CES2023: Why enterprise tech is driving the consumer market
Considered the world’s biggest and most influential technology show, CES is traditionally viewed as a consumer affair, it is even in its name (the Consumer Electronics Show).
Legacy electronics manufacturers such as LG, Sony, Panasonic and Samsung would congregate in the Las Vegas Convention Centre at the start of the year to unveil the latest TVs, smart devices and other home electronic systems.
Over the last five years or so the CE manufacturers have been joined by auto firms and their OEMs, using the event as a Q1 platform from which to showcase the latest in in-car entertainment or concept cars of the future.
And yet, when Steve Koenig, VP of research at the Consumer Technology Association kicked off his ‘Tech Trends’ session on the eve of this year’s CES it was to emphasise how it was enterprise technology that was leading the way in helping the world solve some of its greatest challenges.
Speaking to press delegates gathered at the Mandalay Bay hotel for event’s pre-show media day, he added: “I want to start with enterprise technology because you are going to see a lot of it on the show floor and a lot of it is transformative to the global economy.”
Last week’s desert techfest – attended by 115,000 visitors – (that’s more than twice last year’s numbers) – was indeed dominated by enterprise tech solutions.
There was Siemen’s ‘Industrial Metaverse’ – generating digital twins that support everything from underwater herb farming to space tourism and tractor firm John Deere’s automated farming systems.
One of the latter’s products – Exact Shot, uses sensor and robotics technology to enable farms to seed and fertilise their crops. The system bagged the firm a CES innovation award along with its self-driving tractor, which launched last year.
John Deere – which is almost 200 years old – also gave the opening keynote speech at CES this year and its CEO John May started by directly addressing why CES delegates should care about farmers, when they represent less than two percent of the population.
“You will not find two industries that have a larger impact on our world and all of us than agriculture and construction,” he stated.
Arguably a third industry that is leading the way technology-wise is Security – another key enterprise theme at the show this year. And, at ADT’s stand we were greeted by a remotely controled high fivin’ bot which has been programmed to help solve the labour shortage in the security guard market.
Koenig pointed out that much of this innovative enterprise tech wasn’t coming from the Panasonics and Samsung’s of this world but from smaller companies based over at the Eureka Park in the Venetian Hotel, about a mile down the road in the middle of the Vegas strip.
Some of our personal standouts from this hall included French-Corsican start up ACWA Robotics’ Clear Water Pathfinder, a breakthrough tool for water conservation using autonomous robots to help cities build digital twins and manage water infrastructure.
Its engineer founders were apparently inspired by new French laws passed which were designed to encourage European water companies to upgrade their crumbling fresh water pipe infrastructure.
While ACWA’s bots don’t perform consumer-related tasks like housework or care provision, they do have the ability to save water companies thousands by accurately pinpointing areas where pipework might need replacing, without destroying the existing infrastructure.
Little wonder this CES newcomer racked up three CES innovation awards by the time TI dropped by to visit its stand.
Also in this hall was Clevon, an Estonian last-mile delivery company that unveiled its third-generation autonomous robot carrier CLEVON 1 – an innovation spun out of its parent company – the last mile logistics company Cleveron.
So why all the focus on enterprise tech? During his tech trends keynote Koenig theorised that waves of technological innovation tend to happen during periods of economic downturn.
The last big recession of 2008 – 2009 coincided with a raft of consumer-based technologies: 4G, smartphones, tablets and networks.
In 2023 however, as many parts of the world struggle with the challenges faced by an economic downturn, innovation is coming largely from the enterprise side as firms look to make efficiencies in production, energy, logistics and supply chain management.
This is largely underpinned by a network layer of 5G connectivity and edge computing, which is fuelling industrial IoT applications, connected intelligence, autonomous systems and quantum computing.
As Koenig said: “The fifth wireless generation is the first one to be led by enterprise innovation. 5G means faster mobile broadband for consumers but for industrial IoT applications it is really the greater capacity and ultralow latency that is going to unlock so much innovation this decade.”
Another reason for enterprise tech’s dominance has been the pandemic: as people were forced to work from home the line between consumer and enterprise tech has blurred as we allowed the world of work into our homes.
