20 Jan 2016
Drones, Robotics and Baby Tech Products Emerge as CES 2016 Champs
While no single big new idea or groundbreaking product dominated proceedings at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), several sectors – notably robots, unmanned drones and digital baby products – exhibited massive growth.
CES, the world's largest consumer electronics trade show, once again took over Las Vegas earlier this month, complete with thousands of new gadgets, as well as bigger and bolder takes on several established products. For the first time in its history the show had to cap attendance, with only 176,000 attendees permitted in a bid to streamline visitor logistics. This year the event also broke its own record in terms of utilised space with a 2.47 million square foot show floor, spanning across several venues. Ride-sharing services, just recently legal in Las Vegas, did all they could to keep up with demand.
With the show previously the launch pad for the CD player, 3D TVs and the Xbox, the 2016 CES did not mark the arrival of any product of a similar stature. It did, however, feature many that continued to build on the concept of connectedness through the Internet of Things (IoT), while there was also a host of new ideas on show in such quickly growing categories as smart cars, robotics and unmanned systems.
These changing areas of interest were all reflected in the 2016 show floor map. Automotive electronics covered more than 200,000 square feet – a jump of some 25% over last year and virtually a trade show in its own right – while the 3D printing area was up 31% to 24,000 square feet. Another growth area was unmanned systems, including drones, which shot up a massive 208%, reaching 25,500 square feet.
Commenting on these trends, Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, owners and producers of the show, said: "Consumer technology is a problem-solving industry. Categories such as unmanned systems, robotics and others are reaching new heights, with market growth set to soar in 2016."
Under legal fire from many, drones were nevertheless at the heart of the action at CES as they continue to gain popularity with both corporate and individual consumers. Amazon and Walmart are now both competing to be first to offer deliveries by drone, while selfie drones are moving from being an indulgence to becoming a necessity – at least for certain demographics. This growing interest saw CES host several sessions on drone policy, with the US Federal Aviation Administration and local jurisdictions still deciding how to legislate with regard to fly zones.
A definite favourite at this year's CES was a human-carrying drone produced by China's EHang184. This fully autonomous aerial vehicle is said to be capable of carrying a passenger of up to 220 pounds for about 23 minutes. Travel is controlled by an onboard computer, with the passenger only having to select a destination on a map, preferably one within 10 miles travel. This minicopter is expected to sell for between US$200,000 and $300,000 when (and if) it hits the market. According to Derrick Xiong, the company's Chief Marketing Officer, the vehicle has been flown more than 100 times at low altitudes in a forested area in Guangzhou, including several times with a passenger aboard. No rides, however, were in evidence at this year's show.
Exhibitor numbers at the Robotic Marketplace at CES were up more than 70% this year and, indeed, robots were everywhere. On one end of the spectrum there was the Segway Robot that doubles as a hoverboard and a butler. When you're not riding it, you can ask it to answer the doorbell or carry your groceries. At the other end of the scale – and seemingly just as popular – were small single-purpose robots, solely capable of folding laundry or scrubbing a grill.
Somewhere in the middle were a number of open-source products, notably CellRobot – a modular robot created by Keyi Tech, a Beijing startup. In essence it's the Lego of the robot world, with the company developing robotic cells that, when connected to a "heart" cell, can be reconfigured to perform an ever-growing number of functions, while also being manipulated into a variety of different shapes. The device connects to an app that shows how to put the cells together and lets users assign movements to any shape they've assembled. Explaining the thinking behind the product, a spokesman for the company said: "We want to establish an open community so that people can get information on their connectors and create their own x-cells that add functionality."
Many robotics-related exhibitors claimed that even a child could program their products. For those who actually wanted their kids to hang out with a robot, though, there was the iPal, a metre-tall humanoid designed to be a companion to three- to eight-year-olds. A spokesman for AvatarMind, the China-based based company behind the system, said: "It can entertain your children with hundreds of songs and stories and lets you monitor them from your smartphone. It's especially great for children who feel lonely sometimes." The product is set to launch in China later this year.
New parents are very open to new tech, at least according to a presentation by Aliette van der Wal, Global Business Leader for Mother and Child Care at Philips Avent and a keynote speaker during the inaugural Baby Tech Summit. In line with this trend, this year CES introduced a designated area for all things baby, as well as for a host of early learning products. As devices continue to get smarter, it should come as no surprise that parents would welcome a scale that sends their baby's weight directly to their phone or a pendant that keeps track of all the words their toddler says throughout the day. In a similar vein, losing your kid at Disneyworld is now even more criminal when you can put a simple GPS tracer on their wrist and keep tabs on them on every ride.
Overall, though, one of the most talked about devices was the strangely shoe-like Owlet Baby Monitor. The system uses pulse oximetry to alert parents if their baby's oxygen levels or heart rate are outside of a certain range or if their breathing has any irregularities. Dr Milena Adamian, a founding shareholder of Owlet said: "Suffocation kills 10 times more infants each year than car crashes. It's time we took advantage of the technology available and gave parents the tools they need to keep their babies safe."
If a constant stream of breathing data is not alleviating the anxiety of new parents, they can always invest in one of the smart scales developed by California-based Hatch Baby. This will tell you just how much milk a baby consumed during a feed, while keeping track of wet or dirty diapers and sharing this information with your significant other. The information can also be relayed to your hospital or doctor. Caroline Chen, Hatch Baby's Social and Brand Manager, said: "Parents love quantifiable data. This device removes the necessity to manually enter that information, which is a huge boon for modern parents."
If you're not a new parent and just an eager consumer of useful electronics, you'd walk away from CES 2016 with a shopping list that may well include an Audi that parks itself, a 98-inch curved 8K TV set by Samsung and a Pico microbrewery. Big ideas may have been few and far between, but big price tags and digital must-haves continued to abound.
CES 2016 took place at the Las Vegas Convention and World Trade Center (as well as several surrounding venues) from 6-9 January. The show featured more than 3,800 exhibitors and attracted in excess of 140,000 attendees.
Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Las Vegas