CES 2017 – Dominated by Alexa, Flooded with International Attendance

By Francis J. Gorman

This blog is a collection of three articles written by Frank that were first published on January 6, 9, and 12, 2017, by The Daily Record in Baltimore, Maryland.

CES 2017 – The 50th Anniversary Year

CES is 50 years old! It’s come a long way since the first show in 1967 in New York City. Then, 17,000 attendees came to see the “new” electronic products displayed by 117 exhibitors such as small screen, black and white TV’s, transistor radios, and stereo record players. In 1967, nothing on display was connected to the internet.

Today, CES is a global show testing even the capacity of sprawling Las Vegas. CES 2017 has 165,000 attendees and 3,800 exhibitors from 150 countries using 2.5 million square feet of floor space. Just about everything on display is wirelessly connected to the internet, regularly referred to hear as “connectivity” or the Internet of Things. The connectivity concept has already given us smart homes and smart buildings. Connectivity will extend to smart cities and smart industries and will become personalized as these connected devices become more intelligent. It’s all on display at CES 2017.

There is an excellent line up of keynote speakers, including the CEO’s of Nissan, Qualcomm and Under Armour. Yesterday, Arnold Donald, the CEO of Carnival Corporation, described and displayed the ocean medallion, a Bluetooth device the size of a quarter that can be wearable or carried in your pocket. It will be offered to cruise ship passengers to replace onboard use of tickets, wallets, and keys. (Kevin Plank’s keynote is Friday afternoon, and I plan to attend and write about the talk in my next article.)

There are three major venues — Tech East, Tech West, and Tech South – and you could spend all day at each. Tech East is the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Westgate Hotel where products and services relating to virtual and augmented reality, personal and cyber security, drones, and self-driving technology are concentrated. Tech West is the Sands Expo, the Venetian, and the Palazzo featuring 3D printing, fitness and health, sensors, smart homes, robotics, and baby tech. Tech South is the ARIA which hosts “C Space” for creative advertisers, brand marketers, and entertainment content producers and distributors. Over 100 conference sessions on a wide range of technology topics are held at CES 2017 throughout all the venues.

Ten major automobile manufacturers are displaying new vehicle technologies – Audi, BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen. GM is missing, although it has displayed its products at CES in previous years. Most of these exhibitors give actual demonstrations of a car using their driving technologies. Nuance Communications introduced a new voice recognition software for automobiles called Dragon Drive that combines voice recognition and artificial intelligence.

About six-hundred small startup businesses display their products and technologies at the “Eureka Park” exhibition in Sands Expo. Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association which sponsors CES, calls startups the heart and soul of innovation. Many of the startup companies are from overseas — France, China, Ukraine, Netherlands, Israel, and other countries. At Eureka Park, I tested prototype wireless VR goggles made by MeWoo, a Beijing startup that also produces its own Magical World video content; saw new holographic technology from Kino-mo, a London startup that produces holograms moving about in thin air; and examined Q.RAD, a computing heater made by Qarnot, a French startup, that uses embedded microprocessors as a heat source.

Finally, the U.S. International Trade Commission is present at CES 2017 dispensing export advice and opportunities at the Convention Center, and the United State Postal Service is present promoting new shipping and direct-mail options. Innovation is catching and spreading at CES 2017.

Leading Technologies at CES 2017

The two leading edge technologies at the show were artificial intelligence and augmented reality.

Artificial Intelligence. It was IBM’s Watson that propelled artificial intelligence onto the world stage. Watson is a supercomputer with a cognitive system capable of answering natural language questions. In 2011, Watson beat two human contestants on Jeopardy to win a $1 million prize. That same year, Apple introduced Siri, the first artificial intelligence application widely available to consumers. Siri was followed by other digital voices that can provide answers and information, Google Now in 2012 and Microsoft’s Cortana in 2015.

In short, artificial intelligence is a computer doing what we used to think only humans can do.

The dominant force in artificial intelligence at CES 2017, however, was Amazon’s Alexa, a voice service technology. Alexa powers two very popular Amazon devices — Echo first sold in 2014 and its smaller version, Echo Dot. Neither were exhibited at CES. Echo is different from Siri and Cortana because it is not tethered to your hand or a smart phone or computer. Echo resides on its own in your home or office. It can be activated when you’re getting dressed, reviewing documents, cooking dinner, or putting on a band-aid. Because it was the hottest selling consumer electronic product in 2016, many exhibitors at CES 2017 developed and promoted products that work with Alexa.

Two example are GE Appliances’ products (refrigerators, dishwashers) that use Alexa to respond to voice commands and JAM Audio’s new speaker device named JAM Voice that Alexa much like Echo does.

Alexa and Echo do have competition, however. Google Home is a speaker device powered by Google Assistant (the improved version of Google Now). And the bold CEO of gaming company Nvidia, Jen-Hsun Huang, introduced Spot, an artificial intelligence device that responds to voice commands using Google Assistant. Nevertheless, in the home/office market for artificial intelligence, Amazon has a big lead over Google.

Augmented Reality. Let’s start with the difference between virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). With VR, a viewer sees a simulated environment. With AR, a viewer sees a real environment that is modified (enhanced or diminished) by computer-generated digital content such as sound, graphics, and data.

