CES is traditionally a whirlwind of gadgets and sedan-sized TVs, but over the past 5 years I’ve seen a sharp turn in devices that are architected more as delivery mechanisms for very sophisticated pieces of software. This became even more evident walking the floor and in a number of private meetings I had over the course of the event. 3 consistent themes emerged through a number of conversations.
1. VR is the next big thing...But how do you use it?
Virtual Reality, or VR, was an easy takeaway from CES this year. The headset vendors were as ubiquitous as the people hawking phone cases. That said, the really interesting solutions were those that focused on how (and why) you would interact in a VR environment.
The modalities of keyboard and mouse, gamepads, and even touch, begin to fall apart when applied to VR since you can’t “see” your hands or interact easily with objects in the physical world. In addition, the commercial applications of VR we find most interesting (training, healthcare, hospitality, etc…) all work best with dedicated interfaces that support their use case.
The blending of computer vision and VR seems to be a compelling solution here. With exterior mounted cameras (sometimes to the headset itself, sometimes in the room) the system can “see” what your entire body is doing, and represent that inside the VR solution. It also allows you to interact with the real-world by having imaging piped in to the headset – giving a true augmented reality type of experience. Beyond computer vision, there is an exploding number of hand-held or body-mounted peripherals, that when paired with proprietary software, can yield a truly immersive VR experience.
2. Drones...They're not just for kids anymore.
Drones: the holiday gift dujour for kids and adults alike. But despite the consumer focus at CES, most drones there were demonstrating commercial applications.
The most powerful examples were the drones that combine software platforms that give them a measure of autonomy and intelligence. Some especially compelling solutions were drones that could follow a user at a pre-set distance and navigate around obstacles they encounter. When combined with other sensors like cameras, IR, microphones, etc, they have tremendous applications in fields as diverse as land surveying, emergency response, commercial farming, and security.
Some vendors also highlighted drones as innovative data capture solutions. When equipped with high resolution cameras they can monitor the health of crops on a continuous basis, monitor traffic to retail stores, and gather data from dangerous or extreme environments. They will, of course, be used by unrepentant geeks (like yours truly) because they are cool, but in all likelihood the market potential for commercial applications of drone technology will dwarf that in consumer.
I was literally overwhelmed with sensors as I walked the floor. Any product that you can, or can't, imagine incorporating sensors and network connectivity were put through their paces.
- A Bluetooth and sensor-enabled spoon to measure and track what you eat? Check.
- Sensors on the insoles of your shoes that sync with your phone to measure exertion? Check.
- A fridge that takes pictures of everything inside, measures your milk’s temperature (to calculate spoilage date), and automatically re-orders groceries for you when you run low? Check.
So beyond the gee-whiz factor, what does this mean? I believe the ubiquity of sensors will continue to power the healthcare IT space, and ultimately play a key role in enabling data-driven and remote healthcare. It will offer much more granular, time-series data on a patients health to providers, and will track that data even when they are not under a providers care. Having real-time, precise data on the state of a patients health will enable true personalized healthcare, and drive much deeper penetration of tele-health and other remote health solutions.
The fascinating thing for me about this year’s show is that the show has far outgrown its moniker. While it is administered by the Consumer Electronics Association, it is by no means a “Consumer” or even “Electronics” show. It is an innovation show, and unique in that it gives attendees the ability to see the best innovations that big companies are able to bring to market – right alongside scrappy startups who are there to eat their lunch. The competitive spirit and energy are palpable, and the perfect fuel for any entrepreneur. Let us know if you’re planning to head to the show next year – we’d love to meet you!