CES 2020: The shift from consumer electronics to consumer experiences

April Reagan
Jan 17 · 12 min read
Attendees eagerly invade Central Hall as CES 2020 opened on January 7th. Credit CES.

Each year I sit down to write a summary, and each year it becomes more difficult. There is more to see and hear, and that much more to relate back to the world.

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is the world’s largest technology convention. Last week, 170,000 people descended on Vegas — with 20,000 products and services from 4,400 exhibitors, including 1,200 startups, and brands from every industry. CES 2020 picked up right where CES 2019 left off: the further digitization of everything — sensing and monitoring every attribute of a living being and automating every action of each space we spend time in. Last year I wrote how software took over the hardware show, and this year was a continuation of that theme — mix in the rise of responsible business along with the broadening and narrowing of innovation focus, and you have CES 2020.

The overarching theme this year was the progression from focusing on lines of products to the enablement of rich experiences through more dispersed components and intelligence. Broadly covering digital health, smart cities, AI and robotics — and enabling tech from the activation of 5G to more sophisticated AI models — innovation is found in purpose. In Eureka Park, the startup section of the big show, bigger and bolder country-based booths showed great pride. At Tech South, a new track of around diversity covered important topics.

More than in years past, this year’s event seemed to offer more pre-market concepts taking the chance to test product and service viability, like a marketing site gauging interest for a Silicon Valley startup. Indeed, CES has always been a “proving ground for tech” as Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) which produces CES, shared on stage, but companies and startups are not waiting to put their ideas out there.

The first big show of the year, CES provides us an opportunity to scout from a different perspective and consider how Fjord’s trends might be connected. These create a preview for what to watch for at MWC Barcelona later this quarter.

Fjord Trends 2020 — Realigning the fundamentals: Value and values

The annual Fjord Trends report came out just before the holidays, with a focus on seven dimensions that we collectively believe are impacting our world in the next year:

Many faces of growth

This trend is about broadening the stakeholder view from only shareholders to include customers, employees and the communities in which we all live. For example, Steeple, a digital employee bulletin board on display at CES, is an investment in the work place community. Or there are those that are investing in worker safety, like the wearable airbag for construction workers from Safeware, Inc.

In the CES panel Ready, Set, Charge! An Electrified, Sustainable Tomorrow, Henrik Fisker talked about the need to find new business models for automotive — “There is an old business model that car makers and dealers need to make money off small parts. That needs to change.” Mercedes focused their keynote on sharing more about their monster-sized strategic initiative “Ambition 2039” with a goal to be carbon neutral, from manufacturing to the vehicles they produce.

Money changers

It is true that long-standing habits with currency and transactions are seeing disruption. There were a number of vendors addressing this topic, and a new show floor section devoted to Digital Money. The two primary focuses around blockchain were enabling every-day transactions and creating ways to carry the digital currency. SecuX and others had points-of-sale (POS) solutions on display, as well as at least one ATM by CoinSource and a coin gift-card solution from Ballet. Another offering from a few vendors was a physical-digital wallet, which allowed you to load your existing bank and credit accounts onto a single card to carry — one from Binji authenticated by proximity to your phone and another from AuthenTrend let’s you protect and activate with your fingerprint.

ATM for bitcoin from Coinsource (left) Fingerprint digital wallet card from AuthenTrend (top) and bitcoin gift cards from Ballet Global Inc (bottom).

Walking barcodes

As noted in the Fjord Trends 2020 report, “we’re leaving a physical cookie trail everywhere we go in the real world.” What that cookie trail includes is expanding every day. We are familiar with fingerprints, eye scans and voice; recently facial recognition has become more widely used and now just the heatmap of your face or person might be used, or your unique heart-rhythm. A full 3D-scan of your finger, like from Global ID, provides more than just a finger print. With the pregnant now able to equip their unborn with a heart monitor, identification may begin before birth. Sensors that analyze the air — including if undesirable bathroom odor is lingering — could soon be tied to individuals that occupied the space. Computer vision technology also advances every year. A climate system from ChangHong will identify who is in a room and adjust the climate accordingly (gearing towards to the person who is in the room the most, and not the one who pays the bills as I suggested). There were more uses of your DNA, from medical diagnostics to simply shopping with an informed view of your DNA to buy the best food options for your genetic makeup with DnaBand from DnaNudge.

Pets and other animals can get in on the game as well, make no mistake; there were plenty of pet fitness and heart health bands, at least one marine-life wearable ecosystem monitor, and health tracking for livestock. With more mind-control interfaces showing up, from the likes of NextMind and BrainCo, this is soon data that will be in play. Xsensio shared a Lab-on-Skin wearable health monitor chip that senses a range of data from sweat. FootWARE brings a new form factor for health tracking — the smart shoe. Charmcare allows you to track your blood pressure real-time. Oh and how is your nose, would you like to better control the scent in your home, hotel room or car? That’s possible now, too — and is another trackable preference.

