This is my third annual trip report on the Consumer Electronic Show (CES), presented each January in Las Vegas by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). I attended CES as a precursor to the CES Government (CESG) conference which was once again outstanding. But here is my CES 2018 story. Warning, it’s long read!
The trip to CES this year was eventful in mostly good ways. But it began for me, or rather got a late start, due to a travel issue. While I left home at 6:30am, plenty of time (well maybe a little close) for my 8:15am flight, someone had hit a deer on my route, backing up traffic. As a result I arrived at the check-in counter at 7:35am. It turns out there is a hard cutoff for checked bags 45 minutes before departure, so I missed it by 5 minutes. The pro tip I’ve since received from regular travelers is that the cut off for bags checked curbside by a skycap is only 30 minutes.
In any event, the agent was able to reschedule me for another direct flight at 5:30pm. It wasn’t the end of the world – I got to spend a little more time that day with my oldest two kids, still home from college for winter break – though it did mean I would lose a day on the show floor at CES.
But the drama wasn’t over yet – I nearly missed the 5:30 flight too! I was at the gate well before boarding time when they announced a flight delay of “at least 90 minutes”. After confirming with the gate agent that I heard him correctly, I walked down the concourse a ways, got a drink and a snack, and did some reading. After about 45 minutes I happened to hear the airport-wide announcement asking me, specifically, to return to my gate! So pro tip #2 is when your flight is delayed, don’t stray beyond earshot of the gate, or least not beyond line of sight to the crowd waiting to board. I made the flight and ended up getting in to the hotel – the Monte Carlo, soon to be renamed the Park MGM – a little after midnight EST/9pm local.
Pro tip 1: When running late check your bag at curb.
Pro tip 2: If your flight is delayed at the gate, stay close by because things change!
I was awake, dressed, and ready to go Wednesday morning by 6am (since that was 9am EST). The CES show floor wouldn’t open for 3 more hours. So I walked from the Monte Carlo to the Sands Expo Hall in the Venetian. It was about a 40 minute leisurely hike. The Strip is very different that time of day from the Vegas stereotype – it’s more like any other city street in America with service workers doing maintenance, etc. It was surprisingly peaceful.
At 9am I stood in a ballroom at the Venetian – large as ballrooms go, but small compared to the main exhibit halls of CES – dedicated to the 2018 CES Innovation Award winners. Next pro tip – this is a great way to see most of the top tech at the entire show in one reasonably-sized space. Most items are presented in glass cases like museum exhibits , accompanied by a brief description, but without all the marketing hype (or marketeers) present at the product’s corresponding booth somewhere out on the show floor. Previously they had located this showcase in Eureka Park (see below) but they moved it this year and that was probably a good idea. My only suggestion would be that they use even more floor space to spread everything out as it got very crowded in that room with people lingering around the displays. Another pro tip – if you can’t get to CES in person, you can always see all the Innovation Awardees here: https://www.ces.tech/Events-Experiences/Innovation-Awards-Program/Honorees.aspx
Pro tip 3: Hit the Innovation Showcase to see most of the best of CES all in one relatively small space.
Pro tip 4: If you can’t make it to CES, everything in the Innovation Showcase can be viewed on the CES web site.
Next I entered the upper level halls of Sands and spent until about 11:15am (woefully little time) hitting two exhibits I specifically wanted to see for self-serving reasons:
– VEX Robotics (https://www.vexrobotics.com/) is the leading STEM education robotics platform in middle and high schools. There are competitive teams popping up all over the country. We bought my youngest son a kit for his birthday a month earlier so I was anxious to find out if the newly announced version was better (it is) and if so, are they offering a trade-in program (they are).
– NuHeara (https://www.nuheara.com/) is a smart earbud platform I demoed last year and then actually bought and tried out a set at Christmas time. The idea is they let you listen to music, sure, but they also can allow ambient sound through the earbuds and you can control what kind of sound is blocked or not. The most interesting use case to me is the ability to block background noise and chatter at a large dinner meeting and instead enhance the voice frequencies of the people at the table. My experience over the holidays was that it didn’t work as well as advertised yet – at least not for me – but the potential is there. I ended up returning them (thanks BestBuy!) but wanted to see what the new version would look like and, more importantly, what it would sound like. Unfortunately, they were not doing demos. But they have announced new models on either side of the current one – one lower end model that simply turns active noise cancellation on or off, and a higher end model with more customization options for the sound which is aimed at people who have actual hearing loss. This will be a space that remains interesting to watch as CTA, the host organization for CES, recently worked to establish an international standard for non-prescription hearing aid devices so we will probably see more products like this emerge.
