No techie’s calendar is complete without a spot at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Known as the world’s biggest technology conference, the show kicks off in Las Vegas every January and sets the scene for what we can expect from the industry in the year ahead.
Anybody who is anybody in tech has a presence at CES. But while the event is about all the flashy tech brands’ glamorous product launches, it also provides a stage for the up-and-coming companies of the future; a chance for them to showcase their latest wares before they hit the big time. Often, these can be niche, a bit strange and sometimes never even make it to market - but at the same time, a testament to the cutting-edge innovation on show.
Here are some of the highlights that we encountered at CES this year.
Robotics and Machine Intelligence
In more recent years, the endless halls that make up the colossal Las Vegas Convention Centre have played centre stage to robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), and this year was no exception. One of the most notable was undoubtedly the head-turning Forpheus ping-pong playing robot by Omron. This quite daunting-looking bot can not only thrash you at a game of table tennis, but it will also record your every move, learn your movements, figure out your weaknesses and drill you on them, ensuring you improve in the right places.
Perhaps less in your face but just as smart was the Lovot robot, brought to you by one of the most iconic modern-day bots, Pepper. This “companion bot” is all about making people feel less lonely by acting a little like a needy puppy. Buzzing around autonomously on wheels, Lovot will batt its fluffy wings at you when it wants to be picked up and hugged. When it does, its wheels will tuck inside, making it more comfortable to hold, and a head-mounted camera will recognise you and make eye contact, all in a bid to make you feel more loved.
Another emotion-related tech on show at CES was Harman’s mood-sensing AI prototype, a camera system for the car that detects your emotional state according to your facial expression at the time. It will use cognitive load analysis (work out how hard are you thinking), and if it thinks you’re tired or preoccupied, it will make a decision to ensure you drive more carefully, automatically applying features such as collision avoision and cruise control to compensate for any emotional distractions.
5G and the Internet of Things
One of the most hyped up new technologies at CES was the next generation of mobile broadband: 5G, touted by the likes of chip behemoths Intel, Qualcomm, and Korean giant Samsung. The show was essentially a platform for the super-fast network’s future providers to showcase how close we are to roll out, not only for blazingly fast page-loading speeds, but to open up a new world of opportunity across all industries, from robotic manufacturing to augmented, virtual and mixed reality, sporting experiences, public safety and everything in between.
Samsung made most of the 5G headlines, however. During its press conference on the opening day of the show, the firm’s CEO, Hyun-Suk Kim, confirmed it will be releasing a 5G smartphone to the market in 2019. It was also the first out of the gate to produce and display a 5G smartphone prototype, showing off the 5G-enabled device on its stand, albeit placed behind a glass box. The firm also outlined its end-to-end solution across 5G, as well as its plans for the Internet of Things (IoT), and AI, with continued investment in research and development.
Health and Wellness
Another theme making headlines at this year’s CES was innovations within the health and wellness space - a booming industry, largely thanks to the growing popularity of wearable tech.
One of the most impressive new gadgets on show was the JaxJox connected kettlebell. Priced at £300, it doesn’t come cheap - but this smart workout tool doesn’t just tell you how many swings you’ve managed to belt out. The smart kettlebell will keep track of your reps, sets and workout time through a connected app, but pop it on its charging base and you can alter its weight from between 6kg and 20kg, so no need to buy multiple units.
If traditional cardio exercise is more your bag, then the show had a fresh solution for this, too, with FightCamp. This is a smart home boxing system designed for punching it out at home. It includes a punching bag, gloves, hand wraps, and an exercise mat, and like JaxJox, can tell you how many calories you’re burning. It’ll also give you some interesting fighting stats thanks to a sensor hidden in the gloves that records every hit and scores you via an app. It also means you don’t need to bother with a gym or ClassPass membership, as FightCamp includes a monthly service package that gives you access to online workouts.
When you’re done exercising, you can sit back and relax with these non-invasive neuroscientific wearables called TouchPoints. Using a technology called BLAST to relieve stress by over 70% in just 30 seconds, these wrist-worn gadgets vibrate in all the right places to reduce the levels of stress on the brain’s right frontal lobe, helping you to disconnect after a long day and restore calm and rational thinking.
Once upon a time, CES was all about which brands had the biggest and best TVs. Now, that’s not so much the case thanks to technological advancements of the internet of things. However, it’s still a big part of the show, and showcased in the craziest ways.
Take for instance South Korean display giant LG’s rolling 4K TV, something that was certainly a little different to your bog-standard ultra HD tele. First seen in prototype form a few years back, the finished 65-inch version can be curled up like a newspaper when it's not being used, winding down and disappearing into a small box at the base of the set.
Smartphones are making less of an appearance with every CES that passes, largely because most tech companies like to wait for Mobile World Congress in February to launch their next flagship device. However, this meant that underdog phone maker Royole had total reign over all smartphone related news at CES this year when it showed off its FlexPai handset. Saying that, as the world's first flexible smartphone, it would have probably stolen the show anyway. It’s heavy and not the most practical, but it does set a precedent for what’s to come in the future of smartphones, touting a completely functioning and 100 percent foldable screen.
A little more on the unconventional side of the entertainment news at CES was the Mui smart display, a plank of wood that boasts a touch-sensitive display. Even weirder is that it’s expected to cost up to $1,000 (£785). However, it does do more than just looking elegant on your wall. It displays visual data and touch-control functions such as a thermostat, weather information, light dimmer controls, and even access to your voicemail.
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