CES 2018 Roundup – With a Big Caveat

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Website visitors do gravitate to “best-of” lists. And writers of said lists do love pot-boiling a world of possibilities down to just a few essentials. But when it comes to covering the giant tech show CES, any news analyst who claims to have found the five or ten best things in even just one product category is likely to wake up with a nose as long as Pinnochio’s.

With maybe 20,000 items making their debut in booths spread over 2.4 million square feet of official convention space (plus unofficial exhibitors), it’s impossible for one observer (or even a team) to analyze more than a small fraction of the offerings on hand. (We haven’t even gotten to the new Smart Cities and Sports Tech zones.) And awards bestowing “best of show“ are strictly in the eyes of the beholders, recognizing what they managed to encounter by plan or happenstance.

What you honestly can “take away” are some big picture generalizations about the state of the industry, as expressed in the size of specific tech zones and the recurrence of certain key products jumping on an already moving bandwagon.

Murmuring Sweet Somethings: What a difference a year makes. Voice-activated, cloud-powered smart speakers that rely on search engines and

Lenovo appliances with Google Assistant

synthesized voice response were mostly an Amazon Echo success story at CES 2017. But this year, we spotted a bunch of smart speaker makers – like Sony, LG, Panasonic, and Lenovo – making Google Assistant the preferred platform partner. (The latter with the especially versatile, 8 and 10 inch screened Lenovo Smart Display counter-top appliances priced at $199 & $249.)

We’re also seeing lots of product makers that formerly cooperated with just one of the major speak-sweetly-to-me platforms now embracing all the biggies (Alexa, Google and Apple’s stand-offish Siri) “so to not upset consumers who’ve already invested in compatible speakers and home automation gear and don’t want to write it off as obsolete,” noted LG executive Tim Alessi.

LG AI equipped Fridge

And not incidentally, voice control won’t just be running entertainment products. We saw chat-ability built into refrigerators, bathroom fixtures, air conditioners, and cars. Toyota staged an opening morning press event just to announce its new marriage with Amazon Alexa for “select” Toyota and Lexus rides. Expect speech activated applications there even when the vehicle isn’t web-connected – with no more fumbling for window, wiper and heater controls.

Autoliv self-driving car

Fair Weather Car-Tronics: While touted last year as the next big thing, backers of autonomous (self-driving) cars backed off a bit from prior “coming fast” predictions at this CES. Yes, the outdoor show lot offering test rides in autonomous prototypes expanded, but it was telling that Autoliv and Velodyne canceled Tuesday jaunts on the Las Vegas strip because the rain could mess with their LiDar (laser radar).

On the upside, electric-powered rides are coming on quicker than previously expected, as battery prices plummet and electrical component makers (like Valeo and Siemens) collaborate, nudged by their home country France’s short-term (2024) agenda to ban combustion engine cars, and also by visions of cheaper-to-make urban vehicles that only carry one or two passengers.

Ford Ojo 2-wheel scooter

We were charmed by a road-ready, crash tested $15 grand one person e-ride from Electra Meccanica, a British Columbia maker paying design homage to Italian putt-putts (think BMW-Isetta) of the past. Also by a new category of “personal light electric vehicles”- the awfully cute, two-wheel  Ojo Commuter Scooters  ($2,200 and up at ojoelectric.com ). While the maker has newly licensed the Ford name and badge, this 20 mph (tops) urban commuter really harkens more to Vespas. Ciao baby!

Samsung SmartThings eco-system
Samsung SmartThings ecosystem

Home Control 101: Hate reading owners manuals? Don’t have a computer programming
degree? No wonder you haven’t invested yet in the “smart home” revolution with remote control security cameras, door locks, thermostats, kitchen appliances, et al. But at this CES we saw concerted efforts from companies like Samsung (with SmartThings connected products) and LG (with its new Artificial Intelligence engine ThinQ) to make the setup process and operation go a whole lot easier.

Also promising lots of help was Comcast, parent to the Xfinity family of cable tv, internet, home security and mobile phone services that blanket much of the country. Exploiting comcast xfinitypreviously untapped smarts in its modem/router “Gateways,”  the company will be turning on home automation at no additional cost to almost 16 million households in the next 90 days, said company exec Daniel Herscovici. Working with its Xfi platform for TV, tablet, PC and mobile phone control, your smart products on the home Wi-Fi system will be automatically recognized and organized into a unified operating menu at the mere push of the button. And with the system’s self-learning (AI/Machine Learning) capabilities, user patterns can be duly noted and suggestions then made to set up complimentary daily routines – say to trigger lights, music and the Wi-Fi enabled coffee maker to turn on when your alarm clock goes off.

Philips Sleep

Peace of Mind, Please: With the opioid crisis out of hand,  non-pharmaceutical methods to help manage stress and pain earned a huge and well-deserved bump-up in interest at this CES. We found greatly expanded Health Tech and Sleep Tech zones and product debuts from Philips SmartSleep, Sleep Number, Muse, Nightingale, NuCalm, and others. Think (calmly) pulse and brain wave activity measured by headbands and eye shades, as well as by body tracking sleep devices built into or under mattresses. The remedies here often involve special pulsations of light and sound that trigger and train the brain to chill out. But ironically,  we enjoyed the quickest relaxation from a few minutes in the show’s Eureka Park startup zone, reclining on the very “analog” Rocking Bed. It’s a motorized, gently swaying bed foundation dreamed up by inventor Mark Russell after a “best sleep ever” vacation on a gently rocking cruise ship. Designed to sway under pretty much any mattress, this grownup cradle will be launched in the Spring with a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign, priced for early endorsers at about $2,500. Check it out at www.Rockingbed.com.

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