Another booth I spotted was NuCalm (https://www.nucalm.com/). I heard their pitch last year and it seemed intriguing, but I didn’t get to demo because of huge lines. This time the line was short so I gave it a whirl. The idea with NuCalm is it uses neural stimulation in conjunction with alpha wave sounds through noise-cancelling earphones, an herbal supplement, and a sleeping mask as a comprehensive system for relieving feelings of stress and anxiety. They claim that a 20 minute session with NuCalm is as restorative as a good night’s sleep. In fact, it can be used as a treatment for people who are having problems sleeping, not getting enough sleep, or whose jobs are physically and/or mentally demanding. The Chicago Blackhawks hockey team uses the product heavily, they claimed (in fact all their employees were wearing Hawks jerseys). I was feeling anxious anyway with several things on my mind (occupational hazard) so I felt it would be an interesting test. You first chew a dose of the supplement and apply a lotion to the side of your neck and the inside of your wrists – my understanding is that the lotion does something to “wake up” certain receptors – then you stick a little electrode pad behind the base of each ear, then put on the eye mask and headphones. The attendant tilted the lounge chair back and said they would wake me up in 20 minutes.
If this had worked, I would probably have considered paying a great deal of money for it. Alas, it did not, at least not really. One of their promotional quotes said something like, “It’s not like you don’t feel stress anymore, it’s that you can’t feel stress anymore.” That part is sort of true in my experience. After a few minutes into the process, I would actively try to call to mind big things that had really been bothering me just before the process started. Normally doing that causes at least butterflies in the stomach but usually also increased heart rate and breathing, maybe sweating, etc. depending on the particular stressor(s). With a NuCalm procedure underway, that didn’t happen, which is pretty cool. However, not feeling those effects is, as it turns out, not the same thing as saying one feels calm. It’s hard to explain but, while I wasn’t feeling those typical stress responses, I also didn’t feel, well, calm and settled in my mind. It was like I still felt tense but just couldn’t put my finger on the reason why. As a comparison, after several servings of alcohol, a person’s mind tends to let go of those stress responses and it does feel relaxed. It also feels other things of course like disorientation, inhibition, etc. But that effect of setting one’s troubles aside didn’t happen to me during the NuCalm procedure.
After the session I had a mild headache, and shortly after that chills for about an hour. I’m not sure if that was coincidental or an aftereffect of the receptor cream and/or supplement. Like I said, if it had worked, it would have been worth a great deal to me. I understand they sell a higher end version of the product to so-called “sedation” dentist offices. I can see how it would probably work well in that situation since the patient would not be able to feel the anxiety surrounding getting dental work done. Anyway, it was an interesting 20 minute experiment, and to be fair, I wouldn’t pass judgement based on one experience with it. They are bringing out a new product later this year so I’ll keep my eye on them.
In addition to these particular targets, I saw many more things of interest but had to hop around much more than in past years, given my time constraints. I’m afraid as a result I missed a lot of cool things in Sands, but a few things I did see included:
– iJump and iPulse from CWD Connected Concept (a French company – https://www.facebook.com/CWD.RD/). This is a health wearable for… horses – a saddle and a girth strap plus a wireless app for the rider to monitor the horse’s health.
– EyeQue (https://www.eyeque.com) is a product I saw last year too. It’s a small scope that attaches to your smartphone’s camera and reads your vision prescription from your eyes. It’s pretty cheap @ $30. This year they have arranged partnerships with three online eyewear companies to handle fulfillment of glasses at a big discount. It falls right into the “sounds too good to be true” category. I didn’t want to risk pink eye by trying out the sample units shared with nearly 200,000 fellow CES attendees from around the world. But if it works it could save a lot of money for people who don’t have vision insurance coverage.
