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CES: My Journey into the Jungle

Shannon Smith, Chief Operating Officer at Jibunu and ‘Be a VIP at CES’ Contest Winner

January 21, 2019

My journey into the jungle—CES 2019—was awe-inspiring, overwhelming, and exciting; I knew that CES was huge, but I had failed to appreciate the enormity of it. The first clue that should have braced me to expect the unexpected was the agenda that the Insights Association team put together for our excursion there.  Their descriptions of the expos we would be visiting included links to new product videos; I clicked on one, which led me to another, and another, and another…hours later, I emerged from a YouTube vortex, mesmerized by the vastness of new products to explore.  Making organization and structure out of that chaos was no small feat, so I give big kudos to Krista Vazquez and Art Flanagan from the Insights Association for putting the agenda together.

The Call of the Wild

For a techie, attending CES—which takes place in the middle of Las Vegas—is a little bit like Disneyland in the middle of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade for a child; thousands of people and thousands of sites that you are trying to take in all at once.  There were over 180,000 attendees (I even heard 195,000 at one point) and over 4,400 exhibiting companies (Amazon, Google, IBM, Samsung, LG and so many more) and over 1,000 startup companies!

Little did I know that I would be introduced to my first new technology at the Logan Airport gate before I even boarded my flight to Vegas. While waiting in the Boston terminal, I overheard some folks talking about CES. They drifted into discussion about their product, targeted to help proper recovery for athletes during their OCR (Obstacle Course Races like the Spartan or Tough Mudder) training. My ears perked up because, hey! I do OCRs!  I struck up a conversation with this group from a company called  Brain Co, located about an hour away from where I live in Massachusetts. The company has created technology that measures cortisol through your brain waves by which they can detect how focused you are, how calm you are, and how much rest you may need to be at optimal performance.  Sign me up! Even more exciting is the prospect of how this technology might be used in the Warrior Sustainment and Resilience Tool (WiSeR) that my company Jibunu (a technology company for the Market Research industry) is working on with the National Guard to help train enlisted men and women, officers, and their families on suicide prevention while also helping to remove the stigma around mental illness as well as provide a one-stop resource library. It made me wonder, “Is there an application for this technology that might help soldiers learn to recover, relax and control their focus as part of suicide prevention?” Later, at the show, I also had a chance to see Brain Co’s prosthetic technology in action, allowing amputees to control their prosthetic with their mind. Absolutely amazing to watch— well done Brain Co, well done!

Self-Driving Car

Another unexpected highlight was the quality of the sessions and the speakers at CES. Great content in those discussions! I am so glad that the Insights Association had these speaking sessions as part of the agenda (and that they shared their tips and tricks for getting into the sessions.) The entry lines were seemingly endless, snaking through the hallways of the mammoth hotels with people waiting for hours to get in—really, think Disney lines here!

Day one started with the Research Summit and opening remarks from Consumer Technology Association’s VP of Research, Steve Koenig, who overviewed the coming technology trends to watch for in 2019.  Some of my takeaways:

  • We are emerging from the Connected Age and entering the Data Age.
  • 5G will be trending, along with 5G devices, fixed wireless, and carrier initiatives.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) will have a similar impact on society as the steam engine had on transportation. Embedded AI, machine learning, digital assistants, processors, and chips will be everywhere in 2019. However, we will also start to understand the limits of where AI makes sense and where it may not.
  • 8K is the new 4K. High definition television is testing new limits with the Samsung QLED 8K TV.
  • Wearables, wearables, wearables!
  • Augmented Reality (AR) will be appearing in devices. Audio AR will emerge in sunglasses and thermal VR suits for gaming. We will start to see many more AR apps such as Zara for shopping and AR/VR in sports.
  • Automated driving with self-driving technology that utilizes conditional automation—cars that are not fully self-driving but are self-driving under specific conditions—will be the way of the near future.
  • We will be hearing more about Resilient Technology for cybersecurity, disaster recovery, anti-terrorism, and the environment with products like Watergen that creates clean water out of thin air.
  • Digital Therapeutics are debuting technology to improve health care with products like Diabnext for diabetic monitoring and management.

