeatable and where ‘smart’ is applied to customisation and integration would be my recommended approach. In the meantime I’ll put on my VR exoskeleton, ask Alexa to turn on my smart shower and fight underwater drones. After that I’ll get into my smart bed and my sleep monitor will let me know how well I’ve done in the morning. Goodnight.
Joseph Worswick, Head of Sales UK at Media iQ
From smart hairbrushes to smart mattresses that help you get a better night’s sleep, CES has once again shown us how our relationship with the world around us is becoming increasingly connected. From an advertising prospective, how we interact with these new, emerging digital experiences will fundamentally alter the ways advertisers can collect data, to build highly-targeted consumer segments and, most importantly, reach more customers in a more engaging and personalised way.
Obviously, data-hungry advertisers have been exploring innovative data capture methods for some time. However, if CES 2017 has taught us anything, it’s that customers are becoming more comfortable with sharing highly-personal information, but only if it will make their lives easier. Whether this involves smart devices fitted around your house that can register sentiment or the rising number of voice-controlled smart devices for around the home, customers are craving technology that simplifies and organises their everyday lives.
As a result, we can expect to see brands employing a far greater number of digitally immersive advertising experiences to engage with customers in 2017. As with most new technologies, early adopters will be the biggest winners. But, ultimately customers will still have the final say on how much or when they choose to share their highly-prized and valuable information with the brands they trust.
Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and struggling musician from Kidderminster in the UK. For more on CES 2017, check out his earlier piece on some of the top stories from last week's show.