[After the show I received an emailed 20% off code with free shipping so I decided to give it a try. One person in my household has had trouble with traditional eye exams in that their prescription changes frequently. This tool will allow for tracking those changes daily or even throughout a particular day. Each measurement session takes about 15-20 minutes (there are a total of 60 interactive measurements performed each session) and you are supposed to complete three sessions before the system generates a prescription for corrective lenses (if necessary). The first time through, the app crashed (“Server not available error”) about 40 measurements in, which was frustrating. The jury is still out on this one – stay tuned…]
– PreventBiometrics (http://preventbiometrics.com/) showed a mouth guard that records head impact data for players of youth contact sports. I talked to them about a problem our local school district ran into – there was concern (with respect to football helmet technology) regarding any device that gave a public visual indication of an impact. The concern was that the opportunity for “lighting up” an opposing player – literally – could lead to more impacts. I.e., if Team A knew that by setting off the lights on Team B’s star player’s helmet meant he/she would need to exit the game temporarily – that could affect behavior. The PreventBiometrics mouthguard, according to the representative, can enable or disable visual indicators. My only concern is that the name of the product is a bit misleading. It’s becoming clear the preventing concussions in contact sports is probably not realistic. The most advanced helmet technology can’t change the physics associated with a player’s brain moving as a result of a hard hit. But this device provides for capturing data important for knowing when a potentially dangerous hit has occurred and then better informing the team’s concussion protocol for evaluating the player.
– Sensoria Fitness (http://www.sensoriafitness.com/) showed off an affordable running shoe ($99) that captures a tremendous amount of data about how the wearer runs. It’s not clear if both shoes have the sensor or only one. My personal trainer/triathlete brother tells me that if both shoes have sensors then this is potentially a highly useful tool; if only one shoe not so much because runners typically perform a bit differently left foot vs. right. If you don’t want to wait for the shoes, though, Sensoria already offer “smart socks” that seem to collect a lot of the same data.
– “CYA.Insure” was handing out brochures about their upcoming offering of the “first warranty on Blockchain”. It wasn’t clear if they meant a warranty program that used blockchain to manage the warranty contracts or if it was a warranty insurance to cover blockchain implementation in case something goes wrong. I wasn’t interested either way, but they handed me a gold foil-wrapped chocolate “bitcoin” as a snack for taking a flyer.
By 11:20am I was on a shuttle bus to the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), the largest venue of CES. While en route I received an alert from the LiveSafe app they encouraged attendees to install which let me know there was a power outage affecting the Central Hall – one of four huge halls in LVCC (in addition to North, South Upper, and South Lower). Central Hall – home to some of the biggest consumer brands including Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, Canon, and LG – ended up being without juice for nearly three hours. Individually, most of those companies may have invested north of $1M on their exhibit, perhaps more like $5-10M counting the value of the products they were showing off, cost of staff, all the marketing that went in to it, logistics, etc. Collectively, it may well have been $100M+ invested just by the big names in that hall. The power outage cost roughly 10% of the show’s available exhibit hours, so you could potentially place a minimum $10M rough cost on the impact of the outage. [Note, these are just my own spitball guesses, I haven’t seen any official figures related to this, nor do I expect we will.]
I never heard if a reason for the outage was offered. It seems curious that it was an outage in the central part of the largest venue in the middle of the day in the middle of the show; i.e., a time when the most people would be there. I’ll leave any conspiracy theories to others…
I have one bit of criticism for the show. I’m afraid all the talk leading up to CES about enhanced gate security this year was mostly just that: talk. They instituted a new process this year whereby attendees had to upload photos to be printed on to their attendee badges. They also posted rules about bags being brought in to the halls. On Wednesday morning the process at the entrances to the halls seemed fairly tight. It was similar to entering an amusement park or stadium where people with bags are in one queue and people without bags in another. There were no visible scanning devices (which doesn’t mean they weren’t there). But by Wednesday afternoon, in my experience, bags were no longer being checked – at least not with much diligence – which raised questions about the added pre-show security hype.
Some people suggested the photo for the badge was more for CTA’s sake, to prevent people from sharing one badge among multiple attendees. That’s an interesting point: two (or more) people could easily take turns on the show floor vs. taking a much-needed break, getting food, etc. Now you at least need to buddy up with someone who looks similar to you! Also, when the power was out, they closed the single entrance to Central and North halls even though North Hall was still open. That meant only people already inside could go into North. However, there are many, many exit doors along the convention center concourse and people just stood outside those doors waiting for someone to come out, and they slipped in. Terrifyingly, that meant those people didn’t pass through the security checkpoint at all.