BrainCo’s Dexus — a prosthetic hand, controlled by brain waves and muscle impulses, with several sensors, empowered by AI trained by the individual.

Liquid people

People have choices, and those choices are becoming more driven by values than money. This year Impossible Foods had a presence, sharing samples of their meat options and the new Impossible White Castle burger. Anything that is driven by fossil fuels may be passed over by an electric option, like the well-designed electric off-road motorcycles from Cake (Fjord’s North American Regional Design Director Nick de la Mare’s personal favorite of the show). Working for employers that take employee health seriously, like those employing exoskeletons demoed by Delta and others, builds trust.

Electric off-road motorcycles from Cake.

Designing intelligence

Nearly everything at CES was promoted as being “smart”. Of course, there is a difference between simple automation and actual Artificial Intelligence. Steve Koenig, CTA Head of Research, explained that “AI is about human-machine partnerships.” Our Fjord trend articulates this exactly — “Artificial Intelligence is a generation of systems that blend it with human intelligence to empower people….”

Home automation has been around since the 1970's — though without the Internet it was completely wired and mechanical. Over the past decade, wireless and smarter home components have become available and more affordable. Still, these devices require a lot of setup and maintenance to provide the environment that is right for the moment. This has begun to change. Our homes, and individual spaces within them, are able to provide richer and more adaptable experiences; in time they will learn our needs and preferences — devices will work together to serve us.

Entertainment spaces and those of necessity, like the bathroom and kitchen, can be outfitted with some pretty cool tech:

  • Showers that have temperature presets triggered by face detection
  • Toilets that adapt to the user’s preferences and even clean themselves (oh and that have light shows and voice assistants to boot)
  • Beds that not only adjust to our comfort but track our sleep and deter snoring
  • Voice activated cabinets and drawers for the kitchen
  • AR makeup and dressing mirrors
The toilet of your future? Numi 2.0 from Kohler. Offers personalized cleansing and drying preferences, heated seat and built-in speakers and built-in Amazon Alexa.

Our spaces are changing purposes — with our activities streamlined and automated, the kitchen can be focused on the social hub role it plays, while cars become productive centers.

Across the show you could see fundamental activities:

AI analyzes so humans can take action

  • With 20tree.ai analysis allows for forest health monitoring and management
  • The iotrapster offers a crab trap monitor, to cause less disruption in checking traps and to see wildlife that has become entangled
  • Frustrated parents of newborns might appreciate the Deeply cry interpreter from Deeply
  • Could the future of sports officiating be an AI for sports refereeing — ST37?

AI analyzes and device takes action

  • A very specific implementation is the smart adaptive headlight — BladeScan ADB from Koito Manufacturing — which can automatically detect conditions, oncoming cars, and other factors to provide the right illumination
  • John Deere using deep learning for crop analysis, identifying weeds versus crops and assessing health, and only treating as needed

AI converses with humans, and provides information or take action

  • Intelligence with physical manifestation (a roaming robot or humanoid)
  • NEON artificial humans — digital personas with memory and intelligence (from Samsung)
Samsung‘s STAR Labs presented NEON, with four artificial humans — next-gen AI chatbots with a distinct personality which can also remember and learn.

LG and partner Element AI shared a new AI framework that begins to differentiate the types of intelligence that can be realized in systems. With four attributes (environmental awareness, collaboration, user understanding and autonomy) across four maturity levels (1–4), AI capabilities can be segmented and better understood. Just as AVs have long had levels of functionality, this framework aids in conversations and strategic planning. But there is still much to be understood, as the video examples of the differences were very nuanced and especially hard to differentiate clearly between levels three and four.

Digital doubles

With the increase in data collected for our barcode-selves, companies need to be thoughtful and intentional in handling our digital replicas. Verification requires new ideas, like Keymo from ByStamp digital stamp of authentication; with a camera on the stamper during the stamp impression, you can be sure a signature is valid. Companies like Winston know that we want to manage home and online privacy with our own hands, with a plug-and-play device that minds the flock of smart devices at home — keeping them from unwanted hackers and spies. ID R&D is working on various technologies for biometric liveness detection, to help create the smallest footprint. UCam allows you to own your privacy. GoNokNok, DeliveryPod and others are working on ensuring packages get to the person who ordered it. Blok On Block is a Blockchain phone giving users control on “how your phone is built and how your data is used.” The tech demonstrated by Delta with parallel reality would allow personalized data to only be seen by the individual — but security will be key.

Life-centered design

One clear difference with CES 2020 was the increase of — and spotlight on — companies working for a purpose and commitments to a circular supply chain, sustainability and making communities better. This is right in-line with this trend.

