As I write this, the pain in my aching feet is finally showing signs of subsiding. According to the fitness tracking app on my phone, last week I walked 80.9km (50.2 miles) in 4 days – that’s almost 2 entire marathons back to back!!!
While this might not seem to be a great achievement to the fitness fanatics out there, it might surprise you to learn that I covered this distance while pounding the halls attending CES (The Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas. For those of you unfamiliar with the worlds biggest annual geekfest, the official statistics from the CES website state that the event is spread across 11 official venues with more than 2.9 MILLION net square feet of exhibit space occupied by over 4,500 companies and is attended by over 180,000 visitors from over 150 countries!!
In order to do what I do, I track changes in TIPS (Technologies, Innovations, Patents and Startups) and if I’m at all able to fit it into my schedule, CES is at the top of my “must attend” event list for the year.
Sure, most of the stuff I see, I’ve seen before – which is why I said above that I track the “changes” in TIPS – I’m always on the lookout for how things are evolving, what new use cases they are being put to, what new signals and trends are emerging or being reinforced. This means that I try to cover as much of what is on show as humanly possible in the four short days of the event.
It will take a few weeks to fully digest everything that I saw as I pour over the photos and videos I captured and wade through the mountain of literature and links that I brought back with me but there were a few high level overall themes that immediately spring to mind.
The first of these is that “voice interfaces are here now” – they are no longer the gimmick of yesteryear and consumers clearly love them. Google had a huge presence all around the show with enormous “Hey Google” banners plastered everywhere you looked and droves of people walking around in white Google overalls all over the place. I also noted a number of startups that had been accelerated / incubated / supported by Google to bring more voice enabled products to market. Amazon took a lovely room strategically positioned on the entrance walkway into the Sands convention centre in the Venetian. They filled their futuristic looking space with everything from washing machines and doorbells to coffee makers and …….cars! Yes, Amazon had an Audi e-tron electric vehicle on their stand which boasted Alexa enabled electric charging in addition to the standard Alexa skills you would find in your home devices.
Pretty much all of the major consumer electronics manufacturers showcased voice interfaces that were compatible with Google or Alexa and a few of them had their own voice assistants (how many do we need??) that promised lives free of the friction of fiddling with buttons or having to RTFM.
For me however, one company achieved a “mic drop moment” with their Amazon Alexa voice integration – I supply as evidence the pic I snapped when walking past the stand for OhMiBod :-
Clearly, if you are serious about delivering on your “customer satisfaction” promise –
you need a voice strategy now!
Another theme that came to mind was “the disruptors are going to be disrupted” – and it’s probably going to be by legacy BigTech players that are expanding into new areas. An example of this comes from the likes of Bosch – while Uber might have disrupted the taxi industry by democratising ride hailing, Bosch (and Panasonic on their stand and others too) plan to disrupt Uber by eliminating the driver from the equation completely with their autonomous vehicle concepts. It was also interesting to see that Harley Davidson chose to unveil their Livewire electric powered motorcycle on the Panasonic stand – while Tesla may have disrupted the motor industry with fantastic electric vehicles and battery technology, the BigTech players are firmly expanding into the automotive arena with multiple collaborations across the ecosystem – the battery in the motorcycle on the Panasonic stand is actually supplied by Samsung ……. Panasonic was showcasing it’s involvement in the connectivity and controls. Of course Nvidia has been involved in the automotive industry for some time now, providing gorgeous high resolution graphics to vehicle dashboards but now they are positioning themselves as an AI company by expanding into image recognition for autonomous vehicles complete with their own autonomous transport vehicle concept the E/NRIDE. They aren’t what I would classify as legacy BigTech, but they are making big waves.
Another example of Panasonic disrupting the disruptors was found on the back of their stand in the form of their “eMart” and “Smart Locker” concepts. Amazon is known for innovating in the retail space with things like the Amazon Go unattended stores and Amazon lockers for collecting your online deliveries at your convenience have become a fairly ubiquitous sight in malls and shops. Panasonic have developed an “AI powered” mobile refrigerated version of the Amazon Locker that sort of works like an Ice Cream truck that trundles around and brings fresh produce right to your door ……… if this doesn’t make any sense to you then more info can be found on this link.
Of course, CES is also filled with many WTF moments – some of them in a good way, like the absolutely enormous Bell Nexus autonomous drone helicopter that everyone was queuing to get into (OK – guilty as charged) – this futuristic machine looked like it had just come straight off a Hollywood Sci-Fi movie set and it dwarfed everyone around it. I’m not sure when it’s going to take to the skies but they seemed to be pretty confident that it’s going to be sometime pretty soon.
And then there are the other kind of WTF moments which are much more common …….. those where you have to wonder who in their right mind paid to have the things developed in the first place and wonder even more who ends up buying them!!!! (perhaps nobody does and it’s all just “Innovation Theatre” ??)
Things like this for example:-
Click on the image above to see this device in action …….. it’s a connected device that you’re supposed to use to “reward” your employees with a round of applause when they do something good ……… because clapping your hands is too much effort to show recognition???
But it ain’t all bad – keep your eyes open and take in everything you can – and just maybe you will find something that will restore your faith in humanity and the consumer technology industry.
People often make the mistake of conflating Innovation and Invention but most often, innovation doesn’t include any invention, it’s simply remixing and repurposing what’s already out there and putting it together in a way that makes a real impact. My personal favourites normally fall under the #techforgood banner and this year I came across a real gem in the form of the “Solar Cow” who win my personal award for “Best in Show” when it comes to impactful innovation (oh, and they also happened to win an award from CES in recognition of their project).
The concept is simple – they use the economic value of electricity to incentivise parents in rural Africa to send their children to school instead of sending them out to work at a young age – thus having a huge impact on reducing child labour. They did this by first finding out how much it costs the parents to charge their mobile phones or to pay for fuel for lighting their homes – including the time they lose by walking to and from the nearest shop or place to recharge their phone etc. They then found out how much the children earn per day by being sent off to mines or farms for a day of gruelling labour. Their next step was to set up solar powered charging stations at schools (the frame is in the outline shape of a cow) and they provided each child that attended school with a “milk bottle” shaped high capacity USB charger that is plugged into the “cow” when they arrive at school and they take it home fully charged at the end of the school day. The economic value of the charged device is far greater to parents than the pittance the children would earn for their labour – a win all round.
I encourage you to read more about this inspirational project here.
What could you achieve if you applied your thinking differently? I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes as food for thought:-
“Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can”
– Arthur Ashe