Race for ‘smart’ to reach fever pitch at electronics show in San Francisco

AFP, SAN FRANCISCO

Thu, Jan 04, 2018 - Page 10

Giving gadgets brains is expected to be a hot theme at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) set to open in Las Vegas, with device makers big and small touting hardware with “smarts.”

Whether it is a doorbell or refrigerator, a TV set or a toothbrush, chances are it will be connected to digital assistants powered by artificial intelligence (AI) aiming to anticipate needs or desires.

“I think you’re going to see the year of smart,” J. Gold Associates LLC technology analyst Jack Gold said.

One of the largest trade shows in the world, the CES is to take place from Tuesday to Friday next week. It is expected to attract about 170,000 visitors and 3,900 exhibitors from 150 nations and is to showcase innovations in computers, gaming, robotics, vehicle technology, virtual and augmented reality, and more.

Gadgets would be increasingly tuned to glean insights about the people using them, with an aim of anticipating what might be desired at any given moment, Gold said.

“Your device will learn about you and will know your preferences, and it’ll then try to get smarter about how to interact with you,” he said.

As consumer electronics evolve, an overriding theme has become voice-controlled digital assistants being integrated into more devices, said Stephen Baker of the research firm NPD Group Inc.

“I think you are going to be overwhelmed by ‘smart’ homes and voice — the voice speakers yelling at you in the convention center, and up and down the [Las Vegas] Strip will be overwhelming,” Baker said of CES.

Gadget makers would infuse more products and services with virtual aides, such as Amazon.com Inc’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant, Apple Inc’s Siri and Microsoft Corp’s Cortana, he said.

“What happened is all the appliance and device guys gave up [on making their own isolated smart home systems] and instead are building an ecosystem in which pretty much everybody’s devices will talk to Google or Amazon, or eventually Siri,” Baker said.

Still, Gartner Inc analyst Brian Blau said large and small tech firms are locked in battle to be at the heart of smart homes and devices.

“To some degree, there is still a war on for the connected home platform,” Blau said. “Communication standards are being worked out, but the other thing is whose allegiance you will commit your home to — will it be Samsung, LG, Amazon, Google?”

Major electronics firms, such as Bosch Group, Panasonic Corp, Sony Corp, Samsung Electronics Co, are looking to showcase how several devices can work together with a connected hub, said Carolina Milanesi of the consultancy Creative Strategies.

“I definitely see the speaker still be key to controlling the connected home,” she said.

Artificial intelligence also opens the door to “computer vision” used in drones, autonomous cars and robotics, which will be showcased at CES, Technalysis Research analyst and consultant Bob O’Donnell said.

Major automakers are to be on hand, as well as makers of tech platforms, for self-driving vehicles, such as Intel Corp’s Mobileye and chipmaker Nvidia Corp, along with a dozen exhibitors in the autonomous car “marketplace,” he said.

CES is to host the debut of a US$130,000 electric car from Fisker — a relaunched start-up led by former BMW AG designer Henrik Fisker whose previous venture went bankrupt — and one of several challengers to rapidly expanding Tesla Inc.

Although CES ends just days ahead of a major Detroit auto show, automakers are eager to show their new technology to a wider public, O’Donnell said.

“It’s a place to make a statement about technologies that will have resonance,” he said. “And the vast majority of the new innovations in cars are in fact tech things.”

The success of these new technologies would depend on how well machines can think the way people do, O’Donnell said.

“The whole idea of understanding context is a big theme in AI, and we’ll see a lot of effort to improve the empathy of devices,” he said.