Scarce in certain circumstances, water and power are critical. With innovation from WaterGen, water can be harvested out of the air; or it can be recycled with solutions from Hydraloop. W’Air reduces reliance on precious resources to keep your clothes fresh — a lightweight refresh process to remove bacteria and odors using high-pressure air and minimal soap and water. Tapping into power from soil or even bread, E!Room can provide basic critical current. Large events can now look to green energy with commercial grade generators from SKOON. ChakraTec has a fast charge solution for communities, particularly those with weak grids, utilizing kinetic energy storage, as well as portable systems to boost charging in remote areas. AAA offers emergency charges, today — this would serve a community.

Sustainable food is not only about buying meat substitutes but home also— with various indoor home-garden solutions from GE, Samsung, LG, Miravel and others. Your outdoor garden can also be kept weed-free by a solar-powered Roomba-like robot from Tertill.

One example of a home garden solution, from Samsung.

Individuals with special needs are a growing focus at CES. Children and the elderly were prominently served, as well as those with more specific needs. A glasses aid for those with dyslexia from ABeye or fully functional tactile tablet computer — TactilePro — from PCT Company. BrainCo has a mind-operated prosthetic. Even a simple solution from Eirgrid — an easier to use back-up battery pack which features tactile display and controls as well as a reversable USB port — can be life-changing to the visually impaired. EyeQue brings eye exams into your home, allowing you to track and know when things have changed. The mission to keep the elderly safe advanced this year with a WELT smart belt and application that warn wearers when they are at high risk of falling. eSkin provides a comfortable clothing option for monitoring their health as they sleep or lounge. As someone with food allergies, I was excited to see the TUFS+T food allergen detector.

Why 5G is such a big deal?

Last year, the real promise of 5G made a splash, and this year it was a mission in motion. According to Steve Koenig, CTA’s head of research, 50 5G networks launched around the globe in 2019. According to Steve Canepa, of IBM, the three main factors are speed (low latency), bandwidth to carry big workloads (video processing or AI) and use specificity (network slicing). The computer processing will be able to take place closer to the place it is needed, with edge computing. For the average person, this means a faster and seamless experience across more devices and with richer content — in our homes, for our hospitality, in entertainment, our workplaces and critical care facilities. On the lighter side, ORBI feature a 360-degree camera on a National Football League player brings a never-before seen perspective of the game, and on the more meaningful side, Kyocera talked about hands-free analytics and guidance for EMTs — both scenarios being heavily reliant on 5G.

What’s new with mobility?

There were of course new modes of personal transportation, from pumped-up scooters to covered electric trikes and more. Improvements in battery tech and maturing of the charging network will make this a big decade or EV, according to Steve Koenig. The US Department of Transportation announced the AV 4.0 initiative — a set of guidelines (coming up short of regulations many had hoped for). Elaine L. Chao did highlight the value of innovation in mobility saying “innovation and transportation are intertwined” while sharing a statistic that vehicle deaths have declined 33% since auto safety measure began in 1972, noting that usage has soared over the same time. My colleague Felipe Hillard also pointed out how companies like Hyundai are visualizing mobility in the context of an entire mobility ecosystem — a city with comprehensive solutions including Urban Air Mobility (UAM), Purpose Based Vehicle (PBV) and a hub. Their PBV took the common form of a pod AV (a particularly attractive design — “it looks like a jewelry box!” Felipe declared). They are partnering with Uber on this mission. Canoo was at the show promoting a subscription service to the AV platform — dramatically lowering the barrier to entry for any matter of business.

Press hover around a model of Hyundai’s UAM, PBV and hub concept. Credit CES.

Wrapping up CES 2020

In the beginning I talked about broadening and narrowing of innovation focus; by now you may see what I mean — companies looking at an entire system or focusing on a very specific task. For the past few years, companies have been allowing themselves to look beyond the confines of their business and industry to provide more value end-to-end — often working with partners to do so. Organizations need to look for alternate activities, meanings and metrics for growth. Organizations need to invest in their internal culture to keep their talent, and every experience is expected to have been thoughtfully designed in a life-friendly way. As a first litmus test of the Fjord Trends 2020 — I think we hit a huge positive — there’s plenty of evidence that we are tracking where our world is headed.

It wouldn’t be written by me if it didn’t end with a collage of CES robots!

Design Voices

A publication for designers, developers and data nerds - from the aspiring to the expert, and anywhere in between. Content created and curated by Fjord, design and innovation from Accenture Interactive.

April Reagan

Written by

Design Voices

A publication for designers, developers and data nerds - from the aspiring to the expert, and anywhere in between. Content created and curated by Fjord, design and innovation from Accenture Interactive.

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