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Consumer Electronics Show

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was bigger than ever this year, covering an impressive 2.5 million net square feet of floor space spanning several venues, with amazing devices within recurring themes of virtual reality, artificial intelligence, autonomous cars, better (and thinner) tv’s, health tech and the internet of things. Overall the main drivers of technology going forward appear to be artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, virtual reality (VR), 5G and internet of things (IoT). The biggest themes were autonomous cars and personal assistant/smart home combinations.

There was no shortage of personal robots to fill whatever need one may have. Currently the market has been dominated by Google and Amazon. Similar to today’s assistants, Alexa and Google Home, in terms of AI capability, the new robots are designed to fulfill whatever void one may have in life. There are robots that can walk around your home with cameras providing security services. Or robots designed to provide owners with medication at the appropriate times and send messages back to family or health care providers if there is a problem. This is certainly one solution for taking care of our generation as we age given the elderly will vastly outnumber the young at some point. Other versions were designed to be babysitters and play with your children while being able to provide all sorts of facts and answer any questions along the way. There was also the robot dog, provided of course by a Japanese company, that pretty much does everything a real dog would do and more. Or if you are hug deprived, there is also a robot for that, one that can even display breathing functions to mimic those of a human when lying down.

The most impressive company was Nvidia in that it appears to have managed to dominate the autonomous machine intelligence processor market that is providing self-driving vehicles. Its processors can leverage computer vision, graphics and artificial intelligence to overlay information about road conditions and points of interest using interactive displays within the vehicle. It also facilitates the development and deployment of vehicle AI assistants that integrate sensor data both in the interior and exterior of the car. This means drivers and other passengers on the road can interact. The first central processing system that they built filled the entire trunk of the car, whereas the new one is a much smaller form that is roughly the size of a license plate. The world of self-driving cars is now a reality. There are many major cities already with tests underway. Based on the speed of deployment we think self-driving taxi services will be in business before the end of the decade. The only impediment at this point is probably regulation and security concerns. In the meantime the race continues to deliver the ultimate connected car experience for passenger vehicles. Electric car companies are sprouting up like weeds from all over the world. SUVs with screens that stretch from door to door, instead of dashboards, offering voice activation, facial recognition and gesture based controls. Or you can just connect your home Alexa to your car so that you can use voice control to adjust your seats, change climate settings or turn on music. The possibilities in the new “connected” car seem endless.

Virtual and augmented reality technologies were in the spotlight with many innovations. Cost and content, the headwinds to date, seem to be going away as problems following announcements from Intel and others. Intel has announced it will be the official VR provider for the Winter Olympics. New camera technologies will allow filming from multiple angles to create the 3D VR experience. In the past the cost of virtual reality at the consumer level was a problem, but this now appears to be changing with a wide range of lower cost devices being introduced. AR is something we can now all use in our everyday experiences. New AR applications are exciting for consumers such as the app for previewing a furniture purchase by superimposing the item right into a picture of your home.

When it comes to television and the home theater space, the picture quality is being lifted to unprecedented levels. LG displayed a new 88 inch 8K TV. The OLED space appears to move higher. LG also showcased the prototype for a 65” TV that rolls up like a yoga mat for those living in small apartments without a lot of space. However given where technology is going it appears that most likely at some point any flat surface will be able to project whatever you want. Indeed Sony already has a 4K Ultra Short Throw projector that can sit less than 10” away from the wall onto which a 4K image will be projected up to 120” in size. We have come a long way from the large boxes with antennas.

As 5G mobile networks are being rolled out across North America, the internet of things is becoming a reality. In particular healthcare and wearable products are becoming more functional. Peloton with its interactive and internet connected exercise equipment is getting a lot of traction. Likewise, fitness monitoring products and sleep management is becoming a large area of growth.

In terms of blockchain and cryptocurrency it is important to note that digital commerce is now 8-9% of all transactions but closer to 20% if your remove cars and groceries. Digital payment is one of the fastest growing markets and it is not clear yet what disruptive impact blockchain technology will have on traditional business.

Overall the dominant feature of this year’s conference was the progression of artificial intelligence. The number of AI enhanced home devices, including fridges, home security, and even mirrors are exploding. Whether in personal robots or autonomous cars, the improvements are starting to come faster and faster. What is not certain is whether society will be better or worse. It is hard to see how having children raised by robots is preferable to human child rearing. They will probably be smarter but when it comes to empathy and kindness and most of all, self worth, technology has so far lagged humankind.

The Summerhill Team

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