Did The Consumer Electronics Show Hit Or Miss The Mark on Emerging Technology Trends Like EVs And Web3?
The annual Consumer Electronics Show (aka CES) in Las Vegas has been to technology what the couture runway shows are to fashion. A vision of the future: a mix of fantasy, bleeding edge, avant garde and exclusive. While the products are mostly out of reach for the masses, there has been a general understanding that these concepts will iterate, innovate and scale over the next few years into within-reach versions that become part of our everyday way of life.
This year was a little different, whether it was the first big gathering enmasse since the pandemic years, the shifting zeitgeist with the pending uncertainty around our economic, environmental and social future or that growing feeling that the 99% are kinda done with the glitz, greed and glamor of the 1% and all their personal self-destructive pursuits. Something is shifting and for me it’s critically important we pay attention to these signals.
This year was less about far future fantasy flash or the totally obscure “what are they talking about tech” (aka vaporware) than previous years (although there was still a decent amount of that). It was a little closer to the ground with products that look like the masses could utilize today rather than in the far-future years. Make no mistake it wasn’t a lack of wanting to dazzle- there was that. What stood out for me was that there was more of a nod to sustainability, energy efficiency and real practical applications and use cases that are needed now in a “how might we use this tech to scale” approach. In a way it was less out there and more right now, for you.
CES has traditionally been focused on consumer gadgets- which it had plenty of. Many of these were home based digital health and wellness, exams and tests which will surely disrupt current jobs in that space. It has been expanding over the years to include much broader applications of emerging technology like automotive, transport, connectivity and energy storage, artificial intelligence (AI), Web3, digital health, and more. It felt to me that my worlds of moonshots, cities, mobility, future of work and Web3 were on stage front and center and converging.
For all the chatter of sustainability and human health though, I was left wanting to see more. Maybe that was the point. Technology is a tool and works best when it enables and unleashes human creativity to solve problems, innovate and reduce friction in our culture and daily life. When we make things that people love and make our lives easier, more joyful and the world around us better, we’re all winning.
There were glimpses of the amazing emerging technology moonshots that I am lucky to be a part of that are out there trying to solve these vexing global problems, with breakthrough technology (space, robotics, energy capture and storage, regenerative bio-diversity printing). These must show promise to commercialize and scale if they are to rapidly repair and restore our amazing blue and green spaceship. Some of the areas that stood out for me are not surprising as these are my passions: mobility, energy storage, AI and Web3.
CES is without a doubt “the” emerging mobility show more than any auto show out there. The global converging trends of electrification, connectivity and automation were strong on display and covered almost the entire show floors inside and out. Much less “rah rah” of the past and more serious commercial vehicle use case applications were a welcomed narrative. I say emerging mobility, because unlike typical auto shows this show was well beyond personal cars. In fact the ones that persisted with that narrative regardless of the tech gizmos and “fairy dust” add ons seemed “been there-done that”, dated and quite flat and boring compared to the innovations of their neighbors across the hall.
Multi-modal electric vehicles (EV) of all types everywhere. I met with and spoke with the makers of the next generation e-bikes and e-scooters, e-unicycles, utilitarian cargo e-bikes, delivery robots, small and large multiple passenger e-buses, delivery e-vans, e-trucks, e-boats, e-ships, even mining, construction and agricultural e-tractors and so on. It was all electric and it was only reinforced with an impressive amount of battery makers, battery tech, charging stations, micro-grid, two-way charging, docks and pods of all types. It felt like we were past the emerging and well into the here and now.
EVs with their little EV buddies. It was interesting that several EV displays took great effort to co-locate an e-scooter or e-bike (in various forms) either next to the passenger car, on the roof, on the flatbed tray or folded in the trunk. They were either greenwashing it a bit or nodding to the opportunity to provide first-last mile or recreational e-biking access to trails etc and always ready for a charge. Maybe a bit of both.
Automated vehicles (AVs) are far from over. In fact the story on the show floor was all about commercial vehicles and fleets and their support ecosystems- the sensor ( surprised there were so many Lidar companies), software and hardware stacks, mapping, tele-operation and connectivity and not so much on personal cars although there was a fair bit on in-vehicle connectivity. This was another welcomed shift. Not only was it great to reconnect with my peers in the AV technology space but it was vindicating to see that the majority of AVs on display were for moving people and things on the ground, sea and air and various support services en-masse. While the fantasy of the personal AV pulls at the Jetsons and Futurama utopia/dystopia (I lean there), the grown ups are preparing for mass scaling of fleets of commercial AV deployments across the planet. Let’s hope governments understand what this means for them and how they can guide this to their benefit (stay tuned on a future piece on this)
The new frontier. Web3 , generative AI and metaverse spaces were definitely all the buzz and in their emerging phase which for me are most interesting. I’ll be curious to see how this manifests as it evolves. Not much this year on digital assets (aka NFTs- I really think we need to bury that term) or but lots of practical applications of blockchain, smart contracts and tokens in the various verticals in our economy- mobility, gaming, entertainment, healthcare etc. Lots of great conversations with peers in the space focused on the building phases with general agreements around the dire need for better UX/UI onboarding tools, education, keeping the metaverse open to avoid the real (and potentially inevitable) control by the Web2 walled garden tech titans. Lots of chatter and excitement/concern on the future of work opportunities and threats with the various generative AI tools, not least ChatGPT and others. Great to share with peers about how to best prepare for Web3/AI work opportunities, skilling up and creating personal value (more on that soon).
All in all it was a great experience and I look forward to continuing the conversations while building the future. Let’s go!