During lockdown we used video conferencing tools such as Zoom for both work and pleasure – so it was little wonder that manufacturers such as Canon and Meta were showcasing immersive communication tools at CES, which claimed to enhance productivity and pave the way for new Web3 and metaverse opportunities.
Future of work…with a twist
Canon really went all out at the show this year, wheeling out Hollywood collaborator M. Night Shyamalan to demonstrate how he used the manufacturer’s immersive products to promote his forthcoming mystery, Knock at the Cabin.
In conjunction with Shyamalan, a physical cabin was created on Canon’s central hall booth to draw visitors into the mystery.
CES visitors were able to interact with characters from the film in photo-realistic VR; search for clues on how the story ends and speculate on fan theories in an “escape room” environment – all powered by Canon’s new VR and imaging technologies.
Enabling what is effectively a 3D video call when combined with a compatible VR headset and smartphone, Canon’s Kokomo software was used to allow booth visitors to step into a conversation with a character from the film.
And while the use case here was film promotion it’s clear to see how it might be used for other remote work communication and creative collaboration applications – particularly in design and the creative fields.
The car’s the star
As an indicator of how much the show has evolved, Sony decided not to show any new televisions at CES this year, focussing instead on its partnership with Honda – announced at last year’s event – and the development of its new electric SUV
Sony Honda Mobility used this year’s show to officially unveil its first protype: the Afeela. The vehicle comes with level 3 self-driving capabilities (so it will be able to self-drive in some urban settings) and has 45 different cameras and sensors powered by chips from Qualcomm.
This is really a vehicle however, to showcase Sony’s in car entertainment offerings and was a more typical CES unveiling in that respect.
The Japanese electronics giant is collaborating with video game maker Epic Games and the car’s interior reveals a panoramic infotainment centre running the entire width of the windshield.
Most of the mobility innovations – including John Deere’s self-driving tractors – were stationed at LVCC’s new West Hall.
Given the fact that 95% of the time boats remain out of action and moored up, Volvo Penta used the space not to showcase its latest technologies but to open up a dialogue with visitors on how it could democratise boating for everyone through the use of AI, automation, on demand platforms and other innovative concepts such as vessel to vessel energy sharing and autonomous recharging.
Charging stations and batteries are increasingly crucial in the world of EV and plenty of these firms were represented at this year’s show.
A US-based journalist friend covering CES this year took the well-trodden path from LA to Vegas in her new EV. Sadly a journey which should take four hours took over six because the vehicle ran out charge at the half way point, in a remote area. When she did manage to locate a charging point she needed to wait for an hour for the vehicle to charge, highlighting the infrastructure challenges new EV owners now face, particularly when they embark on journeys out of the city.
Many charging firms are currently still focussed on the home charging market, rather than public chargers, but firms such as ABB E-mobility were in the west hall demonstrating solutions that automatically prioritises electricity from renewable sources.
Rise of the machines
CES will never fail to disappoint hardcore technology aficionados who love a gadget that grabs the headlines. This year it came from BMW, which revealed its new colour changing BMW i Vision Dee car during its keynote address, given by CEO Oliver Zipse.
The electric vehicle sport sedan uses electronic ink (of the type used in e-readers displays such as Amazon’s Kindle) to transition between 32 colours, including purple, pink, yellow, white and red. It was like watching the car version of the horse of a different colour in The Wizard of Oz.
Interior features include a full-surface windscreen display that can be used to ‘merge reality with virtual reality’ by becoming a digital dashboard. The model can also project an image of the driver’s avatar onto the side window, viewable to people outside.
Zipse described BMW i Vision Dee – which is purely a concept and will not go into production – as the ‘next level of human-machine interaction’.
“With the i Vision Dee, we’re showcasing what’s possible when hardware and software merge,” he explained. “In this way, we are able to exploit the full potential of digitalisation to transform the car into an intelligent companion.”
The executive was joined on stage by Terminator star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who played one of the most memorable machines in screen history and who echoed the sentiment of this year’s CES perfectly:
“In most of my movies the machines were the enemy but today we’ve found ways to use technology as an ally. The bottom line is that technology can solve all of the world’s biggest problems, it can change the world, and, like you’ve just seen, it can also be really, really fun.”
*Over the next couple of weeks TechInformed will bring you analysis on the key trends from this year’s CES including reports on Robotics, Automotive, the Metaverse, Sustainability and Retail Tech.
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