23 June 2017
Car Tech Proves Key Driver at Shanghai Consumer Electronics Event
With a whole hall devoted to its latest manifestations, car tech was one of the star turns at this year's CES Asia event, although digital translation devices, drones and waterproof cameras also proved popular with many attendees.
With Asia now the manufacturing hub for much of the world's consumer electronics – as well as emerging as an increasingly tech-savvy early adopter market – it is perhaps not surprising that Shanghai's CES Asia should continue to draw such huge crowds. Now in its third year, the event – more formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show Asia – featured more than 450 exhibitors. While many were showcasing cutting-edge products, there was also a fair sprinkling of items that left some clearly wondering: "Why on earth would anyone need that?"
Despite the generally high-tech slant of the show, there were still a good number of companies offering decidedly low-tech solutions to many of the problems occasioned by the increasing reliance on ever more sophisticated digital devices. One such company was Intuitive Cube, a Taiwan-based manufacturer of waterproof mobile phone cases and, latterly, secure housings for mounting phones on cycles and motorbikes.
Explaining the move into this new sector, Karen T'u, an Account Manager with the company, said: "The use of motorbikes and cycles is becoming more widespread, partly on account of their role in e-commerce fulfilment. With many riders using phone apps as a navigation aid, there is a need to make sure this can be done safely."
As well as proving popular in Taiwan, the company's mounts have made substantial inroads into the Spanish and German markets. More recently, they have been officially launched in Japan.
At the more high-tech end of the spectrum was LKK, a Beijing-based product-design business. The 13-year old company has dabbled in a number of cutting-edge sectors, including the provision of glasses using both augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology.
Largely working on an OEM basis, LKK has also co-operated with Neptune, the Canadian high-tech product developer, on the launch of the Pine, a watch said to offer all the functionality of an Android smartphone. As a testimony to the success of the timepiece, it went on to receive international renown after going centre-stage in The Fast and The Furious 8, the latest instalment of the US street-racing movie franchise.
Over the years, the company has won a number of awards including a prestigious 2016 Red Dot for the Lobob, its child-friendly stethoscope. Latterly, this success has seen the company look to develop its own product lines.
Acknowledging this, Miles Ma, the company's User Experience Development Product Manager, said: "Although we have mainly developed products for other companies, over the past two years we've been promoting the Nonoo Eye, our proprietary range of water containers. These allow people to pour in boiling water then, after shaking the bottle for 40 seconds, it is ready to drink at about at 55°C."
As with LKK, many of this year's exhibitors were not final equipment manufacturers, often providing partial solutions or bespoke components. In the case of Shanghai's Dazzeon Group, for instance, it has recently developed a 1.7nm conductive waterproof coating, said to be suitable for use on drones.
Introducing the company, Assistant Project Manager Justin Li said: "This is the first time we have exhibited at a big show in Asia. Our speciality is not really in the production of finished products. Instead, we focus more on devising and producing advanced materials to solve particular problems."
As well as its drone-friendly coating, the company also had a number of other products on show, including a bulletproof vest made from a specially-coated paper. Demonstrating the strength of this particular coating, the company's stand featured a video showing treated paper cups supporting the weight of a car.
A present, the company works primarily with a number of mainland-based SOEs. It is also working at developing its international sales through dedicated offices in the US, Japan and Taiwan.
One of the most ubiquitous products at the event was the waterproof 360-degree camera. Among the many companies offering such a system was Hong Kong-based Okaa. Explaining its move into this particular sector, Roger Chan, the company's General Manager, said: "This is very much a new line for us. We started out in the tablet and notebook market back in 2010, but now we believe there are truly great prospects for this product."
Jostling with the cameras for prominence were the many drones to be found at this year's show. Among the more unusual models on offer was the Poseidon, an underwater drone launched in Shanghai by Shenzhen-based Geneinno.
Explaining the thinking behind this addition to the company's product range, Sales Representative Candice Zou said: "It's quite a new market and, as a result, competition levels are relatively low.
"The Poseidon can operate down to a depth of 120 metres and has a battery life of up to five hours. As well as its suitability for leisure use, we also see it as having applications with regard to underwater surveillance and reconnaissance."
Perhaps not thinking exclusively of the Poseidon, Lennart van der Ziel, Chief Executive of Amsterdam-based Travis the Translator, believed many of the products on show didn't address real needs. Seeing this as a key difference between his company and many other high-tech businesses, he said: "We took a real-world problem and created a practical solution. While many people in the world only speak one language, our system allows everyone to communicate."
After testing a number of apps and phone-based systems, the team behind Travis found that most didn't provide a viable translation service in a real-world situation. By contrast, the Travis system is said to facilitate communication in 80 languages. According to van der Ziel, it delivers this through its integration of noise-cancelling technology, seven different translation engines and a state-of-the-art voice recognition system.
"While it can't quite replace professional business interpreters just yet, it can certainly help people communicate in more informal settings. We see it very much as a work in progress."
As with a number of the products on display at the show, Travis is still at the development stage, having received substantial backing from several crowdsourcing platforms. It was much the same story with ChampOn Technology, with the Shenzhen-based company showcasing a selection of both its existing and forthcoming product ranges.
Introducing both its current and prospective lines, Jenny Zhuo, a Product Engineer with the company, said: "Our iPhone-controllable smart plugs are already available. These can be used in a number of ways – remotely turning on your central heating before you arrive home, for instance.
"In terms of items about to go into production, we have a range of smart LED lights. These can be managed remotely either via a dedicated app or voice-activated via Siri."
Staying in the lighting field, Taipei-based SIC Technology had on offer a cadmium-free quantum display film suitable for use with display units. Highlighting the possible applications of the system, Ethan Tsao, General Manager of Gistek Electronics, SIC's Shenzhen-based mainland partners, said: "At the moment, due to the high-cost of the technology, it is really only suitable for high-end use.
"As it is also highly power-efficient, it is particularly suitable for use in outdoor signage. Typically, such signage requires intensive LED usage, but this tends to produce a lot of heat, requiring the use of a cooling system."
This year, as a sign of the growing importance of the sector, a whole hall (out of the total of five) was dedicated to car tech. While many of the larger companies – such as Baidu, with its self-driving car technology – were stealing the headlines, it was often a number of the less-heralded smaller companies that had made such breakthroughs possible.
A case in point was Beijing-headquartered NavInfo, the company that creates the digital maps that underpin the majority of China's in-car navigation systems. Highlighting the role NavInfo plays, Pedro Febles Cortez, the company's Director of Advanced Research and Technology, said: "We've been mapping China since 2002 and we were the first to produce a turn-by-turn map. Baidu, for one, uses our maps as the underlying technology in its self-drive systems."
Staying with the automotive sector, while "Hello Future" could be the general response to many of the items on show at the CES, for Beijing-based Futurus, though, it has a far more specific application. It is actually the verbal trigger used to activate PiLOT, the company's inbuilt heads-up display (HUD) system.
Chiefly prized for their safety benefits, HUD systems project navigational and speed data onto the windshield, ensuring drivers never have to take their eyes off the road. Explaining the particular benefit of the Futurus system, Senior Programme Manager Crystal Zhang said: "We access the speed data via GPS and a built-in 4G connection. To make things easy, everything is voice-controlled. You just say 'Hello Future' to activate the system."
The PiLOT system is scheduled to ship from August this year.
CES Asia 2017 was held from 7-9 June at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre and the adjoining Kerry Hotel.
Geoff de Freitas, Special Correspondent, Shanghai