Calorie-tracking Smartwatch

An Emergent Technological Ecosystem

It was clear from the Research Summit sessions that virtual assistants and smart speakers are a hot topic for 2019. The exhibit halls had an abundance of smart devices.  Samsung and LG had dueling robotic shopping assistants—literally robots that talk you through the shopping experience. There were smart home devices everywhere; Google had a smart house that showcased how everything in the home—from locks to lights, to TVs, to thermostats, to toilets—can all be smart enabled. I was looking for one that would make my dinner like Rosie from the Jetsons but didn’t see it…yet.  You can, however, have a motion pillow that will help you stop snoring or a smartwatch that will detect your calorie and water intake through your skin—no more food tracking needed!  There were also virtual assistants that help you with everything from applying makeup, to skincare, to choosing the right hairstyle, to trying on clothes.

Facial recognition technology was also prevalent. Using facial recognition to immediately identify and categorize a shopper was displayed by multiple exhibitors—walk into a store and in seconds they can classify your age and gender and target advertising to you. There was a vending machine that can identify your face and tie it to your account so that all you have to do is open the door, pick your products, and your account is charged. This technology is also being used in airports for security and in cities to assist with law enforcement.

You can’t talk about CES 2019 and not mention the 8k TVs, AR and VR games, bendable screens and quantum computing. The clarity of the 8K was unbelievable and the screens are extremely thin; one LG screen was only 4mm wide, half the width of a pinky finger. The new trend for TV is a display that functions as artwork that can be changed as desired. If you prefer a minimalist look, transparent screens are another option. And while we are on the topic of screens, how about a bendable phone and tablet? Like, fold in half bendable!  It is here.

Bendable Tablet

What else was there?  Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), not just for gaming, but for education and shopping experiences as well.  Wondering what the difference is between AR and VR?  AR puts elements into your environment while you still have an awareness of what is around you. VR completely immerses the user in a different environment, leaving no awareness or connection to your current environment.  Before getting to play with these products, and as a former teacher that is anti-screens for children, I was a skeptic about AR in education, but I am now a huge fan. These products allow you to get a 3-D, 360-degree view of whatever you may be studying—I can’t think of a better way to make history, geography, and science come to life! I see a new industry popping up just to support educational tools and elements for these devices. And, for the Market Research industry, a brand can put the product in a person’s hands, offering a whole new level of insights. How to capture that data for easy analytics and scale the experience will be the next challenge…

Quantum computing may help with that challenge. IBM displayed their work with quantum computing at CES. I do not pretend to fully understand quantum computing except to say it uses quantum bits (qubits) instead of binary (0’s and 1’s) states which increase the speed and depth to which processing happens exponentially. You can learn more about it here from the folks at IBM—this blog explains it in plain English, mostly. It is quantum computing after all.

Overall, I was most impressed by the water-making and the water-eliminating technology—not waste elimination but removing water from products. I previously mentioned Watergen which can literally create water out of thin air. I also saw how Zero Mass Water’s hydro-panels use sunlight and air to create potable water, just like solar panels that generate energy for your home. However, the most impactful new technology, I think, is Procter & Gamble’s DS3. DS3 takes products like shampoo, cleaners, and soaps and removes the water. To use the products, simply add water. Per the website, it is 80% lighter, takes up to 70% less space, and causes 75% fewer shipping emissions. These products are also stored in biodegradable containers—think of the excessive mass of plastic bottles used to store all your cleaners, soaps and shampoos no longer being needed.

An AR-enhanced fitting room of the future

Hear them roar!

