Attending the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) is always a delightful way to kick off the new year and get into the right frame of mind for the challenges ahead. Last year, barely a month into my new role at InMotion, I spent a lot of time wandering across the tradeshow floors, marvelling at the production value of the exhibition stands of consumer electronic companies like Samsung and Panasonic, as well as automotive manufacturers.
There was a sense of déjà vu this year, with autonomous vehicles, digital assistants and connected hardware taking centre stage much as they did last year. The main difference was that at least some of these new consumer technologies – in particular digital assistants – have had their breakthrough moment in 2017 and are now a regular feature in millions of households. Little wonder, then, that Google was out in full force with its range of smart home products, with Google Assistant taking centre stage on its stand and at billboards across Las Vegas.
On the mobility front Toyota got a lot of attention for its e-Pallete, an autonomous electric vehicle that looks like a small bus, which can be used for ride sharing and retail delivery. Byton, which refers to Bytes on Wheels, presented a concept vehicle designed by former BMW and Apple employees. The most remarkable feature is its “digital lounge”, a huge touchscreen that stretches out across the entire dashboard. A touch screen is also integrated into the steering wheel.
But among the most memorable moments was the Ford keynote, delivered by CEO Jim Hackett. Towards the end of his presentation he asked Harvard University ethicist Michael Sandel to join him on stage, for what felt like it could be a watershed moment for the industry. Whether or not one subscribes to Jim Hackett’s vision of taking back the streets by completely redesigning the existing surface transportation system, and the role Ford can play in such a transformation process, here was a company engaged in a very public act of soul-searching that vividly demonstrated the challenges of the transformation process the automotive industry is undergoing.
There is always a risk associated with demoing the latest innovations in front of a live audience. The most memorable fail of CES 2017 was probably Faraday Future and its reluctant self-parking car. This year, the dubious honour goes to LG’s robot Cloi, which repeatedly ignored the commands of LG’s marketing chief.
But the odd mishap can’t detract from the sheer wealth of impressive technology on show. I’m looking forward to CES 2019 already.