Every year CES plays host to a huge number of exhibitors, including both major tech firms and pioneering startups. L’Atelier BNP Paribas takes a look at the main trends emerging from this year’s legendary Las Vegas event.
This year the Consumer Electronics Show (CES)– an international consumer electronics and technology innovation trade fair – was celebrating its 50th anniversary. The January Las Vegas event, which venue extends over close to 250.000m2, can sometimes almost overwhelm its audience with its vast and varied array of innovative technologies but it serves as a valuable indicator of the technology trends that are now helping to propel corporate transformation and drive changes in consumer behaviour. Below L’Atelier BNP Paribas points up the key themes from CES 2017 – ranging from artificial intelligence to robotics, 3D printing and self-driving cars.
Artificial Intelligence rules the roost
Last year self-driving connected cars were the stars of CES, but this year artificial intelligence (AI) topped the polls by a long way, with the prospect of integration into tomorrow’s road vehicles confirmed by announcements from Santa Clara, USA-based tech company Nvidia. Indeed the company’s AI technology can now be embedded in ‘smart’ co-pilot systems for car drivers. It can also be integrated into the virtual assistant systems that help users on a daily basis, incorporated into your ‘smart home’ and its connected objects, underpinning the voice commands that regulate the temperature and lighting levels and close doors at your house, and can also order you a taxi.
Meanwhile, Amazon has teamed up with a large number of partners with a view to putting its voice assistant Alexa to work for as many people as possible. And though the logistics tech giant boasted only a small information stand for its marketing business (Amazon Marketing Services) at CES, one really had the impression that Amazon Alexa was everywhere around the show. For instance Nvidia has added the voice assistant to its latest television model, and is currently developing receivers which you can place in the rooms of your home so that you will be able to access Alexa – and AI in general – all around the house. As for LG, the South Korean multinational is even incorporating Amazon Alexa into its refrigerators.
At the same time, Huawei has been working with Google to integrate the Google virtual assistant, OK Google, into its latest smartphone, the Mate 9. Therefore, this is no suprise that the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) is actually predicting that virtual assistants will bring in revenue totalling $608 million this year, up 36% on 2016, with a total of 4.6 million units sold.
A promising future for robot assistants
Robotics is also predicted to thrive by numerous experts. Indeed the International Federation of Robotics is forecasting that 35 million service robots will be sold by 2018. CES certainly highlighted this trend, as robot assistants hugged the limelight this year.
For instance Chinese robotics company Abilix showcased its small educational robots designed for children. They encourage children’s development by initiating them into programming. An associated app enables children to fully personalise their robot, which can then carry out a range of tasks, such as playing music, and also answer all sorts of questions. In the same vein, in the second half of this year Lego is planning to bring out a mini-robot development kit for children aged seven and older. The concept is similar to that of Abilix: the child is guided through the programming process by instructions on a free-of-charge app.
At CES 2017, a number of companies also demonstrated robots for use in smart homes. Chinese firm Ubtech Robotics introduced Lynx, a humanoid robot powered by... Amazon's Alexa, again! Lynx is activated by voice commands to undertake all kinds of tasks for its user: it can take photos, play music, look after your dog, book a table at a restaurant, read and send out emails and even suggest new yoga positions!
Californian startup Mayfield Robotics, which numbers Bosch among its investors, has adopted a rather different approach from the more traditional home robot, which could prove to be a more effective strategy for winning market share. Instead of being linked to an AI system, the company’s latest addition, Kuri, has been programmed to carry out a range of simple tasks such as following its owner around playing his/her favourite radio station, transmitting messages between family members in different parts of the house, and keeping watch over the house by shooting videos. Kuri can memorise faces and so identify any intruders in your home. Mayfield Robotics engineers have actually teamed up with former Pixar staff to make Kuri as human as possible. This strategic choice may well enable the robot to find favour with both children and senior citizens.
Beside the ‘smart home’, e-health appears to be the next area where robots are starting to make their mark. French startup Yumii has developed Cutii, a robot assistant designed specifically for the needs of the elderly. Cutii’s platform works as a collaborative, natural language interface between the person, his/her family and care staff. The robot uses voice and facial recognition, answers questions and also interacts with connected objects.
AI-enhanced electric self-driving cars
We may now take a closer look to the automobile sector, as the CTA is forecasting that revenue from technologies embedded in the latest generation of vehicles will reach $17 billion in 2017, i.e. 12% up on 2016. This momentum was certainly palpable at CES. The recent size reductions and price cuts on some key technology, such as Lidar, together with the continual advances in the precision of 3D mapping, that are feeding into self-driving car software, fuelled animated discussions throughout the trade show.
