What is what in the world of tech for tomorrow @CES2018

Hylke van Maaren - 16 January 2018

Hike One a week in Las Vegas

The world's biggest event for tech lovers. CES in Las Vegas. At Hike One we love new tech and gadgets. Especially if they are user friendly and relevant for real’ people. So we hopped on a plane to Entertainment Capital of the World to see what is what in tomorrow's world of tech.

Expectations since 2017

We also visited CES last year and noticed that Alexa tried to claim as many products as possible. Humanoid like robots wanted to communicate with you and car brands showed their vision on in-car experiences and dashboards. Something that really stood out for us back than was all the gimmicky Chinese products that flooded the event floors. Let’s see if that is still the case. 

Planning

  • Day 1: small brands and startups
  • Day 2: renown tech brands and mobility 

Topics that caught our attention

IOT and smart home
For controlling and measuring mostly, but not yet pro-active, smart and autonomously collaborating.

So many products can be connected nowadays, especially in your house. Mostly these connected products can be controlled from a single platform, connecting them all together. Your central heating system, lighting, security, kitchen appliances, bathroom and garden lights and watering can all be controlled from your smartphone and customised from your laptop. Every large self respecting tech brand is trying to claim the control platform to your house. Tying you to their eco system. Samsung for example has assigned a big part of their boot to smart home with their entertainment continuity by the Bixby remote.

But the main goal for domotica is not having to control anything anymore but leaving it to smart AI recipes and scenes. Unfortunately that is not yet the case for the average consumer. The user still needs to grab their smartphone to let the system know what they want. Especially when having a family with children and pets in the house. 

Virtual Reality
Breaking loose from gaming and entering the functional domain of healthcare and retail. Also becoming more accessible and lightweight due to the wireless and standalone headsets with integrated headphones. In some cases external tracking was replaced by tracking in a haptic suit. In other cases, ultrasonic speakers created a tactile feel of the sujects in front of you in mid air! These are nice innovations that show the VR market is maturing. 

Mobility
With E-cars, bikes, and scooters, the CES event is used more often by car brands
(Nissan, Toyota, Kia), as well as non-car brands (Hudway, ZF group, Panasonic) to show their latest innovations in car tech and in-car user experience. The car of the future is positioned as an extension of your office or living room.

At the moment most of the presentations of screens in the dashboard are used for safety and car status information as well as navigation. Dashboards packed with many or giant screens. So much opportunity for distraction. So much room for us as UX designers!

Very interesting are the interchangeable battery packs (sustainable energy powered) by Honda and Gogoro for usage in small cars, autonomous robot cars, e-scooters or your mobile speaker set and fridge for a cozy picnic.

Health and wellbeing
Tracking and coaching with small sensors and connected platforms. Wearables have a steady presence at CES. Smart and sports watches are richly represented and are equipped with virtual assistants, solar or body heat charging and longer battery life.

Very interesting is the underwear by Skiin, which is equipped with sensors for tracking, heating zones and IOT connections. The heating is not done by electrical wire but is included in the weave. Wearing it like a second skin and tracking all this data can potentially give the opportunity to many
(real) smart services to act on this data. Are you cold? Your heating already knew that and increased the room temperature by a few degrees.

Also, Philips is very active in health and well being and showed a prototype of a sleep tracker and coach to boost slow wave sleep in real time. And last but not least L’Oreal showed a very small wearable with NFC connection to track UV exposure to your skin.

Entertainment
Many wireless noise-canceling headphones and large immersive screens. Like a 3D led cinema screen. Where regular cinema screens are projected and have low contrast, this screen by 'HSI Immersive' is a LED screen with very high contrast. Resulting in an impressive 3D effect that is way more immersive than the regular 3D cinemas. Impressive.

Last year, LG showed a tunnel of curved screens, they now showed us a foldable screen and stuck it to an organically shaped pathway.

Want an even more immersive TV or gaming experience? Try placing some 'Nanoleaves' and Philips Hue lighting in your room for an even more responsive, colorful experience!

