Always getting smarter? The trends of CES 2017

With the dust firmly settled on this year’s CES we thought we’d take a look back at the show to see what stood out in terms of overall trends, with AI, security, connected cars, VR, AR and drones all making their mark.

Listen up

Did this year’s show have the X-Factor? Well, to be honest it was probably more ‘The Voice’.  The big shout, so to speak turned out to be Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, which seems to have broken out of its Echo cage and made its way into a wide variety of devices, from a number of third-party speakers, to ‘smart’ fridge’s and autonomous cleaning robots .

alexa AI

However, while Alexa is the current poster child for smart AI, it has clearly has a long way to go to becoming truly smart. This was brought home to me while listening to a podcast on my phone, ironically about the latest trends out of CES, while connected to an Echo over Bluetooth. Each time one of the hosts on the podcast mentioned Alexa, the Echo device would hear it and anticipating a command would then say, “I’m sorry, I don’t know the answer to that question,” – interrupting the podcast in the process.

Similarly, a news report recently on a San Diego station on the Echo caused it to mistakenly order doll’s houses all across America. There’s also the issue that Alexa-enabled smart locks that will only do half the job – you can lock the doors using your voice, but not unlock, due to reasonable concerns that people will just shout at Alexa through locked doors to unlock the doors.

While a marketing slogan for the Echo is that Alexa is “always getting smarter”, the fact that it can’t yet recognise that the activation word is coming from its own speaker, or be able to voice match a particular person, it is clear that we’re still very much at the start of the ‘smart’ AI journey. That said, it seems that voice control is offering more tangible benefits in the real-world the new batch of ‘smart’ devices, with many failing to impress the media.

Smartening up

This year, the Internet of ‘Things’ seemed to come alive at CES, with devices weird, wonderful and not so wonderful, all around, like the cantina in Star Wars in gadget form.

Many of these devices have had smart functions grafted onto them even when the need to do so seems tenuous. Adding ‘Smart’ in front of something right now gives that product a touch of the cutting-edge – like adding .com to a business did at the turn of the millennium. So this year we got the smart hairbrush and the smart bed (favourite comment on this: “a bed with a lengthy privacy agreement… wonderful.”), and a ‘smart cane’. Clearly, we’re in a chaotic place at the moment with IoT, where many companies are willing to throw anything at the wall to see if it will stick.

The need for security

If more attention needs to be paid to the products itself, there is a fair chance that many companies are not putting too much thought into security of these products. However, for other companies security was very much front-of-mind. This eye-catching router from Norton is designed to bring enterprise-grade packet-inspection to home routers. With the number of connected devices in the home set to increase greatly, it makes sense to secure things at source. Here at Imagination we’ve been talking about our OmniShield technology for the last couple of years, which is designed to offer hardware-level protection through techniques such as virtualization and multi-domain zones.

Norton Core router
The Norton Core router with enterprise-grade security

Connected cars

Connected cars were naturally a large part of the agenda at CES: with the headlines grabbed by the Faraday Future FF91 electric car, complete with a large number of sensors; 10 front and rear-facing cameras, 13 long and short-distance radars, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and high-def LIDAR. Oh, and 1,000 bhp and a 0-60 time of under three seconds. There was some debate over whether the company will actually be able to bring a car to production, but it was certainly eye-catching stuff.

Faraday Future FF91
The 1000bhp Faraday Future FF91

BMW, Intel and the Mobileye, also announced at CES that they would bring a fleet of about 40 autonomous BMW cars on the roads in the US by the end of the year. Mobileye’s camera-based technology powers most of the world’s self-driving cars and uses Imagination’s MIPS processors alongside its own IP.

VR

Virtual reality of course continued to make waves. Many products are in the market but it’s very much at the early stages. Almost all solutions are currently tethered, but at Imagination we believe that untethered mobile solutions are what will take VR mainstream. In our suite at the show we demoed a 2K VR head-mounted VR display produced by Chinese company Nibiru. This uses an Actions S-900VR SoC powered by Imagination’s PowerVR G6230 GPU.

Nibiru VR
The Nibiru VR wireless headset featuring a PowerVR G6230 GPU

Other activity included a headset from Lenovo based on Microsoft’s Windows 10-based HoloLens system and many 360 video, devices, including one supporting 8K video from Insta aimed at professional users.

There was also significant activity in the areas of high-end 4K TVs, with Panasonic and Sony announced screens based on OLED display technology, to give LG some competition in this space. The big selling point of these new screens is as much their support for HDR, as discussed here, as for 4K resolution.

Drones (GPU, for Vision)

There was also much activity around drones, mounted with increasingly sophisticated cameras, including some that were for industrial use, as well as models aimed at consumers. These are differentiated by having longer flying times and some autonomous capabilities.

drones CES 2017
Drones were everywhere at CES 2017

Off the boil

While all these topics were notable for the attention they received, it also highlighted what was far less noticeable at the show. Wearables were far less in evidence, and while there was still activity, it seems that the category is still maturing. We will mention Huami’s Amazfit Pace smart watch, which while previously a China-only device, is now available in the US. It offers up to five days of battery life and 35 hours continual even with GPS and heart-rate tracking enabled. This is an impressive feat for a smartwatch and has much to do with the efficiencies of the MIPS Ingenic M200S on which it is based.

amazfit pace MIPS
Huami’s Amazfit Pace smart watch

 

Conclusion

The CES 2017 snapshot demonstrates that with the amounts of activity in terms of AI, VR/AR, image sensors for drones and even wearables, 2017 is set to be an one of great opportunity for  Imagination and its IP.

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