I have heard that CES has underrepresented women both on the stage and in the exhibit arenas but—and it may be my limited exposure to CES—I was immensely impressed with the women I saw on stage. Most notable is one of the keynote speakers, Ginni Rometty, the Chairman, President, and CEO of IBM. She is a graceful, witty, and intelligent speaker, one of Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business, and was named one of TIME Magazines Most Important People in Tech. If I could hand pick my mentor, it would Ginni. I will be watching her for sure.

It comes as no surprise then that Michelle Peluso, the SVP and CMO of IBM, lent an insightful voice to the discussion on trust and transparency of data that she, along with Keith Weed of Unilever, participated in. The discussion was led by Anda Gansca—another impressive entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of Knotch.

This brings me to the Be Your Own Boss (BYOB) discussion led by Jill Braff, founder of Brit & Co.; Elizabeth Gore, founder of HelloAlice.com; and Alex Williamson, founder of Bumble. Not only have these female entrepreneurs launched their own highly successful companies, they have also created a road tour to encourage other women to do the same. One of my favorite quotes from the conference came from Jill: “Women do not need to be empowered. We have the power. Women need to be encouraged.” Here are links and the company descriptions from their websites:

  • Brit & Co– A digital media and commerce company that enables creativity through inspirational content and online classes.
  • Alice– Alice connects entrepreneurs with curated resources, tools, communities and opportunities to help their business grow.
  • Bumble– Bumble has changed the way people date, find friends, and the perception of meeting online, for the better. Women make the first move. On iPhone + Android.
  • Bumble Bizz– Career opportunities come about when you expand your network. On Bumble Bizz, you can pursue a career change, meet collaborators, or become a mentor.
  • Be Your Own Boss Tour

The Lion’s Den

TV with digital artwork display

Finally, I must mention blockchain. Blockchain and data security topics appeared throughout the conference. I was impressed to hear how blockchain is being used successfully for food safety tracking and transparency by Walmart. They have been able to cut the time to track food shipments from one week to 2.2 seconds. What!?  That is crazy!  Go blockchain!  Blockchain was also part of the discussion for IBM and Unilever regarding how it will transform the advertising industry in giving transparency to payment and ad placement for the marketer. I’m curious to see an easy and accessible means by which the consumer can access that blockchain data to know who paid for the ad or content that I am reading. There was also the typical discussion on how blockchain will be used for cryptocurrencies…my experience so far with blockchain discussions are that, if the speaker cannot clearly articulate how they are using blockchain, or if they avoid explaining their approach, then they may be using blockchain terminology to boost their own agenda. Be aware and ask questions because if it sounds confusing and muddy, it’s likely just a sales pitch.

For everything that I saw, there was equally, if not more, that I did not see.  Eureka Park was an enormous exhibit of hundreds of startup companies. Each “street” represented startups from different countries—, and it was a madhouse. I attempted to work my way through and, at one point, was sardined in the middle of a street, unable to move in any direction. on with no one that spoke English and my meager attempts at saying “excuse me” were lost and muffled.  It took me a good ten minutes (and some uncharacteristic but light shoving) to get out of that crowd. Don’t worry, I made up for it earlier with a massage in one of the many, many massage chair booths. There was not a good directory of the products being presented so perhaps the only criticism I have is that I found it difficult to focus, explore, and do it any justice as a first-time attendee.

Robotic shopping assistant

What was not difficult was enjoying the Steve Harvey interview where he talked about the impact of social media on celebrities. Who knew CES has an entire sports and entertainment section?! I was not able to see all that much of this section, however, we did catch the interview with Steve Harvey who is the host of Family Feud and Little Big Shots. Steve is an entertaining, hardworking man who pokes fun at himself. He talked about how social media has changed the dynamics of being a celebrity, not necessarily for the better, and how people are quiet if they love you but very vocal if they hate you. Well, I love you, Steve!

Thank you WIRe and Insights Association for sending me on this incredible adventure!

About the Author

Shannon Smith, Chief Operating Officer at Jibunu and ‘Be a VIP at CES’ Contest Winner

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