This year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) could not quite escape the winter’s Omicron outbreak, which curtailed the hybrid conference by a day.
Big names also either pulled out completely or modified their entries at the Las Vegas showcase, while many visitors were virtual. Despite the setbacks, conference organisers were keen to emphasise the urgency and importance of technology’s role at the moment.
“We will be immersed in the innovation that will reshape our societies and solve fundamental human challenges in the decades to come,” said Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (the conference’s organising body).
Those problems revolved heavily around home technology – at a time when we are spending a lot of time inside – as well as some flashy developments in the EV and motoring space. And while there was a more limited offering than usual, new categories were set up for break-through sectors, from food tech to NFTs.
Metaverse: from make-up to haptic vests
This year’s buzzword – and the subject of a viral, mocking Twitter thread – was the metaverse. Hot on the heels of Facebook’s rebrand to Meta, tech brands scrambled to define what the metaverse might mean for actual consumers.
It’s a topic that designers have already delved into – we reported on these future-facing concepts last year. Some exhibitors even used virtual platforms as a way to showcase products in lieu of in-person interaction, such as Samsung’s My House which debuted on metaverse platform Zepeto.
More traditional takes involved VR products, such as smart glasses, though there was a notable attempt to recreate lifelike experiences in a virtual world. As part of its virtual product line-up, Panasonic unveiled PebbleFeel, a VR vest which allows people to feel hot and cold in the metaverse. Worn around the chest, the lightweight can provide temperatures between 9 and 42 degrees Celsius.
Similarly, Owo’s haptic vest allows people to feel over 30 different sensations while they’re in the metaverse or playing video games. Among those possible sensations, the company lists: rain, wind, hugs, and most dramatically gunshots. The user remains in full control of the vest and its sensations with a designated app.
There were also attempts to apply the metaverse to less traditional sectors. Virtual fitness company Liteboxer capitalised on the demand for at-home exercise classes with its VR platform, for example. Users are immersed in trainer-led classes via the Quest 2 where they can “duke it out within the metaverse” with other users, the company explains.
Beauty company Perfect Corp meanwhile showcased how the metaverse could affect the make-up sector, by allowing customers to try on different products and take tutorials virtually.
BMW melds the “real and virtual” with colour-changing tech
Much of the car-related news at CES skewed conceptual. One of this year’s biggest headlines was BMW’s colour-changing iXFlow concept, which would allow drivers to change the colour of a car’s interiors and exteriors at a touch of a button. “Digital experiences won’t just be limited to displays in the future,” BMW management board member Frank Weber says. “There will be more and more melding of the real and virtual.”
The colour-switching is made possible by electronic ink technology, which uses electronic signals to bring different colour pigments to the surface. Unlike traditional displays however, the colour technology requires no energy when a tone is fixed (only when the colours are changed).
Although the reveal was appearance-focused, BMW was keen to emphasise the potential efficiency of a colour-changing car. A dark exterior would conserve heat in cold conditions, whereas white would be cooling in higher temperatures.
While we’re used to the idea of car companies making headway into the tech space – as the wave of digital-friendly rebrands attest to – Sony announced at CES that it would be making further moves into the automotive industry.
At its keynote, Sony announced Sony Mobility, a company which will develop electric cars. To coincide with that launch, Sony revealed the Vision-S – there are no plans to sell the car to the public – which comes complete with Sony-branded interfaces.
Unsurprisingly, the prototype made good use of Sony’s licensing universe with “an immersive music experience” as well as gaming compatibility with PlayStation. Cadillac also unveiled an autonomous EV concept at CES, which features a two-person seat set-up and widescreen.
Disinfection robots to AI felines
Robots are a perennial CES favourite, and this year they tackled some pressing needs. Keenon’s range of “service robots” included a Disinfection Robot which it claims can kill 99.9% of germs and viruses at public venues like hospitals and schools.
Other robotic designs ranged from the whimsical to the potentially life-changing. Macroact unveiled Maicat, an AI social robot that takes the form of a cat. Billed as an “AI companion”, the robot acts like a young cat (complete with meows) and can gauge its emotional surroundings through sensors to react appropriately.
Esper Bionics meanwhile revealed bionic product, Esper Hand. The prosthetic hand that detects signals and uses algorithms in an attempt to provide a more bespoke experience for people with disabilities.