This was the year that a Real Path to Long awaited Trends Begins
CES, happening in Las Vegas during the first work week of the year, is touted as the launch platform for everything new in tech for consumers. In the days of CDs, DVD.s, Flat Screens and other 20th Century wonders, that was mostly true. New releases of better TVs or innovative ways to consume entertainment could change a lot in 12 months.
In recent years, along with the rest of the tech world, we have seen instead the constant incremental “iteration” based progress, from the gradual slowing of Moore’s law to the constant criticism of why the iPhone is still just an iPhone. Then there’s the ultimate non event of watching the same content on “HD” or 4K or 8k , or maybe next year 16k “ready” screens, and so on.
Then, in the last few years the new new tech began to arrive. Ever evolving Drones, Robotics, AI software combined with new hardware for aquiring and processing visual information have all been a standard element and and represent an ever larger footprint at the show. Added to that are now transportation “concept” innovations and the “smart home” and iOT has morphed into the sustainable city and connected communities.
What was big this year is that these ideas, prototypes and start-up brands for the most part, are nearing the point where they could actually have a place in consumer technology and not just as a sneak peek at what might “someday” be possible.
Here are a few examples that caught our attention, by no means an exhaustive or comprehensive listing but just what stood out during a random sampling of what was on offer and display.
Sustainable Transport and Smart Cities as Upgrade to “Smart Home” products that are now Old Hat
At the top of the list from this category, admittedly to large to even start to dig into, is the “Personal Liberation Device” from Unagi which is a over achieving descriptor for an electric scooter to own, not rent. Especially if you are tired of the stacks of abandoned “Limes” or maybe are not a fan of everything in your life turning into an Uber for this and Air B&B for that, this is a truly realistic and attractive alternative.
Slim light foldable and boasting dual motors (like the Tesla Model 3) in the top model there’s a hellava lot to like in the design. Maybe steep at around 1k but this is a practical, durable (by all accounts) owned item to be cherished, not a rental to take your frustrations out on.
All of us who support green energy and a sustainable future can take heart in the progress made, in a single year, if not in the final breakthroughs, at least in the intention to take on bigger projects and issues, such as the various transportation and EV exhibits as well as a large hall dedicated to Smart Cities and how AI can improve and enhance lives, while at the same time exhibiting a zero carbon footprint.
Robotics are Still not Quite Mainstream but getting Very Close
One odd feature of CES is that many of the same Companies are back every year and even occupy the same spot on the convention center floor. This makes it easier to find them, sure, but also jogs the memory as to the changes in what is being featured. Some seem to have tweaked and refined what is essentially the same idea or product, such as the Omron Robot vs. Human ping pong presentation. Even there you could see major improvements, meant to show the accuracy and versitility of robot arms and AI.
The applications for various robotics based products at a consumer or pro-sumer level is still an ongoing and developing area with the costs vs. the uses (often still not known as these products have not previously existed) being the primary obstacle. But very soon, as soon as CES 2021 there will likely be major breakthroughs in this category that you will hear about and even start using.
There were others that came with changes that seem like a new generation of capabilities and uses. In 2019 there were various companies showing “toy” robots that were meant to bring the science of robotics to the consumer level as a learning tool to help kids (and adults) experiment with programming and even building robots for home use and experimentation.
The cost of these, including the LEGO version of the idea, seemed to be a big impediment to wide adoption at the consumer level and a Prosumer market is not really a niche a significance in the space yet. What has changed, and this is a refrain across the show in general, is that the same relative high price points are producing much more capable and potentially usable products that could entice more engagement and interest.
Robosen Robotics is an example, initially a successful Kickstarter project, now beginning a commercial phase with it’s T9 product that was presented. This T9 Robot also comes with included programming software and has a “wow” factor that was missing in some of last year’s products. Using voice or app control it is billed as the “world’s most advanced”.
Camera tech combined with software and AI is beginning to get Serious
Chinese and US-China ventures are leading the way in the efforts to go beyond GoPro and Drone photography. For example, last year, a variety of 360º camera systems all seemed to be just “nearly there” and products in search of a use and market rationale. No more. An example is Pilot 1 from PiSoftTech that has increased the functionality of last year’s hardware product offering and, most significantly added free accompanying AI enhanced software and phone app which vastly extend the usability for prosumer and even consumer users.
An example is a function specifically designed to automatically produce and edit 3D virtual tours, such as those used for real estate web listings, at a very high quality just by doing the walkthrough with the camera running. No editing or post production required. There is also a use for carmakers and even aftermarket resellers for a 360º recording for your car that not only shows your surroundings but your own position as well.
All in all the updates in a single year on various 360º photographic products are impressive and most of the progress is due to software and AI contributions to the ease of use and power of production added.
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