One Day at CES 2017

As someone who is passionate about tech-driven innovation, I could simply not stay away from the free ticket CES gives to students for its last day.

The hardest thing about CES, the Consumer Electronics Show, is that one day is simply not enough to see everything at this grand tech conference that sprawls across several halls, buildings, and hotel conference rooms across Las Vegas for four days. There is simply too much to do and see around tech innovation in automotive, home automation, hardware, smart city concepts, drones, robotics, etc. Since my free student pass was only valid for Sunday, the conference’s last day, my report only covers some of the highlights I got to see in that limited period of time.

The overall theme of integrating into Amazon Alexa and Google Home (or like LG and others into their own proprietary platform) could really not be missed. From car manufacturers to speaker producers, especially Alexa seemed to be everywhere. Here an example of speaker company Klipsch advertising its integration to Alexa.

The first exhibition hall we hit was already one of the biggest highlights — the automotive exhibit, featuring innovations coming from the big car manufacturers like Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Toyota, etc. Cars are far from being the focus at CES, of course, so manufacturers instead present their latest infotainment & connectivity concepts. At the center of this is integration to the smart platforms as mentioned before. An interesting aspect here was the enablement of constant passive listening, which allows Alexa to react even if ‘Alexa’ is only said at the end of a sentence, meaning that whole sentences will need to be listened to and buffered (and therefore st0red?) in case it is relevant for the service. I would definitely want to know more about what happens with that conversational data collected in the car. Volkswagen also presented an ‘Identity in the cloud’ system that allowed cars to be accessed via your smartphone. This way, you can give somebody access to your car for a limited period of time or deactivate keys when they were lost or stolen. I also really liked the showcased integration with Doorbird, a smart door bell, that allowed drivers to get a notification in the car when somebody rang at their doors and supports interactions like talking to the visitor through the intercom, getting a video image and even opening the door remotely. A second, unexpected, automotive highlight came from Mercedes Benz which presented a concept van for parcel delivery. The parcels are automatically handed to the driver when he is at the delivery location and a drone port on the roof allows drones to take off, deliver parcels, and return to the moving van. The future is here indeed!

Between exhibition halls, Samsung Galaxy had taken up shop to entertain people with some nice 4D VR experience — basically IMAX and VR combined!

Samsung Galaxy Gear VR 4D Experience — inviting CES visitors to try out the company’s latest technologies.

While it looked really cool and obviously people went nuts for it, I must admit I was a bit disappointed by the experience. The VR image was coarse-grained and I got motion-sick pretty quickly, indicating some less than optimal VR developing. With providing a VR experience, Samsung was very mainstream at CES. Had I had the time, I would have been able to put on at least a dozen different VR headsets at different stalls. Contrary to reports I have seen about CES, I did not see a lot of mixed reality going on.

In the next hall, I spent quite some time at Panasonic’s vast stall that presented the company’s ambitious vision in IoT, Smart Cities, Mobility, and Smart Home. One concept that immediately caught my eye was a Smart Bus Shelter that featured a camera with real-time image analysis capabilities. Panasonic envisions leveraging that camera to provide targeted advertising to the people waiting based on race, age, and gender. A real WTF and no-go moment for me at CES. While I really wanted to have a privacy and discrimination in the digital age debate about this with a Panasonic employee, there was none to be found. Instead, this particular exhibit was manned with an external person who did not really have an opinion on it.

The smart bus shelter display at Panasonic’s CES 2017 stall — part of the company’s Smart Cities exhibit.

Another insight I got from Panasonic was that every touch passengers are making on an infotainment system on an aircraft is analyzed in full and linked back to a personal profile — because well, they of course know where everybody sits. I had never really thought about this but I might be bringing my own device to a plane more often now.

My favorite stall by far was the Sony stall — featuring my highlight of CES: the portable projector. The little projector has great 10-point recognition and features a full-fledged Android OS that it projects onto any surface.

The Sony Ultra Short Throw Projector in a demonstration at CES 2017.

It allows for watching movies anywhere and annotating shopping lists in the kitchen without getting your phone dirty — these are just two of the use cases mentioned.

Of course, CES would not be CES without plenty of new TVs, phones, and other electronic hardware. The new 8K TVs are surreal and Samsung’s OLED screens are just gorgeous. Surprisingly, curved displays seem to be in decline, as is 3D technology. I was also stunned by the sheer amount of (especially Chinese) TV manufacturers — while TV itself might die, screens for sure will not.

As a graduate student at the intersection of Business and Tech at UC Berkeley’s School of Information, CES was like a candy store for me with all its quirky gadgets, innovative concepts, and new technologies. I enjoyed meeting people who were obviously passionate about the products they presented and discussing security concerns and data collection and insight opportunities with the people who created the products. However, I also more than ever see the need for information professionals who keep an eye out for data privacy and security compliance, social good, inclusion, accessibility, and value-driven innovation. Industry by itself seems to be doing too little in that direction.

Overall, it was an amazing experience and I sure hope to be back next year!

My fellow student Rohit Raghavan and I — both graduate students at UC Berkeley’s School of Information — at 2017’s CES in Las Vegas, NV.