What’s New at CES This Year?
Are you an electronics geek? A virtual reality fan boy?
If so, the massive CES show taking place this week in Las Vegas is like Christmas in January.
Sadly though, the timing of CES is a tad bittersweet. Thanks to the announcements made today and tomorrow by the major electronics manufacturers, you can pretty much guarantee that all the electronic gear Santa Claus tucked under your Christmas tree two weeks ago is now officially obsolete.
On a more positive note, you can start compiling your Christmas list for 2016 now…
And what would be on your 2016 electronics wish list?
First off plan on using more of that high-speed Internet bandwidth for streaming services. The major online entertainment networks like Hulu and Amazon are moving to 4K video streams, and the television hardware screens on display at CES are up-sized to match.
Speaking of new display technology, something that really caught our eye is a prototype technology from LG. It’s a flexible, bendable roll-up OLED screen (see video above) which, when commercialized, would be very useful for wearable devices.
And there are countless wearables at CES — ranging from sensor-enabled women’s bras (seriously!) to Under Armour’s connected running shoes with built-in accelerometers.
Drones continue to make headlines. Industry giant Intel announced they will acquire the German drone company Ascending Technologies which takes advantage of Intel’s 3-D depth camera that helps drones avoid collisions when flying.
But drone maker Parrot was the scene stealer at CES with their flying-wing drone, named Disco. To launch the Disco, you throw it into the air – just like a boomerang. The on-board electronics take command and fly the craft for you, you “pilot” the craft but leave the details to the device. The FAA and the Pilots Association must surely be going nuts over all these new miniature aircraft that will soon fill our skies.
According to the major announcements at CES, 2016 will be the year that new iOT (Internet of Things) devices will pour into the broader consumer electronics marketplace. Korean electronics giant Samsung, whose product portfolio ranges from smartphones to computer chips, is wading deep into the coming iOT wave.
At CES they are touting their Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator concept, which features a gigantic touch display built into the door of the refrigerator, enabling the family to communicate with one another and their connected devices.
Before you dismiss this as unnecessarily complicated technology to replace something decidedly low-tech that seems to work just fine (like a bulletin board or whiteboard or even Post-Its), consider that the system will allow you to check if you turned off the stove from your smartphone. It will also allow you to inspect what’s in the fridge at home when you are out shopping at the grocery story, thanks to cameras mounted inside the refrigerator that take pictures of what you have in stock.
That could be very useful!
Is CES now the *Car* Electronics Show?
As exciting as these new consumer electronic devices are, big announcements by Ford and GM dominated the early CES press wires.
Truly, the show has become as much an automotive event as a consumer electronics event — event to the point that we could easily rename CES the Car Electronics Show!
2015 was a banner year for US car sales, the largest in 15 years. Automakers sold 17.5 million cars and light trucks, totaling around $570 billion dollars.
Yet change is in the air. (And not just change from a possible 1000 HP ‘vaporware’ car from virtual unknown Faraday Future cars — see video above.)
Rather you could sense the change at CES by standing in a taxi line. Las Vegas was one of the last holdouts for ride-sharing services. Not this year: the dreaded ultra-long taxi lines by Lyft and Uber cars everywhere.
This is kind of symbolic as the major automotive manufacturers scramble to figure out the right business model and the right technology to attract customers in the coming years. Will self-driving cars be real? Will people continue to purchase their own cars, or will they rely on shared ride services? Will electric cars purchases take off so quickly that no one will want to buy the internal combustion engine models?
Announcements of auto technology partnerships and investments at CES are being issued in a fast and furious pace.
Wary of Apple and Google, Ford is developing its own automobile technology software platform and has agreed to license it to Toyota; they are also partnering with DJI and Amazon’s Echo to put voice-activated, artificial intelligence connected interfaces to the home from inside the car.
Meanwhile, GM has invested $500 million in Lyft, which in turn helped it raise a total of $1 billion on a $5 billion evaluation. Reportedly, GM will leverage its investment to create a new car sales channel for drivers who want to share their vehicles. But that’s just for the short term. In the longer term, GM believes that Lyft’s human drivers will be replaced with self driving cars– from GM of course.
So how real is a self-driving car? Will this become a common-place technology by the 2020s? By the 2030s?
If the presentation above by nVidia is to be believed, it’s much closer than you would think. nVidia, the spiritual successor to Silicon Graphics, which achieved success in the 1990s as the graphics powerhouse, has been touting their GPU (graphics processing units) as the leading technology to support deep learning in neural networks.
What the heck is that? Well, it turns out that the self driving car has a lot to do with other computer technologies, like voice recognition and handwriting recognition. Speech and handwriting and driving down the road appear to be completely random. But that’s not exactly true — they are random within the constraints of repeatable elements. And, if the computer can focus its attention on identifying these repeatable elements, it can learn them — learn to understand speech, learn to read your handwriting, and learn about obstacles on the roadway.
In sum, teaching the computer to understand specific micro tasks (like recognizing a spoken syllable) is deep learning, while combining all of the learning into one overall process is known as a neural network. When you talk to Google and your smart phone, you are talking into such a deep learning, neural network. Got it?
There’s more to it that that, certainly.
Teaching the car to drive by itself on the road is just one part of the equation, as explained by futurologist and trend researcher Alexander Mankowsky at Daimler AG, parent company of Mercedes-Benz. The other part (and this may be harder!) is teaching people about self-driving cars.
Mankowsky believes that self-driving cars will have to learn how to interact with humans, such as pedestrians crossing a street — and indicate their intentions. For example, today’s pedestrians can simply make eye contact with a human driver at a stop sign to know whether it’s safe to cross in front of the vehicle (or if they should hold back if they realize the driver hasn’t taken notice of them stepping ff the curb.)
In the fascinating video above, Mankowsky present some of the thinking going on it Mercedes-Benz over the last year that tries to establish direct communication between man and machine.
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