Moving on from the topic of security…
North Hall is where most of the auto tech is located, so the car brands are there as well as car accessory brands (e.g., car audio) and companies who build tech that supports cars. E.g., NVidia had a large booth showing off their car automation processor. I saw some interesting things from Mercedes, Audi, Ford, the new Fisker electric “Tesla killer”, and the Chinese company BYTON who is also making a Tesla-like play. Overall, it’s clear that autonomous driving tech is getting better and better – public policy is really the bottleneck to getting more of this tech on the road. Along the way, I came across a booth from a very familiar organization: Virginia Tech – where I currently send two students! VT has a partnership with Ford and they were presenting in Ford’s booth. They also had their own dedicated booth for the VT Transportation Institute.
South Hall was two levels of more fun stuff – drones, gaming, home automation, etc. I really just browsed through it; the highlights of these halls are well documented in other CES recaps in the media, and I don’t really have much to add. By the end of the day I had more than 25,000 steps on my Apple Watch meaning, even having worn new cushioned running shoes all day, my dogs were barking. Alas, I had to change into wingtips and head to the Wynn for the 2018 Leaders in Technology Dinner. I know – first world problem.
Day Two – Eureka Park
Thursday morning started out the same way as Wednesday, but I spent the full two hours I had left in the lower level of Sands at Eureka Park. This is where you go to see the hundreds of startups, grantees, and entrepreneurs demo their innovations in rows of 10×10 ft. booths, and see which ones are going to stick.
I enjoy talking to these folks about the problems they are trying to solve and how they are solving them. I challenge them to defend their idea and throw them curve balls. I like to think it helps them better refine the idea. The fact is many are not repeat exhibitors in Eureka Park. If your idea doesn’t grow legs you won’t be back. If it does, you may find yourself upstairs or at LVCC next year, maybe in the booth of a bigger company who bought your technology. So it’s a dynamic space with a lot of organic energy. Here are some things that jumped out at me this year:
– ShapeLog (http://www.shapelog.com) provides tech for use in strength training. Their devices attach to cable-based weight machines in gyms to provide various data. They have devices for free weights too but currently those require too much tweaking to be effectively sold to consumers. They hope to bring that product to market soon.
– Heartisans (https://www.heartisans.com) showed a wrist watch that claims to be able to take BP and ECG readings. The sensor is in the watch piece as opposed to the band so if you wanted it to augment health data you are already collecting from Apple Watch, Fitbit, etc. then this is another device you need to wear. But I could see these guys cutting a deal to sell their tech to Apple/Samsung, etc. if it proves itself.
– SignAll (http://www.signall.us) is a camera and software system that translates American sign language in real time – a great innovation for improving communication and inclusion for people with hearing disabilities. It seems like the key will be getting the form factor down so that it’s easy to set up. As shown at CES, the system seemed to be comprised of several cameras hung on a square framework. I would assume they are aiming to make the backside camera of a smartphone all that’s needed to provide the input to the translation engine – that would be very powerful. SignAll has partnered with Gallaudet University in Washington, DC which specializes in supporting hearing impaired students. This is an interesting one to watch.
– Valt (https://valt.io) uses visual memory or memory mapping techniques to replace traditional alphanumeric passwords with a visual master password protecting all your individual traditional ones. To be honest, I couldn’t really get my head around this one. They generate a random series of interesting images and teach you the proper order of those images. When you sign in, you touch the tiles for those images in the proper order and you are admitted to your password ‘vault’. Their idea is that a series of images is easier to learn and remember than an alphanumeric one. I don’t quite buy that.
– WeRescue (https://werescue.com) has a product called ACE that may be near and dear to AEGIS based on the loss of one of our long time employees last fall, a competitive cyclist who had a heart attack during a weekend ride. It’s a device that connects to a bicycle or motorcycle and detects a crash of that bike. The rider has 60 seconds to press a button to signal “I’m ok” before the device uses integrated cell service (independent of any cell phone) to notify nearest emergency services and emergency contact people. In addition, “ACE is built to deal with emergency situations such as the rider not feeling well while riding (e.g heart attack, dizziness, vertigo, etc.). The rider would simply press and hold the top button for 5 seconds.”
– Zon (www.zonproducts.com) appeared to be just one of many smart home enablement offerings. There were lots of Alexa/Google/Siri compatible lightbulbs, switches, etc. at CES 2018. Since Eureka Park was quiet at the opening Thursday morning and this guy was alone in his entire aisle, I turned around after initially passing him by and said ok, what makes you different? He explained that he is very different. His kit includes a wall socket overlay and several smart lightbulbs. What’s unique is the overlay has Alexa built into it – you can speak to the outlet itself – so you don’t necessarily need an Echo or any other Alexa device. This kit has all you need to smart-enable a typical room. My advice to him was to improve his booth signage to make that point!
