A Test Drive Through the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show
It wasn’t quite Planes, Trains & Automobiles, but the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) had plenty of drones, robots and autonomous vehicles. An annual must-do event on any techie’s calendar, CES is an exhausting and exhilarating walk through the future of consumer technology.
We have been regular attendees for about a decade now, and each year the show gets bigger, more audacious and more impossible to completely take in. This year was not a disappointment except for the occasional onset of claustrophobia resulting from the crush of a record attendance and, of course, the infamous power failure that threw more than half of the Las Vegas Convention Center into total darkness for two hours. Other than that, we had a blast.
So what was hot at CES this year? Artificial intelligence (AI). Of course, AI gets tagged to a lot of gadgets nowadays whether the underlying technology is classic AI or not. For example, Amazon’s incredibly popular Echo voice-activated speaker features Alexa, which is called an artificially intelligent voice assistant. And Alexa was indeed all over the place in Vegas. It seems that Amazon has raced to the top — its Alexa system is integrated into consumer products such as refrigerators, lamps, cars, bicycle helmets, lawn equipment and even toilets.
No doubt rival Google has taken note of the explosive growth of the Alexa ecosystem. Google was promoting its alternative voice AI, Google Assistant (found on Android phones and Google’s Home smart speaker), with prominent signage on everything from billboards to monorail wraps to huge banners in the convention center and nearby hotels. It seems that Google wants to be the premier embedded voice assistant for everyday consumer products. We say let Google and Amazon fight it out for voice assistant supremacy. The competition can only mean better products for the consumer. In our opinion, the biggest losers in the voice assistant wars are Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana.
THE ROBOTS REALLY ARE COMING
We also saw big growth in the presence of robotics at CES. Don’t worry — we didn't see any as good-looking as us (now that is a low bar) nor any that we felt were a threat to our jobs. But make no mistake — robots are in our future. We saw robots as butlers, cleaners, elder caregivers, babysitters, pets, ping-pong players, factory workers, builders and even laundry folders. Advances in robotic technology coupled with the aforementioned AI make robots increasingly viable for routine jobs including food service, basic customer service, goods delivery, and companionship and some level of oversight for children and the elderly.