Why Cars Dominate CES 2016
Every January since 1907, the auto industry has introduced its newest models at the North American International Auto Show, more commonly known by its old name of the Detroit Auto Show. It predates CES, the world’s traditional gadget festival, by several decades and originally the two shows had little or nothing to do with each other except that they both take place in January, with CES going first.
About 25 years ago, automotive products started to find their way into CES, but only as accessories such as external navigation systems and after-market sound systems. But recently, new autos started making their premier appearances at CES a week or two prior to the Detroit trade show. In the last couple of years, they generated more attention competing with televisions on one hand and mobile technologies on the other.
This year, it seems to me, the modern car has emerged to take center stage. As a non-attending observer, I have read more about cars at CES than any other category of products.
Why the change?
From the automotive industry’s perspective, there are marketing and communications advantages at CES. While Detroit attracts professional automotive press, CES attracts the electronic and consumer media, particularly people who post in social media. These days, we consumers tend to influence each other far more than trade press influences us. What Robert Scoble, for example, has to say about his drive to Vegas in a new digitally loaded Mercedes influences me infinitely more than a review in Car and Driver magazine which I stopped reading years ago.
But from the attendee perspective, the modern car has emerged into one very large consumer gadget. The difference between it and say a smart phone is that instead of it being carried on your pocket or your purse, it carries you. Instead of being connected through the screen of your mobile device, your are connected through technology that increasingly talks with passengers. Cars have become sensor-laden, data-collecting devices connected to the Internet of Things [IoT]. They are getting smarter and safer–so smart and safe that they are starting to drive themselves.
When I last attended CES two years ago, such talk had begun, except back then the issue was if cars would become self-driving. Now the issue is when. The consensus is that the technology will be ready before people and authorities are, and that the point of rapid adoption will take about ten years.
This seems slow to some, but I find this amazing. I also find autonomous vehicles as part of a larger trend, one that CES indicates is coming down the pike far faster than many people realized. It is the point where humans and technology get even closer together than they have already become.
Today, we are inextricably attached to the world through our smartphones. To connect with anything or everything, we usually tap on our cellphone screens. According to a 2015 study, the average person checks their phone an average of 110 times daily. Outliers check their screens as many as 900 times daily or about every seven seconds of every waking hour. All the minutes we spend on our phones are going to start being saved as people start connecting with their technology in other ways.
But now technology is moving beyond the mobile screen to surround people, to allow people to be immersed in technology in the same way we are immersed in cars when we are passengers in them.
Cars are not alone. The co-star of 2016 CES are headsets that people wear to experience augmented or virtual reality [AR/VR]. I believe that with the advent of Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear, Microsoft Hololens, and the Google-backed Magic Leap, AR/VR will be the most talked about technology of 2016. It will start with games, as has often been the case with disruptive technologies, but in the coming years AR/VR will change training, marketing, support, sales and communications in the enterprise. These technologies will make it easier and faster to design and build all things. They are being tested in all sorts of medical applications including treating autism, reversing blindness and predicting Alzheimer’s.
And it is all so recent and moving so very fast.
When you think about it, the autonomous car is actually a new form of robot, and like other robots you will talk and gesture with them in many cases. I think in 2016, we will start seeing robots doing useful and interesting things in the home and workplace. The freakiness we attach to them will be reduced. Like autonomous cars, the Freaky Factor–the stuff that finds smart technology just a little bit creepy–will be reduced dramatically. Robots and self-driving cars will become everyday things. We will use augmented reality to see if the couch in the magazine will fit nicely into your living room or not. We will use virtual reality to teach oil rig workers how to respond to an emergency. Entire lanes of highways will be restricted to autonomous vehicles that will deliver people and goods to destinations with far greater safety, sustainability and efficiency that has ever been possible.