TVs with Milk, Baby-sitter watches and Super-brained cars, CES 2015 is on

By : |January 6, 2015 0
Here’s what tech-folks in Las Vegas are betting on this year

LAS VEGAS, USA: If you thought Audi is just about cars, or Whirlpool is just about washing machines or Philips is just about light-bulbs, well, technology has definitely trespassed into our lives, much sooner and deeper than we expected.

But then, we also thought Nvidia was just about computing processors and algorithm software was just about CRM or analytics.

About time then that CES (Consumer Electronics Show) 2015 has started offering a glimpse of how consumer lifestyle industry and technology innovation is intersecting sharper and tighter than ever before.

There are wearables with a new twist, there are self-driving and self-parking cars with new grey cells and there are TV and gadget appliances that can almost read our minds and deliver more than just drama.

Let’s start with the wearables. Expect unheard applications like baby monitoring or meditation or easy, hands-off calorie-counting in the breed of bands that is coming in next few months as we see start-ups from Singapore to California lined up to show-case their harvest.

Pacif-I from U.K.-based Blue Maestro is up and around now to help in measuring baby’s temperature and beeping it towards a smartphone. There is Liquid Image’s Ego LS wearable camera for live video streaming and portable hotspots, there is Zensorium’s clothing-clipped smartwatch ‘Being’ to continuously keep a tab on your heart rate and blood pressure, and convert them into stress-readings.

The bands are even moving from wrists to heads, with Paris slipping in with ‘Melomind’, a digital meditation aid for tuning in EEG measurements with a smartphone. There are wearables for checking air pollution with Clad Innovations’ ‘Tzoa’ and more.

Established firms are not far behind in this innovation race. Lenovo has unveiled the Vibe Band VB10 which comes with an E-ink display, a weeklong battery life with all its features turned on, all of the time – apparently. Its press statement stressed that VIBE Band VB10 wearable accessory is designed to let users live their lives more connected and with less worry, with Bluetooth always turned on, fitness functions, phone notifications and waterproofing, so that users can stay fit, connected and in the know anywhere they go while the E Ink display means no glare and a clear display – even in sunlight. Users can receive instant notifications – calls, SMS, Face book, Twitter, WeChat and more – with space for up to 150 characters on the crisp display, while fitness functions & tracking monitor fitness levels and activity to help users stay focused on their health goals, it added.

Clearly wearables is a segment that is hogging a lot of spotlight and footfalls both at trade-shows and around board rooms. Like Forrester analyst bastes the trend, “We’re living through a period of creative destruction in the smart, connected devices space. But some of these devices will reach a more mature stage, integrating into how people live their lives, how workers do their jobs, and how companies interact with their customers.” J.P. Gownder reminds well here that wearables aren’t just about devices; they’re about cloud-based services that take data from wearables and return insights to them as well.

“We’ll see a broader focus on services, particularly from companies like Samsung, Microsoft, and Google. We’ll see more evidence that services link together customers and value-added services in areas like health, fitness, tracking children and pets, and workforce enablement.”

A case in point seems to be the crowdfunded project ‘GoBe’ fitness band that has purportedly been able to crack an algorithm for translating body indications to a meaningful an actionable glucose-graph so that the wearer can count real calories without too much hassle and complications.

But if wearables are strapping news headlines for CES this year, connected Cars and Homes are not too far parked either.

For instance, Nest, the Google-owned smart home device, is expected to see turning the knob beyond thermostat and collaborations between Nest and Whirlpool, Philips Hue, and other smart home players are already talk of the town.

On one hand Nest has been busy on automating particular behaviors for the thermostat without any programming and on other hand, besides offering public APIs, it has worked well on integrating thermostat to smart appliances as well as wearable gear.

Don’t be surprised if your neighbourhood salesman boasts high of a phone service that automatically forwards your calls to a washing machine or heater that starts warming up because it can hear your car approaching or a machine that can run on quiet mode when you’re in the house or an oven that warns you off or a light bulb that turns red for alerting on an emergency or a refrigerator that automatically snoozes into energy-saving mode when you step out of the house. No more castles in the air, if the innovation showcase at CES is anything to go by.

Don’t also be surprised if your car dealer starts tom-tomming about a car that can not only drive itself, or hear beyond speech-recognition software but can also park itself or drive as per your mood.

