Each year the Las Vegas CES technology trade fair becomes a parade of outlandish devices as the the big industry trend-setters make their announcements for the coming year. Manufacturers like LG and Samsung compete to show off the latest models of their flexible displays or connected household appliances, while the likes of Amazon and Google continue the battle to place their virtual assistants in as may products as possible. What happened this year?
This technology showcase is usually divided into two broad categories: firstly, the technological gadgets that capture the attention of the media with curious functional propositions (often still in development). These may include anything ranging from clothes-folding robots to a slab of intelligent wood, from connected washing machines to underwater drones. Then, large companies tend to announce large deployments and commitments to specific technologies that will set the trend for the coming year, such as 5G or voice-controlled devices.
This year, as has become usual, both Google and Amazon attended the trade show – not only in their own booths, but also in the stands of their partners from all over the world who have created products that are compatible with their assistants: Alexa and Google Assistant. From ovens to light bulbs, from thermostats to doorbells and cars, this year CES was replete with devices compatible with Alexa, demonstrating that once again Amazon has slightly overtaken Google in terms of partner numbers.
CES took place in Las Vegas between 7th and 11th January.
5G technology, which will be rolled-out in some parts of the world this year, was also front and center in Las Vegas. Specifically, during the show Hans Vestberg, CEO of the telecom Verizon, declared that 5G represents a "quantum leap" in relation to 4G and announced some of their initiatives with various partners. For example Disney StudioLabs now works with the U.S telecommunications conglomerate and announced that it is preparing to use 5G in film production.
Speaking of unusual partners, eternal rivals Apple and Samsung used CES 2019 to announce their first collaboration: Samsung showcased a television that includes Apple’s digital content platform, iTunes, and allows users to use AirPlay 2 to play content on their devices. An unusual shift for Steve Jobs’ company, which is renowned for its closed platforms, which are normally incompatible with other manufacturers’ services or products.
Per usual, Apple did not attend the event, but it didn’t want to miss the chance to take advantage of the massive gathering of press promised by the trade fair: the company placed an advertisement on one of the busiest streets near the event, with a topical and playful reference to some of the technology giants’ recent privacy problems. The sign read: "What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone".
Cars and televisions of the future
There was also room in Las Vegas for the typical announcements about futuristic cars by brands such as Kia, which introduced the prototype for its capsule-shaped autonomous car; or China's Byton which exhibited a car equipped with 5G, artificial intelligence (Alexa integrated), and a huge display screen.
Kia is looking to make future autonomous vehicles as pleasant as possible (Image: Kia).
For yet another year, the audience at CES was regaled with a parade of next generation displays and screens that have evolved even greater versatility. Samsung exhibited a size-adjustable television thanks to microLED technology (they presented the prototype of this technology last year), and LG premiered the first OLED TV, which can be rolled up for storage when not in use. As is common for the event, most of the trade show participants did not provide definitive launch dates or final prices for their wares.
Royole proved to be an exception and featured a mobile device with a flexible screen , which is already available in China, according to the company.
The Royale FlexPai foldable smartphone / tablet. We are in the Stone Age of flexible display devices... #CES2019 #Foldable #FlexibleDisplay #BendyPhone pic.twitter.com/rI5SoB9Fkt
— Ben Wood (@benwood) 8 de enero de 2019
Beyond the major trends and much-anticipated announcements from large companies, CES is full of presentations from small start-ups, and unexpected products (some more useful than others) are on show. Here are some of the most notable of the year:
- A new technique using soybeans to make “vegan meat” allows vegetarians to concoct more elaborate dishes, such as hamburgers and steak tartare.
- A robot costing between $5,000 and $6,000 that provides companionship and hugs.
The (slighlty creepy) robot is called Lovot and is equipped with sensors to avoid obstacles when walking (Imagen: Lovot).
- A bipedal humanoid robot that plays the piano.
- A smart piggy bank in the shape of an actual pig wifi-enabled, allows you to watch your savings through its application.
- A treadmill for cats: very useful if you manage to get the cat to climb onboard.
Now, this is useful!
- Also at CES, the new interpreter mode of Google Assistant was tested for its ability to translate conversations in real time (here you can watch a demo).
- Technology that observes a car's driver with the aim to prevent distractions and collect useful data.
- Samsung's wearable exoskeleton that helps people with reduced mobility was unveiled alongside their new family of companionship robots
- Waterproof, yet breathable clothing engineered at the nanoscopic level blocks out water while allowing air to move freely.
I wasn't expecting this ...
- Hyundai unveils a 'car-robot' with legs that walk (here you can see it live).
- BMW exhibited a self-driving motor-bike,
BMW showed off a (sort-of) autonomous motorbike — it was being piloted by a human, but it was still balancing and making the turns itself #CES2019 pic.twitter.com/T3jGMR9ksv
— Mike Murphy is at CES (@mcwm) 8 de enero de 2019
- A slab of intelligent wood integrated with Google Assistant and with a tactile panel.
- And, a $7000 smart toilet equipped with hi-fi speakers, ambient lighting, heating, automatic cleaning, and voice controlled through Alexa.