Trending consumer tech at this years CES
FocalPoint’s Chief Technology Officer, Ramsey Faragher highlights the top trends from this year’s CES and his methodology for assessing new technologies.
One of the many advantages of being a CTO is innovating, assessing and discussing great technology. In line with demand, we are seeing the acceleration of new technology with increasingly more complex automated ecosystems from all types of consumer technology. This year, CES certainly did not disappoint with new technologies and use cases - and of course, a few outlandish inventions thrown in too.
Right people, right place, right time
Whilst our priority as a team was the ability to meet leaders from across the industry and move critical agendas along with our partners - it’s always interesting to keep an eye on the emerging technology. Here's a few that caught my eye:
1. Electric vehicles and mobility technologies
With rising pressures from environmental and economic agendas we’ve seen growth in energy storage systems, electric powertrains and EV’s. This year we saw the launch of electric hydrofoil boats, dubbed the ‘Tesla of the sea’ claiming to offer smoother and quieter rides at higher speeds. An interesting concept, however it combines two properties which are already well established - hydrofoils, and electric power.
As a CTO you have to ask - why hasn’t this been done before? If it isn’t a brand new successful idea, then is it an old failed idea? The concept of a hydrofoil is interesting - a lifting surface under the boat that lifts it out of the water at high speed, aiming to reduce the drag and allowing more efficient high speed travel through the water.
In practice, hydrofoils have a number of issues that have limited their popularity. One of the main problems is their high cost, as the design and construction of hydrofoils is quite complex and expensive. Additionally, hydrofoils can be difficult to control and manoeuvre, especially in rough seas or high winds. They also tend to be less stable than traditional boats, which can make them less comfortable for passengers. Being relatively loud, they produce a lot of vibration, which can be disruptive for passengers and crew.
On battery-powered boats, water is 1000x denser than air. So it takes a lot of power to push an object through water compared to air. Diesel has a high energy density: 45 MJ/kg. A lithium-ion battery has about 0.3MJ/kg. So if you need to transport fuel with you that has to contain a lot of energy to push you through a viscous liquid 1000x denser than air, diesel is traditionally the way to go.
The hydrofoil concept is trying to reduce the drag in order to make battery powered boats more practical from the power point of view, but the low popularity overall of the comfort, expense, and practicality of hydrofoils has not changed - I’m personally not convinced that the 'Tesla of the sea' will take off.
2. Rise in autonomy through every aspect of our lives
2023 is undoubtedly the year of artificial intelligence (AI). The world is leading towards automation in virtually every aspect of our lives through technology, increasing the efficiency and experiences from everyday tasks to complex business operations. Some key areas of focus in AI developments include machine learning, natural language processing, computer vision, and explainable AI.
Of particular interest to me was ChatGPT, the chatbot built on generative AI. Its release was too close to CES to have had any noticeable impact but I expect an explosion in utilisation for the next few months, similar to the utilisation of DALEE and Midjourney etc, before it settles down into a steady state in the background. ChatGPT is a language model that predicts a new word based on the ones that preceded it, and continues to do this to generate its own text. Whilst not a new concept it has certainly attracted a lot of interest from Tech giants. A major investment from Microsoft is looming for OpenAI, the developers of ChatGPT and expectations are high that ChatGPT will be embedded into Microsoft’s Bing search and their Office product family. We can also expect many clones of this technology to follow. The concept behind it is well understood, all that is needed is a lot of labelled training data and reinforcement learning from its human users directly to “fine tune” its responses, allowing it to continually improve after release.
3. Self driving strollers?
As the father of an 18 month old girl, still with fresh memories of the earlier challenges of my now 5 year old twins, a self-driving stroller caught my attention amongst the “bonkers” section of CES. Thankfully the notes against the product explained that self-driving mode was only functional when there was no child in the stroller. Now this makes the idea practical - it’s not uncommon for a crying child to simply want to be carried, not pushed. And so it solves the everyday problem of carrying a child while trying to manoeuvre an empty pram or stroller.
These technologies aside, when assessing the business opportunities for new technologies I tend to use a process that combines technical feasibility, market potential, competitive and regulatory landscapes, alongside the length of the deployment timeline.
Technical feasibility: This includes understanding the technology itself in great detail and then having an honest assessment of its benefits, its limitations, and for consumer focussed technology, the feasibility of getting it out into the world at large scale.
Market potential: This includes understanding the target customer base, the size of the existing market, and the potential for new market segments to emerge.
Competitive landscape: This includes identifying existing and potential competitors, as well as assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each.
Regulatory environment: This includes identifying any existing or potential regulations that may impact the technology, as well as assessing the potential for future regulations to be implemented.
Development timeline: This includes identifying the stage of development of the technology, as well as assessing the potential for the technology to be brought to market in the near future.
As I look further forward into 2023 I think we are going to see two key things evolving out of these topics - an acceptance that full autonomy is still some way off, with a concentration required first on highly robust and trustable aids that are helping a human do their job better, be that driving a car or writing a blog post. And an ever increasing demand for technologies that reduce our reliance on carbon-based power sources. One of the biggest technological breakthroughs still ahead of us is that of very high energy density power sources that have no impact on global warming. Or ideally a negative impact.
There are still plenty of discoveries out there to be made.