Ears are tuned up for what Mercedes and Ford might bring forth. Frank Gillett from Forrester pins it down when he cautions that if these car makers follow past practice of talking only about features for new cars, they’ll be repeating the industry mistake of over-investing in new car tech and under investing in using mobile apps and services to build brand relationships with existing customers.

“What I’ll be watching for are signs of the auto industry is embracing the mobile mind shift – such as Ford did by adding specific features and support to Automatic’s product that improves the experience with cars already on the road, rather than only brand new cars.”

“No doubt we’ll see a flurry of new connected objects. Beyond hardware, what will matter is the extent to which key players will announce partnerships to differentiate their ecosystem in what will soon become a crowded space,” Thomas Husson, Forrester expert argues.

Interestingly an unexpected entrant into this crowded space is suddenly – a chip-maker. Nvidia has announced a Tegra X1 mobile super chip and at the same time has minced no words when it comes to where this chip will go in first– automotives and not smartphones. CEO Jen-Hsun Huang has been reported to hail the company’s vision of self-driving cars, using a system of sensors and cameras.

Incidentally, in 2014 itself, NVIDIA had announced the Tegra mobile processor to power Honda Connect in-car audio and information for upcoming versions of Honda Civic, Civic Tourer and CR-V.  Rob Csongor, vice president and general manager for Automotive at NVIDIA had stated then that Honda is bringing NVIDIA’s advanced mobile technology to an important new segment of vehicles, and inside these Honda models, the NVIDIA Tegra solution leverages Android to deliver an open, flexible infotainment platform. “One that bridges the world of smartphone apps and the requirements of the automotive industry but, most importantly, does so in a way that makes driving safer.”

The idea was perhaps to offer rich, vibrant graphics and the ability to customize screens, and a personal experience to whoever is behind the wheel, better satellite navigation, AM/FM/DAB, rearview camera and vehicle information.  The chip-major has been making strides into this zone rapidly with stuff like Advanced Cockpit Visualization Computer, or DRIVE CX that it says comes with a full software stack, from BSP to optimized automotive middleware, integrated with reference applications.

Nvidia is proud and confident about the extreme computational power of the X1 and opines that smartphones won’t be able to handle it adequately, hence, the spin to carmakers.  Drive PX, it claims, is a new platform powered by a couple of X1 chips, for 2.3 teraflops of computing power that can use high-powered graphics from sensor- and camera-festooned cars. This could translate into another level of autonomous driving, and decision-making powered with GPS-learning or neural network technology, processor-intensive image recognition technology.

Be ready for cars then that can park themselves, can stop for deers and dogs, and make those split nano-second decisions in a cruise.

Daimler AG has whipped up excitement for its futuristic Mercedes-Benz F 015 concept in Las Vegas already. As CEO Dieter Zetsche was heard remarking in his keynote at CES, “Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society. The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space.”

Audi on the other side, has also joined Nvidia and was seen on CES stage talking about autonomous cars and graphics-festooned vehicle interiors.

Meanwhile, Electronics makers are jogging their distance too on the technology tracks. Samsung, has been heard raving about some Milk streaming services that would be bolted onto its smart TVs. Milk VR sounds like a VR video service for users of its Gear VR virtual reality headset that will sync in directly to living rooms through an upcoming TV app, and will reportedly take into its scope brands, entertainment companies, and networks viz. Mountain Dew, the National Basketball Association, Red Bull, etc.

Samsung is a global smartphone leader who has no choice but to reinvent itself in the next computing battleground, Forrester’s Husson reckons and he also expects Sony to start orchestrating its One Sony strategy, delivering content experiences across a wide range of connected objects; from ultra-connected TVs, cameras and audio products, to gaming and mobile devices. “It is unclear if Sony’s new mobile devices – such as the Sony Xperia Z4 smartphone or the high-end Tablet Ultra – will be previewed at CES. However, at the very least, we should see more innovation in Sony’s SmartWear ecosystem with new wearables and partnerships to differentiate from other hardware players.”

The much-anticipated CES 2015 is about to turn more pages on the queer plot between appliance/lifestyle business and advanced technology.

But IoT, Algorithms, neural networks, teraflops, supercomputing?

Confession- we too thought CES was just about consumer electronics. Was.

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