That was the starting point for many a conversation and keynote at CES 2020. And while there certainly was plenty of sci-fi sizzle, there was a definitive grounding in practicality that seemed to permeate even the most futuristic of offerings.
Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, opened the first day noting that CES represents the “art of the possible” as the transition to a digital world continues. While Shapiro could be scolded for using the now-clichéd, “every company has to be a technology company,” he further qualified the statement by acknowledging the pressure on these digital-first brands to offer safer, more resilient products in order to exist and thrive at the intersection of people and technology.
“We can’t fall into the trap that this is the best we can do,” he said. “The only certainty is disruption. We will need to prepare for a new workforce of ‘new collar jobs.’”
Several major themes that acted as a through line for the show illustrated this vision of a tech-enabled future.
Internet of Things Becomes Intelligence of Things
IoT (Internet of Things) has been setting the pace of innovation. During the CES 2020 Trends Preview, Steve Koenig, Vice President, Market Research for the Consumer Technology Association, said that the new IoT (Intelligence of Things) is what will emerge as AI permeates culture and commerce. This vision will require the robust connectivity that is promised by 5G. Everything from agriculture, with digital tools to solve for food scarcity to self-driving cars will require the low-latency and reliability of 5G. With that enhanced wireless, imagine how many episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel you could stream while your autonomous car takes you across state lines…oh is that just me?
“Things attributed to sci-fi will come to fruition in the next ten years, and they will be powered by 5G,” Koenig said.
The Consumerization of AI
This is where connectivity and the emergence of 5G will take hold. Machine learning coupled with end devices, services and emerging technology will foster an era of “connected intelligence.” Koenig noted that the last 10 years have been hyper-focused on the “connectivity part and the next ten years will be where the intelligence really takes hold and is able to enable next-gen services and experiences. Voice will be one of the winners in this area.” As more brands are supporting voice applications the full promise of technologies – like those inherent in smart homes – will be more fully realized. Koenig predicts more human/machine partnerships will come to bear, specifically calling out McDonald’s acquisition of Apprente, which uses artificial intelligence to understand drive-thru orders, as an example.
Full Stream Ahead
The streaming wars got even more interesting at CES with the announcement of additional players in the space. Technology companies now also want to be media companies as they strive to have direct engagement with their guests. CTA estimates U.S. consumer spending on video streaming services will climb 27% to $18.2 billion in 2019, and approach $22 billion in 2020. Both a rise in interest and the increase in these new streaming providers are fueling the large growth. How could this affect hospitality? Hotels will need to make sure they are able to support the majority of their guests who will be interested in streaming content while on property.
When AI Stands for Applied Innovation
Building things with meaning requires a focus on executing on expectations. If brands are not meeting basic needs, what’s the point? As a member of one of those industries that is most likely to engender some YouTube worthy customer rage videos (runner up to cable providers, insurance companies and the government), Delta focused on what is most stressful for guests before deciding what areas were in most need of innovation. The Delta app has now been optimized to seamlessly get flyers through their entire journey from pre-flight (including getting to the airport) to post-landing (getting to the hotel or destination).
Another Delta Showstopper: Turning Workers into Ironman
With a partnership with robotics company Sarcos, Delta is experimenting with robotic exoskeletons for its team-members. These exosuits turn team members into super-humans with super-strength. It amplifies force expended by a human, significantly lessening the load, enabling workers to lift much more weight than they could alone, preventing injury and has the potential to enable people to stay in physically demanding jobs longer. With the way I over pack, any baggage handler who has to lift my suitcase would appreciate this tool.
To see the suit in action, check out our video here: https://youtu.be/rtmVOlpcpNo
Delta Airlines is no stranger to innovation, having rolled out facial recognition for security checkpoints in 2018. So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that they had some big innovation in store for CES 2020, but that didn’t stop jaws from hitting the floor at two of the airline’s biggest announcements.
“Science fiction is closer than you think,” teased Delta CEO Ed Bastian, before he announced the development of “parallel reality” with personalized digital signage. Partnering with startup Misapplied Sciences, Delta will debut the technology in the Detroit terminal by mid-year. The technology will allow passengers to see information customized to them on public signage such as a flight board with only their flight information or signs in a preferred language and arrows that flash to point to the gate. Misapplied Sciences CEO Albert Ing describes it as a “shared environment to be customized to you, where many people looking at a display can see different things simultaneously.”
Size Doesn’t Matter: Small Robots, Big Impact
“[Consumers] are not looking to spend money on things,” explained HS Kim, President and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Division of Samsung, during his CES keynote. “[They’re] looking to buy convenience, peace of mind and enjoyment. [They] are looking to experience life. This must drive our innovation.”
This was Kim’s intro to Samsung’s Ballie, a softball-sized robot, designed to be a personalized "life companion." With its on-device AI capabilities, Ballie "understands you, supports you and reacts to your needs to be actively helpful around the house," Samsung said in a press release.
Misty Robotics has created the Misty II platform robot, which its creators feel will help organizations from hotels to elder care facilities solve problems with robots. The platform provides a more accessible way for developers to use the open source code to build upon and customize for a specific assignment or task – making sure that a robotics hardware investment is optimized. Announced at CES was the Misty as a Concierge application template, which provides developers with a robust starting point to build robot skills and quickly put Misty II to work.
Blockchain Perks Up Coffee Industry with Supply Chain Oversight
Today’s consumers – and the upcoming generation – are more concerned than ever before with sustainability, transparency about where food is sourced, and what practices are employed along every step of the supply chain. With recalls and health concerns also linked to supply chain, another “chain” has been touted as a solution and CES was highlighting one example of it in practice. Blockchain, the basic technology behind Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, is being recognized as a tool to link and secure complex information, helping to reduce fraud and profit loss. Juniper Research reports that blockchain can help the food industry save about $31 billion in potential food fraud.
At CES, IBM announced a new consumer mobile application from Farmer Connect, a traceability platform powered by IBM Blockchain designed to help increase traceability, efficiency and fairness in the coffee supply chain. According to a report in the Financial Times, 2/3 of consumers that are 19- to 24-years-old, claim to prefer to buy coffee that is sustainably grown and responsibly sourced, but coffee’s global supply chain and complex path to market makes tracing coffee difficult. Blockchain technology brings all the parties in the coffee supply chain together, creating a permanent digitized chain of transactions. The "Thank My Farmer" app pulls information directly from the blockchain in a standardized way to connect consumers to farmers, traders, roasters and brands. Information is presented on an easy-to-understand and interpret interactive map. The new mobile application will launch to the general market at the beginning of 2020.