Day 2 of CES comes to a close, and two trends from Day 1 remain: I saw more robots that do face recognition, and I remain underwhelmed. Today, I walked the cartoonishly huge Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), which was dedicated to automotive technology, more robots, more health tech, displays, and accessories. The LVCC is different from the Sands, which I walked on Day 1, in that it’s full of big, established manufacturers: Panasonic, LG, Samsung, Mercedes, Jaguar, Qualcomm, Volkswagen, and so on. The Sands had smaller companies, startups, and university-supported products. After two full days of walking the convention, the technology that made the strongest showing was:
- Virtual Reality
- Camera products
- Automotive (inside the cockpit)
Honorable mention goes to gesture control. I was surprised by the poor showing of health-oriented products. There were plenty of fitness products, but these were the ho-hum Fitbit-like wearables we’ve seen for some time now. I’m not a gamer, but I was quite impressed with the immersive VR tech I played with.
At the intersection of health and automotive was Mercedes. They put sensors in the steering wheel of one of their cars to detect heart rate. If the car determined that you were stressed, it could alter the interior conditions: lighting, music, and – I kid you not – aroma. The glove box contains a scent cartridge that it would introduce into the airflow system to aromatherapy you back to your happy place. Mercedes took the idea that ‘technology companies are really lifestyle companies’ a bit too far – the car offers you suggestions on how to live a fitter, healthier existence based on what it detects and knows about you. Being alone in a car can be a place of respite… I sure as heck don’t want to be nagged about my sloth while I’m driving an expensive car to In-N-Out Burger.
Day 2 was replete with robots. LG seems to want to bring WALL-E to life with its airport information robot, lawn mower robot, and household ‘Hub robot.’ Robots from less well-known manufacturers were also in full force, and as I mentioned in yesterday’s wrap-up, face recognition appears to be de rigueur. Wavebot, which looks like something you squeeze to plop out cookie dough or raw falafels, was being marketed as a butler/watchdog that continually roams your house. Both it and other robots on display were not working because of the usual convention WiFi failures, so I didn’t really get a sense of their value… or likelihood of killing me and my family because the face recognition broke. My big takeaway was: The Age of Household Robots is nowhere near.
However… virtual assistant technology seems to be galloping at a rapid clip. I saw several integrations of Alexa into non-cyclindrical devices. Volkswagen introduced it into their cars, LG put it in a fridge, and a small robot named Lynx allows Alexa to bumble around your house and wave at you. Toyota built its own chirpy virtual ‘companion’ named Yui that merges the virtual assistant with self-driving. Unsurprisingly, this was merely a concept demo. Sidebar: all of these virtual assistants are so nice. I’m from New York originally – will someone please build me an Alexa/Siri mod that makes it cranky and profane? “Siri, what’s the temperature?” “Stick yer friggin’ head out the window and check yourself, ya schmuck.” “Thanks, Siri… you feel like family.”
Qualcomm showed off a super tiny camera and sensor, which seemed ideal for integration into… well… anything. The person I spoke to mentioned toys, and after December’s ugly story about wildly insecure IoT toys that can be used to spy on children, this development made me more concerned than excited.
Ultimately, I found Day 2 less satisfying than Day 1, in large part because the big manufacturers are trotting out incremental product advancements, rather than the risker, more interesting technology that smaller companies are launching. On the whole, CES failed to excite me; I am aware that writing that puts me at odds with lots of other analysts who want to tell you how amazing everything is. Still, a few things inspired me, a few surprised me, and some products just seemed stupid.
With regard to privacy, this was a Consumer Electronics Show, and so the products were mainly ones that we would bring into close contact with our lives – on our person, in our cars, and in our homes. So, for me, the privacy issues raised are:
- Encroachment on intimacy: household robots, toys and other near at hand objects with cameras and other sensors means increased collection of intimate moments and activities.
- Further disappearance of surveillance technology: smaller cameras means less awareness of being monitored and recorded.
- Normalization of child surveillance: cameras in the home and toys means much more collection of children’s behavior and interactions.
- Expansion of stakeholders: decreasing costs to include cameras, microphones and other monitoring devices means it’s easier for new entrants into technology markets to introduce monitoring features. Will those new entrants know how to handle intimate personal data respectfully?
I expand on these concerns in my report, Privacy and the Internet of Things, which you can download for free from O’Reilly. And, while CES didn’t impress very much, I at least did not see things that filled me with terror. I did find a bust of Siegfried & Roy, which made the whole trip worthwhile.