– SquareOff (https://squareoffnow.com) is a physical chess board with a chess playing AI engine, but what’s interesting is that it actually moves the physical chess pieces as the game progresses. They call it a “living chess board.”
– Drug Knowledge (http://drugknowledgellc.com) offers access to a database of patient drug information. The owner, John Aforismo, who was personally manning the booth is a pharmacist of 35 years who says he invented and copyrighted the little stickers placed on rx bottles telling you things like “Don’t take this medication with dairy products” and “Wait 1 hour after taking this medication before eating.” His database includes the labels that go with each med listed in priority order (in case one tiny bottle has 5 or 6 relevant stickers but room for only 3) and a patient-friendly version of the “directions for use” of each medication. He’s looking for partners who want to use his database. Interesting fellow…
– Foosball-Society (http://www.foosball-society.com/) produces a connected foosball table and a social network to go along with it. A player scans in their smartphone to the table and plays against another player. All kinds of analytics are captured about the game and the players are ranked globally. The company offers rental of tables with maintenance agreements. They seem to be focused on selling in to companies that want to provide gaming for their employees.
– Flo (https://meetflo.com) was one of several connected solutions for monitoring, detecting, and altering homeowners to water leaks. It connects to your water main and claims to be able to detect, through machine learning, leaks as tiny as one drop per minute. It can also shut off the water main when a major leak is detected.
– Orii (https://www.orii.io) is a device you wear like a ring and use it to communicate via voice in short bursts. To listen you touch the finger on which you wear the ring to the bone on the side of your face just ahead of your ear. Sound is heard via bone conduction (like the way Jabra and some other earpieces work) and a microphone in the ring picks up your voice. The claim is you can make quick calls (not clear if it necessarily has to be quick or if they just figure you don’t want to stand there for 15 minutes pressing on your face getting your GEICO quote), listen to or send texts, summon your phone’s voice assistant all without touching your phone and without having anything stuck in your ear. It’s currently in prototype stage with Indiegogo funding. Preorder pricing is $129, less if you buy multiple units. It’s definitely a cool gadget but I don’t really see it taking off. Though it would certainly make the ultimate wedding ring for geeky couples.
– Mymanu Clik+ (https://mymanu.com) wireless earbuds with real time language translation. From voice to voice and voice to text translation in 37 languages (currently). They were quick to note it uses its own algorithms – not Google Translate. While the presentation was compelling, they didn’t seem to be doing any real demonstrations which normally makes me suspicious. Available for pre-order @ $250.
– Finally, Bonaverde (https://bonaverde.com) was showing and demonstrating a shipping version of their all-in-one “green coffee beans to hot brewed coffee” machine. The green beans go into the machine and you scan a RFID tag on the coffee package which tells the unit about the roasting profile for that coffee. The machine roasts the beans then drops them through a burr grinder and into a brewing basket where the grind is showered with hot water and brewed coffee emerges into the carafe at the bottom of the unit. The process takes 20-25 minutes start to finish and the Ethiopian coffee they made for me tasted very good. (I saw their pitch last year but didn’t get to sample the product.) They are now selling it directly for $799-999 depending on color and it appears they have arrangements with US retailers (e.g., Home Depot) ready to launch. I have some concerns, such as how to clean the grinder effectively and the fact that some coffee aficionados warn that roasted coffee needs to rest at least a few days to release gases before being ground and brewed. That said, it’s a pretty novel idea for coffee lovers willing to spend this much.
2018 In the Books
So that’s the recap of the show. One last pro tip: I was highly sensitive about avoiding illness this year after getting a cold in 2016 and being crushed by the flu on the last day of CESG last year and spending a couple extra days holed up in the Hard Rock Hotel recovering. So I got my flu shot in October and I was taking lots of extra vitamins (C and B complex) in the weeks leading up to CES and of course the whole time I was there. I drank lots of water and brought along a room humidifier which I ran all night beside my bed. Maybe it was overkill, but I didn’t get sick this year, even after I returned home.
Last pro tip: get your flu shot, take your vitamins, stay hydrated!