Getty Images (3), Justin Sullivan; Andrej Sokolow/picture alliance; David Becker
If a flying taxi, a self-driving wheelchair and an unmanned vehicle delivering your dinner sound futuristic, you may be surprised by the innovations that will be on display in Las Vegas this week.
From smart fabrics to smart homes, from robots to virtual reality, the wares on display at CES — the consumer electronics trade show that is the largest tech exhibition in the world — are designed to show you the benefits of tomorrow’s technology today. This annual four-day gathering of electronics companies and techies can be so mind-boggling that to get to sleep after all-day excitement, you may need a Bluetooth-connected, temperature-controlled smart pillow to decompress.
Some 4,400 companies will be exhibiting, and about 182,000 people from 160 countries are expected to attend, according to the Arlington, Va.-based Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which sponsors the show.
“We literally sell out every hotel room in Vegas. The city can’t hold more than we bring,” said CTA spokesman Justin Siraj. He said the early buzz is focused on the evolving uses of both artificial intelligence and fifth-generation cellular networks, or 5G, which will speed up mobile internet speeds.
Manufacturers are also exploring how to use technology to improve the lives of older Americans. As the country’s population ages — by 2035, adults age 65-plus are expected to outnumber children, according to the Census Bureau — innovations aimed at the health, wellness, safety and vitality of adults 50-plus are proliferating.
“Digital health is going to be a huge narrative this year … and it’s beyond [wearable devices] this year,” said Lesley Rohrbaugh, director of research at the CTA.
Among the notable health care innnovations, Rohrbaugh noted, are digital therapeutics, devices that help health care workers monitor patients remotely, sleep technology and gadgets such as smart pens that can monitor insulin levels. Manufacturers will also be promoting advances in pain management, cardiac monitoring, telehealth and other topics.
For example, WHILL is unveiling its Autonomous Drive System, a wheelchair that comes to you at the touch of a button — no walking required — and drives itself, relying on front and back cameras. The company is hoping to sell the wheelchairs to malls, theme parks and major airports like New York's LaGuardia and London's Heathrow.
On Thursday, AARP will hold its first “pitch competition,” to highlight new technologies that can reduce social isolation by helping older adults build personal connections. CEO Jo Ann Jenkins will be joined by FUBU founder and entrepreneur Daymond John, a judge on ABC’s Shark Tank, at the presentation.
“Helping to drive the development of innovative new products and services that focus on the interests and needs of people age 50-plus is an important element of AARP’s mission,” said Jenkins. “The CTA Foundation Pitch Competition will help deliver new solutions to a large and, so far, underserved market and spotlight a key opportunity that other businesses are missing out on.”
Begun in New York in 1967, CES at first featured about 250 exhibits and drew 17,500 attendees, but the show has grown exponentially as technology inexorably seeps into everyday life. Through the years some innovations had flashy debuts but flopped — just as some products on display this week likely will.
Still, some splashy newcomers at CES became consumer must-haves, from the videocassette recorder (1970) to high-definition television (1998) to tablets, netbooks and android devices (2010).
This week, at least, expect the axiom about Vegas — “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” — to be turned on its head, if inventors, innovators and investors have their way. They’re gambling on introducing the next big thing in tech and are planning to tell the world all about it.