Posted By Simon Montford on January 11, 2017
CES 2017 has drawn to a close for another year, so I have featured some of my highlights from the show that include robots, wearables, drones, smart home tech, smartphones and cars. In addition, gadgets announced at CES have been included on this month's featured products page. We don't usually feature them from major OEMs like Samsung, Nvidia, HTC, Huawei, and LG because most of the really cutting-edge innovations tend to come from independent makers and startups, but every January we make an exception.
Before I tell you what I think will be the major tech trend of 2017, I'll start with a few observations and list my favourite products in each category. Disclaimer: I didn't attend CES this year in person, but instead followed the event remotely via live online broadcasts and social media.
Let's start with the stand-out theme of the show - Alexa. She was everywhere! She made her presence felt by appearing in not only smart home gadgets, but also in-car systems and even wearables. There's no doubt she's gained far more traction than any of her competitors. Maybe the reason why Amazon has been able to gain such widespread adoption across so many different industry verticals is thanks to the company's cloud hosting division. Perhaps some of the cred and goodwill gained from taking such good care of their corporate clients' data has trickled over to the Alexa division. Another theory is maybe their willingness to enter into strategic partnerships with Amazon, as opposed to others with similar tech, may also be because they view Amazon as less of a strategic threat than the likes of Google, Microsoft and Apple. The final other factor that could explain Amazon's abilty to win partners is that they were first. Don't forget Alexa is no spring chicken. She's been around since 2014, so she's the most tried and tested of her kind on the market.
Even though new competitors will enter the space in 2017, I expect her dominance to continue for quite some time as she gets progressively smarter, and her range and number of skills increase. Amazon sure has come a long way since their first failed foray into the connected hardware sector, ahem, Fire Phone anyone?
Alexa wasn't the only one of her kind on offer at the show. Other similar devices included Baidu's Little Fish, GoogleHome in the form of Shield Spot (similar to an Echo Dot), and Lenovo Smart Assistant (powered by Alexa).
Moving on from smart home assistants, there was the usual battle among TV OEMs to claim the thinnest, lightest, brightest and sharpest display. This year the award went to LG for the W7 Signature, which sported an OLED display less than 3mm thick!
Futuristic prototypes and electrically-powered semi-autonomous cars continue to be a big thing. Highlights included the Toyota Concept-i, Honda NeuV, Mercedes Generation EQ, but the star of the show was the Faraday Future FF91.
Fitness wearables were aplenty. They included the Motiv smart ring, Proof, the Garmin Fenix 5, the New Balance RunIQ, the MisFit Vapor, and the Polar Team Pro Shirt. Head-mounted AR devices continued to make an appearance with OEMs such as Vuzix and ODG, which have prevailed where Google Glass failed. VR is also thriving with Intel's Project Alloy and HTC's Vive. Also Lenovo revealed some Windows Holographic-based VR headsets, as did Pico with the Neo CV.
A variety of drones were launched during the show. Let's start with the big daddy - the eHang 184 people carrying drone. Everyone thought it was a crazy concept when it debuted at CES last year, but apparently trials are being done to use it to swiftly transport donated organs to those urgently in need. The weirdest drones that I came across included a fish-hunting UUV, and an egg-shaped device both courtesy of PowerVisionme. Slightly more conventional, but still worth checking out, was the Mola X 1.0 that rotates to become an X-shaped quadcopter, the Hover Camera Passport, and the super fast - UVify. Finally a home security company called Alarm.com announced that they are working with intel to develop a fleet of surveillance drones, that will patrol homes when unoccupied.
Tech for the younger generation included Snoo, a smart cot developed by designer Yves Béhar, Lego Boost that aims to help kids code, and the Fisher-Price Think & Learn Smart Cycle.
Robots that could do all kinds of things including household chores such as drink pouring, picking up groceries, folding laundry, and offering companionship were in attendance. My favourites ones included Moro, Hubble Hugo, Olly, Albert Einstein HUBO, LG Hub, Ubtech Lynx, Kuri and, thanks to Panasonic, a robotic egg!?
Although not usually a staple of CES, several smartphone makers did debut products during the show. Most save their latest wares for MWC, which is held in Barcelona each year towards the end of February. My favorites included the Coolpad Conjr, the Nokia 6, the Blackberry "Mercury", the Asus ZenPhone AR which will come with both Tango as well as Daydream, and there were two phones from Huawei; the Honor 6X and Mate 9 (with Alexa).
In terms of trends, expect to see devices capable of human-to-machine conversation everywhere; in your home, car, and office - literally everywhere. Voice command will soon become just as ubiquitous as touch. Alexa is being integrated into all kinds of different objects, and will eventually become far more than just a metal cylinder containing a mic and speaker. My guess is that future models will feature facial and expression recognition, and you will be able to interact with her using not only voice, but also touch and gesture. Conversing with her will become far more fluid, and she will learn how to read our emotions in order to understand us better with the aim of becoming more like us. In a few years we'll look back and wonder how we managed without her.
There is no doubt that robots will soon become a very big part of our everyday lives. We'll grow acustomed to utilising them for functional purposes as well as for companionship and entertainment. I wonder if domestic robots will continue to look like something from a Disney movie, or if manufacturers will go the route of attempting to make them more like us; in our own image à la UK Channel 4 series "Humans", or that iconic scene from the movie Bladerunner where the CEO of Tyrell Corp states the company motto "more human than human".
Either way the pace of innovation within the Artificial Intelligence and robotics sector is accelerating at breakneck speed. Many things in the field that were widely considered totally inconceivable only a few years ago have already become achievable. For this reason I'm not ruling anything out, including Alexa becoming the next president of the United States! They say truth is stranger than fiction, and these days I'm really starting to believe them.
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