The Consumer Electronics Show is a Hit in More Ways than One

By: Brook O’Meara-Sayen, Account Coordinator

As the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) wraps up in Las Vegas, I thought I’d offer some take-aways, or things that got me excited as a millennial (spoiler alert: the most exciting thing—and I think I speak for all millennials when I say this—was the laundry folding robot).

CES has come a long way since its 1967 New York inception. That first year the show boasted just 14 exhibitors, advertising the pinnacles of space age technology–mostly radios and TV sets. In keeping with its message of a better future, the event creators took great care to point out “ladies are invited” to the event, betraying that a male dominated tech industry was a problem well before Silicon Valley.

What wild science fiction fantasies would those first attendants have dreamed up if they’d been asked to describe on the products on display 51 years later? Flying cars, perhaps, but what about driverless ones? Robots of some kind, doubtless, but intelligent-pet-dog-robots?

One thing no attendees, past or present, expected was the moment of (literally) blinding irony that occurred on Wednesday, when the power at the Las Vegas Convention Center abruptly went out. While the blackout kept convention-goers in the dark for a few hours it did set Twitter alight, and #CESBlackout was trending for much of the afternoon on Wednesday.


Joking aside, what were the main themes from this year’s CES? This year two industries generated a significant amount of buzz: autonomous or smart cars, and AI powered home assistants—and, in some cases, the marriage of the two. This is good news for those of us waiting for every drudgery of life to be automated, but very bad news if you’re a chauffeur or a butler, because you’re probably about to be replaced by a well-crafted set of ones and zeroes.

If CES was any indication, cars are about to get a lot smarter in the next few years, with the proliferation of autonomous technology. Not all of the cars featured in Las Vegas were fully self-driving, with many instead tackling the challenging of combining comforts and user-facing dashboard computers with the capabilities of AIs like Amazon’s Alexa. Garmin had its improved Garmin Speaks Plus, a windshield navigation system featuring Amazon’s game changing AI tech. Several automakers also unveiled their plans for AI-powered interior control centers and autonomous driving.  As assistants proliferate in cars, another feature is set to expand: dashboard displays. Many of the most eye-catching automotive innovations came in the form of massive dash displays, dwarfing any currently marketed built-in display. Byton and Harman both showed off prototypes guaranteed to give even the largest and most bedecked luxury automobile screen-envy.

Cars were not the only everyday electronics getting ‘AI’d’ this year. Qualcomm announced a team-up with Google to get the Google Assistant into a consumer-facing ‘Home Hub’ module. The purpose, as ZDnet writes is to “support rapid production and commercialization of AI-equipped home hub products featuring Google services, such as Cast, TensorFlow, Duo, and Maps.” ZDNet reported Harman and Lenovo are currently working on products that will incorporate Home Hub.  Manufacturing giant Whirlpool announced it would be adding even more smart voice-recognition software to its appliances, as is rival manufacturer LG. GE announced it would let you choose whether you want to order Google Assistant or Alexa to turn down the heat on your new stove.

In total, Google announced 15 new collaborations with appliance manufacturers from Altec Lansing to Sony. The goal, it seems, is to turn the internet of things into a chatroom. Apple announced it would join the home assistant craze with HomePod, a Siri powered smart-speaker, while Samsung promised newer and greater things from its robotic know-it-all Bixby. Even Harman partnered with a company called SmartBeings to create WooHoo, the first “affordable” AI-powered home assistant.

This year almost every product on display was smart in one way or another. Some, like the product mentioned above, make sense as logical next steps for the industry to take. Others, like a vibrating hairbrush, seem to me to take the trend a little far. A voice-activated trashcan makes another excellent addition to the “oh-come-on-you-can-just-do-that-normally” category. A self-servicing kitty-litter box also had a booth—and, I presume—a fair amount of slightly confused guests (no word on whether cats are allowed at CES).

So, what is the takeaway from the 2018 CES? My main takeaway is that 2018 is the year of AI-power, although I have a sneaking suspicion this isn’t the last CES to be dominated by it. CES is also foreshadowing a battle that may not be decided by the time the show reconvenes next year: the Amazon vs. Google smart-assistant war. Alexa currently hoards 70% of the market share on AI home assistants, but with lots of new collaborations and an updated Assistant, the two are setting up for a showdown of Blu-ray vs. HDDVD proportions.

CES foreshadowed something else this year too: you may be the least ‘smart’ thing in your home or car by the time 2020 hits.