I don't know if you've heard, but the Internet of Things stole the show at the International Consumer Electronics Show this year.
OK, that might not come as a surprise, considering wearable technology has been a key theme at the Las Vegas trade show for a few years now. But this year could be different, said Intel CEO and keynote speaker Brian Krzanich. "It's the beginning of the next consumer technology wave," he said, calling out the wave's three key features: a widespread wearable revolution, intelligence everywhere and three-dimensional computing.
Underneath the spectacle of Intel's keynote, replete with musicians and real-life dancers enhanced by colorful 3-D images based on their body scans, the Intel presentation was actually a good representation for the rest of CES 2015.
Krzanich kicked off his talk by unveiling Curie, a wearable processor (!) that enraptured the audience -- and not just by its very tiny size (as small as a button) but for the many new types of wearables it makes possible (like buttons). Intel's depth-perception camera technology, called RealSense, was another star of the talk: This nifty technology allows drones to fly themselves while avoiding collision; it enables robots equipped with video-chatting screens to follow you as you "walk and talk"; and attached to a special jacket, RealSense can also provide the visually impaired with a sense of space. These are just a few use cases for just two connected products from one company.
Multiply those marvels by a hundred, and you get the number of new sensor technologies, both promising and pointless (smart diaper, anyone?), showcased at the CES show -- mostly incidentally by small startups. (Didn't we tell your there's a lot to learn from newbies?) Their products ran the gamut: from fitness trackers, to driverless cars, to smart robots (including this creepily lifelike one), to smart home devices and so much more. Not impressed? I just listed potential major disruptors to the health, automobile, service and home security industries in one breath.
Of course, with connectivity to the Internet there will be concerns about security and privacy, so it should come as no surprise that these concerns were indeed a topic of conversation at the conference, articulated admirably by none other than FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez: "That data trove will contain a wealth of revealing information that, when patched together, will present a deeply personal and startlingly complete picture of each of us," she warned in a speech. Perhaps that throws a damper on the virtual halo around these promising connected devices, but if we learned anything from 2014, it's that we can never take security too seriously.
Despite these concerns, I'm inclined to agree with the majority of the 1,606 IT insiders surveyed by the Pew Internet Project on the advent of the Internet of Things -- namely, that the IoT will have "widespread and beneficial effects" for consumers. If the consumerization of IoT technology follows the uptake of other consumer tech, my guess is that, for better or worse, the beneficial effects of sensorized things will trump concerns about personal data getting into the wrong hands.
Tired of the "connected everything" talk? Here are a few other tidbits from the show:
- No CES show would be complete without an abundance of oddball gadgets, and this year was no different. Some standouts: Belty, a smart belt that senses when you're sitting or standing -- or when your stomach expands -- and adjusts accordingly; Rocketskates, which attach to your shoes so you can zoom around as fast as 10 miles per hour; and Parrot Pot, a pot that decides how much to water your plant by collecting data on it. Oh, and drones. Lots and lots of them. (Selfie drones?! Say it ain't so.)
- Speaking of selfies, there were a lot of those too -- too many, some might say. Just when we've all come to terms with the fact that selfie was declared Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries and that selfie sticks are indeed now a thing, here comes CES with more selfie-promotion. Still, can anyone resist these? (Just make sure you don't end up on this Tumblr.)
- Gadgets of yore made a comeback in Las Vegas -- but these aren't like your dad's old Walkman or that old computer monitor you just threw away. Sony's new ZX2 Walkman could be worth the $1,119 sticker for music buffs; the company claims it can "reproduce master quality recordings" just like the originals. HP also made a splash with its suite of monitors, which consists of virtual reality, curved, 4K and 5K displays. What was un-cool at the show? Cable TV. DISH Network unveiled Sling TV, an Internet-only streaming package -- the first of its kind -- that offers a limited amount of channels. That includes ESPN, folks.
- Connected devices aren't the only major item on Intel's agenda. In addition to the wearables spectacle, the chip making giant also announced a five-year plan to flesh out its workforce with more women and minorities. A key part of the initiative is a $300 million budget to fund engineering scholarships and support historically black colleges. The announcement comes on the heels of recent criticism from civil rights groups that Silicon Valley tech firms are predominantly made up of white and male employees.