UPDATED 21:54 EDT / JANUARY 08 2018


CES 2018: Tech devices are ready to get personal with us

If there is a single image that sums up what can be expected in consumer technology over the coming year, it appeared barely three hours into the press conference cycle Sunday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas: Steve Koenig, senior director of market research at the Consumer Technology Association, flashed an image on a ballroom screen of a woman in bed with her arms peacefully wrapped around the Somnox (pictured), a robotic pillow designed to breathe with the holder and ensure a restful sleep.

The coming year will be about more than just using new tech gadgets. Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and relentless data gathering, technology has crossed the Rubicon into a world where user interaction will become personal, contextual and intimate.

When consumers are not cuddling up with robots, they will be using more devices with AI capabilities for home appliances, TVs, cars and health monitoring. The news from the mammoth CES gathering so far is that digital assistants such as Amazon.com Inc.’s Alexa are poised to become a major force across device platforms, feeding off a constant stream of data to become smarter and know consumers better than their own mothers.

“AI has been working behind the scenes in a lot of different sectors for quite a while,” Koenig said. “These digital assistants will occupy more vessels.”

Major growth in smart home and audio products

It didn’t take long for the vessel expansion picture to come into focus. In a report issued on Sunday by CTA, smart speaker shipments increased 279 percent in the U.S. last year. Smart home products for the U.S. are expected to reach 40 million units in 2018, up 41 percent.

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and LG Electronics Inc. have already made announcements that underscore the AI trend. At a Sunday evening preview for select media, Samsung unveiled a TV with 8K AI technology. This may seem a little ambitious since most TVs today barely have enough 4K content to make this worthwhile, but the company views AI as the path to get to 8K whenever it’s good and ready.

“It’s TV that intelligently upscales the viewing resolution to an 8K viewing experience,” explained Dave Das, senior vice president at Samsung Electronics America.

LG rolls out AI brand

A year ago during CES, LG announced that every appliance in its portfolio would be Wi-Fi connected. On Monday, LG opened its press conference with the news that every device would now include AI, introducing ThinQ as its global AI brand.

“ThinQ will completely change the way you use our products,” said I.P. Park, LG’s president and chief technology officer. “You won’t have to study instruction manuals anymore.”

LG’s robot vacuum cleaners will leverage ThinQ to learn the people and pets who reside in the home. Smart home controllers will automatically know to adjust the temperature, lights and even open the garage door automatically.

Yet even AI-equipped robots can still have an off day. The company hoped to showcase CLOi, a curvy, lovable looking new robot with expressive picture screen eyes that is designed to provide the AI-fueled vocal interface for the smart home. But CLOi stopped responding to an LG executive about two minutes into a presentation, adding yet another chapter to the dangers of live new product demonstrations on the unforgiving CES stage.

Health and fitness products are getting smarter, too. A relatively new category of products with the capability to provide remote monitoring and convert that data into a plan for changing patient habits is entering the market. Companies such as 2breathe, which makes a sleep aid, and DiabNext, which offers insulin care for diabetics, are part of the coming wave.

Digital health has showed no signs of slowing down,” said Jill Gilbert, producer of the CES Digital Health Summit, who spoke at a lifestyle tech press conference on Sunday. “Digital therapeutics will explode onto the scene.”

BYTON’s smart concept car

In the automotive sector, one company is positioning itself as not merely redefining cars, but life itself. BYTON, a Chinese-funded startup — the name is derived from “Bytes on Wheels” — unveiled its concept model on Sunday. The Alexa-equipped vehicle will “be as intuitive as any other smart device you have ever seen,” according to Carsten Breitfeld, BYTON’s co-founder and chief executive.

The BYTON’s most significant feature is a TV console dashboard that runs completely across the front of the car, coupled with a touch screen mounted on the steering wheel. The dashboard is controlled using touch, voice and even hand gestures. An internal camera recognizes the driver and automatically adjusts the seat based on stored intelligence. “We describe it as a digital lounge experience,” Breitfeld said.

Even four-footed friends are not immune to the AI tsunami. Petcube has just introduced AI-powered pet detection technology. The new offering recognizes Fido or Fluffy, takes a selfie and can initiate two-way video calls. With your pet. Seriously.

CES kicks off for real on Tuesday, when the multiple exhibit floors scattered across Las Vegas open for attendees. It’s a safe bet, given the early signals from major players like LG and Samsung, that there will be plenty of AI on display. How much of it will see true consumer adoption and growing market share by this time next year will be one of the key questions to be answered in 2018.

Photo: Somnox

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