Indeed, just like in CES 2016, a number of automobile manufacturers were thrilled to announce that they were taking on tech specialists in order to create road vehicle systems underpinned by Augmented Reality (AR). Mercedes-Benz, for example, is working alongside Nvidia with the aim of bringing out cars using AR this year. Meanwhile Audi and BMW are working with Israeli tech company Mobileye; both brands with be using Mobileye’s vision technology systems in their cars from 2021.
In a market dominated by traditional players, startups are, however, having the toughest time trying to make their way. But California-based startup technology company Faraday Future has found a way to stand out. It has financially partnered with Chinese consumer electronics firm LeEco and unveiled its latest car model, the FF91 – by far one of the most awaited highlights of this year’s CES. This powerful electric car has retractable Lidar sensors and auto-parking functionality that is activated via a smartphone. It is not however the most affordable car, expected to cost the customer between $100,000 and $120,000. The financial problems which have dogged Faraday Future these past months, plus the – not entirely unjustified prevailing scepticism as to the fledgling company’s ability meet its stated specifications – did not prevent the CEO from maintaining a confident message throughout the event. He claimed that 64,124 vehicles had been ordered in the 36 hours following the announcement of the FF91 launch.
Drones: developing company-specific applications
In the space of one year, 670,000 unmanned aerial systems (UAS) have appeared on the register set up by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – the United States national authority with powers to regulate all aspects of civil aviation. Some 37,000 of these drones were registered during the last two weeks of December.
At CES, US multinational semiconductor and telecommunications equipment company Qualcomm showcased smart drones whose flight control system is run by machine learning. In contrast with the autonomous drones, on which L’Atelier BNP Paribas reported some time ago, Qualcomm’s drones do not simply avoid obstacles or just follow moving objects: they have computing functionality which enables them to assess the types of object in their vicinity and work out where they themselves are in relation to other objects – all without using GPS. This constitutes real progress, making it easier to use drones for surveillance inside buildings, where it is often difficult to get GPS to work efficiently.
Chinese company DJI – the market leader – unveiled a flight simulator, a sort of video game that the user controls with a joystick, which helps him/her familiarise him/herself with steering drones. The simulator provides ‘gaming’ challenges to novices so as to train them to, for instance, take photos. This product should be of interest to firms that use drones in the buildings and public works sector etc, as a useful tool for training their staff.
At CES this year there was also a lot of discussion about drones as a security provider. Virginia, US-based company Alarm.com sells surveillance drones for homes and commercial buildings. The company differentiates itself from its competition in that its drones can fly both inside and outside buildings. The CTA expects sales of drones to rise by 40% in 2017, reaching 3.4 million units overall and garnering total revenue of $1.2 billion.
3D printing now calling on new materials
Julien Rouillac, Lead Industrial Designer at 3D Systems told the audience in Las Vegas that one of the main challenges of 3D printing is moving on to processing new materials. The technology, which some have described as tantamount to a new industrial revolution, is now able to process ceramic resins in addition to plastics. Massachusetts-based startup Formlabs, which makes high-resolution 3D desk-top printers, also showcased Form X, its 3D printing experimental product platform, on the Techcrunch stage at CES. Using Form X in conjunction with the company’s latest 3D printer (Form 2) you can print out objects made of ceramic resin. ‟3D printing of ceramic resins means we can create complex geometric structures which you couldn’t make with traditional ceramics,” explained Formlabs co-founder Maxim Lobovsky. The company’s equipment is primarily designed for use by professionals such as artists, dentists and jewellers, who can now offer printed items made of ten different types of material. ‟We’re also looking for researchers to help us open the door to new materials. For example, today we can print biomaterials approved by the Federal Drug Administration, which are certified for temporary contact with mucus and blood,” Lobovsky revealed.
Cambridge, Massachusetts-based electronics manufacturer Markforged, another US startup specialising in 3D printing, introduced its latest venture: rebuilding a complete motorbike using its latest printer, the Metal X. This printer is designed to produce light metal parts by heating metal powder to a very high temperature, a technique the company calls Atomic Diffusion Additive Manufacturing (ADAM).
On a more collaborative note, CES 2017 certainly demonstrated the trend towards Open Innovation. The event saw a number of announcements of cooperative ventures involving industry incumbents and new entrants, between market giants and tech specialists. A number of major corporations, including LaPoste, Sony and Qualcomm, provided space on their stands to showcase startups working within their ambit.