Virtual assistants
The virtual assistants are everywhere. Integrated into almost every gadget you can think of. Last year only Alexa was presenting itself, but now Google is fighting back with a very large booth and a strong presence in advertising throughout Las Vegas. Showing on the monorail and on the giant led screens at the casinos. But still, Alexa is a step ahead of Google when it comes to third-party integration. Some brands want to tie consumers to their own ecosystem or smart assistance. Samsung, for example, is pushing Bixby in their smart home services and via their Galaxy phones. But in general we can conclude that these virtual assistants are not yet very smart and only function as a controller or information provider, but not as a pro-active smart assistant.

Human control
For decades we've been using mouses, keyboard, game controllers and (more recently) touch screens as input devices for our computers. But this CES we were able to play around with many different ways of controlling. For example with gestures, detected by sonic waves from Ultrahaptics’ and eye tracking by Tobii’. Especially in the VR domain, the current controllers are being replaced by haptic gloves or suits for controlling in the virtual world. 

Robotics 
A lot of emotion but not much
robotics’. Sony re-introduced their dog Aibo’ as a friend and pet for children, but the most humanoid and autonomous’ robot at the moment is Sophia’, made by Hanson Robotics. She is fitted with a sophisticated AI and can pull information directly from Google. Inspired by Ex-machina in design, this is a very impressive (maybe even a little scary) humanoid robot. 

General conclusion

Robbert

Lots and lots of small innovative’ exhibitors that claim to have found the next smart thing while it’s still a hard technology push. Small gadgets that will not really improve your life. I’ve also noticed a lot of clones of each other - startups that try to solve the same problem by using more or less the same solution: I’ve seen 4 learn-kids-to-code robot packages that work exactly the same way: a little robot follows the path you define upfront - just with a different looking robot.

It seems that all major tech players are trying to claim the field of the smart home. Everything is connected, has a camera or at least some kind of sensor integrated and most of the solutions still do not feel that smart to me. The smart toilet is a nice example. Instead of just walking over, opening a lid and conducting my business I now have to wait for some application to register me, slowly (but style-fully) open the lid, activate the lights and activate my presets… However, amidst the rubble, you see little gems shining through: a water tab that on command provides me with exactly the amount of water with the right temperature to make my kids bottle, now that's handy! I don’t know how many IoT hub’s and hub solutions I’ve seen but one thing is clear - the single, central solution is still not there.

What I loved to see is the shift of attention within the automotive industry. Instead of pushing for new sensors or other technical features, the majority of the exhibitors showed more focus on the actual driving experience. I’ve seen several smart solutions (smart mirrors, driver assist, HMI design, etc) that finally move out of the gimmicky world to fully mature and actually start offloading my mental load while driving and start enhancing my driving experience.

Last but not least: AR/VR. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of AR/VR solutions being displayed on the CES. The time of tinkering and low-quality headsets is over. The display solutions shown provide integrated, stand-alone solutions that feel as solid, high-quality products. Proper eye tracking within VR has made its appearance as has proper hand tracking.

Miguel
Innovative ideas from small startups and the small steps from large brands. That for me is the conclusion of CES 2018. While I like gadgets, I couldn’t care less about the next 8K TVs from the big brands. Or the fridge that now has a screen with wide angle camera and an internet connection. That for me doesn’t cut it as innovative.  It’s using tech to sell products, not make life easier or increase the user experience for the end users.

The exception is the automotive branch. Here we can clearly see the shift toward creating a great
(or at least better) user experience. Especially in vehicle safety and in the entire (interior) experience. Because seeing the value of user-centered design will lead to better experiences and that in the end will sell more products.

Hylke
In comparison with last year, we met a lot more interesting tech innovations and found ourselves talking with exhibitors more often. In general a sign that we are intrigued. Technologies ranging from interacting in virtual reality with gestures by sonic pulses (Ultrahaptics) to impressive 3D cinema LED screens (HSI immersive) and holographic animations (Hypervsn). Fortunately, the amount of Chinese garbage product exhibitors was smaller but still present this year. 

Sebastian
Also this year a lot of gadgets, it’s getting more user-centered every year what I think is a good thing. This year a lot of all kinds of hoverboards, Lego with sensors and somewhat everything with a camera. I like all that stuff but companies need to stop calling it smart’. For example, the new washing machine of Honeywell is now ready for the Apple Watch. You can start it and pick a program with the app on your watch. They call it smart’, but it’s more connected than smart. I call it smart when it starts or picks a program by itself. But maybe that’s something they invent next year.

Hylke van Maaren

Creative Director & Partner

Hike One at #CES2018

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