Augmented Reality

VR technology has been well represented at previous CES events, primarily by headsets for gaming and immersive fantasy experiences in downloaded content from a computer or delivered wired or wirelessly by a smart phone. VR headsets continued to improve at CES 2017. Dlodlo displayed an “all-in one” X1 headset that can run independently, not tethered to or dependent on PC’s or smart phones. The challenges for VR are attracting more producers to generate VR content developing industry standards for transmitting 360-degree video and integrating VR on web platforms.

AR technology opens a whole new field of applications – training and education, real estate marketing, repairs, product purchasing decisions, construction, movie and stage direction, tours and maps, and more. Many of these applications, however, are more appropriate for business and education; they are not consumer-oriented. Nevertheless, CES 2017 touted AR, and some consumer applications did surface. At the Qualcomm exhibit, there was a demonstration of how a consumer ready to buy a new chair could use AR to see if the chair would fit in her living room and where. Using a Lenovo smartphone with Qualcomm processor and Google’s Tango AR platform, the consumer at home could place (and move around) an image of the chair into a live view of the living room on the phone screen. Another consumer application would be overlaying scores and stats onto TV screens during sporting events. AR technology is new, so time will tell. But there is a market out there as AR company Niantic showed with the Pkoemon GO app that could superimpose a found Pokemon on the phone screen as if it existed in the real world.

We’ll be seeing more products using artificial intelligence and augmented reality in the coming years.

Top 10 Gadgets at CES 2017

There was no shortage of gadgets at CES 2017. What qualifies as a “gadget” could be debated, but no doubt the following products are new and interesting. Perhaps one of them will catch your fancy.

  • 1. Under Armour Men’s Athletic Recovery Sleepwear. The photo of Tom Brady sleeping in Under Armour’s new sleepwear was the most popular image at CES 2017. Under Armour says the benefits are real and come from TB12 technology — the soft bioceramic print on the inside of the garment that absorbs the body’s natural heat and reflects Far Infrared energy back to the skin. Kevin Plank promoted the “jammies” during his keynote address on Friday, plus he delivered a strong plug for the company’s headquarters in Baltimore City.
  • 2. HiTech Ninja Solar Power Backpack. This backpack makes perfect sense in these energy-conscious days. It allows you to keep your smartphone and other connected devices powered as you go.
  • 3. Oticon Opn Internet-Connected Hearing Aid. The Opn connects to your smartphone so you can listen to TV and music directly thorough the hearing aid. Apart from its connectivity, Opn differentiates between speech and noise and reduces noise to make it easier to listen to multiple speakers. There is an Opn app that allows changing programs and volume adjustments.
  • 4. Vuze 3D-360° Virtual Reality Camera. 360° cameras are in now because of the demand for more gaming and immersive experience video content. Many of the 360° cameras exhibited were professional grade and priced beyond most consumers. The Vuze 360°, however, caught my attention because the price is $799.00, still expensive yet relatively affordable for camera enthusiasts. Vuze is very portable and has a software application for your smartphone and PC that enables 360° video to be downloaded. With a smartphone accessory, you can easily see the full 360 degrees of the video by rotating as you hold the smartphone.

    Vuze 3D-360° Virtual Reality Camera
  • 5. Equisense Care Horse Bodysuit. Equisense is a French company that was launched with the help of Kickstarter. Equisense Care is a horse bodysuit with sensors that are connected to the internet allowing remote monitoring of data about the horse. It watches over and measures the horse’s well-being and sends alerts if an accident occurs or a threatening condition develops.

    Equisense Care Horse Bodysuit
  • 6. Royale Moon 3D Virtual Mobile Theater. This mobile theater for watching movies, videos, or gaming has a curved screen with a resolution of 3000 pixels per inch. It can be controlled using your fingers. The headphones are comfortable and eliminate most external noises. It plays 2D or 3D content from its own internal storage or from a smartphone, or content can be streamed wirelessly.
  • 7. HP Spectre 13 Notebook. If you use a laptop and like thin, this is the latest. With a 13-inch diagonal screen, it’s still only 10.4 mm thick and weighs just 2.45 pounds. High-powered with an Intel® Core™ i5 or i7 Processor and Windows 10, it costs about $1000.00.
  • 8. Denso Barista Robots. Denso is a Japanese auto parts manufacturer with a presence in the United States, and it leads in manufacturing automation and robotics. The Barista Robots attracted lots of attention at the show, but they could not keep up with the demand for coffee. Fortunately, Starbucks was close by. And the price for a set of the coffee-brewing robots was estimated at over $100,000.00. Nevertheless, the exhibit demonstrates the far-reaching possibilities for robotics and the potential consequences for us humans.
  • 9. Spartan Radiation-Blocking Underwear. Some research indicates that radio-frequency electromagnetic waves emitted from cell phones could adversely affect men’s reproductive health. The boxer’s fabric is made of silver fibers and cotton which blocks over 99% of wireless radiation from cellphones and wifi. The boxers are seamless and stylish to wear, so why not?
  • 10. LG Levitating Speaker. Several exhibitors displayed levitating speakers and many are on the market now, but LG’s speaker has the crispest design. The speaker delivers high quality, 360-degree omnidirectional sound while hovering over the levitation station. This is certain to start a conversation, but the speaker is not available for purchase yet.

Follow @HeadsUpTRmarks on Twitter for periodic updates on trademarks.