As expected, CES 2019 in Las Vegas has my head buzzing. So many gadgets. So much cool technology. It’s a lot to take in. But that’s part of why I’ve been coming here for the last seven years and why I expect to be back in 2020.
Here are a few of my observations and reflections from Las Vegas this year:
Don’t get me wrong, autonomous vehicles are still a huge part of CES, but it feels like we’ve finally passed peak hype – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I felt this shift in mood when I strolled past the display of an autonomous vehicle technology company that had previously received a lot of attention only to find the area kind of empty. It’s like the magic is gone.
I’ve long felt that the discussion around self-driving has been a bit too hyped. Just like everyone else, I can’t wait until most of the cars on our roads have reached Level 3 or higher. But that’s still a long way off – taxi drivers (and regular drivers) are by no means heading for extinction tomorrow. And my sense is that the crowd at CES has understood this too. Finally, people are sobering up about self-driving cars.
Last year it felt like everyone was talking about self-driving cars. But this year, more people are actually riding in them – another sign of the sector’s growing maturity. After debuting at CES last year, ride-sharing service Lyft’s fleet of partly self-driving cars are almost considered a regular part of everyday life. The novelty has worn off (at least in Las Vegas).
What’s more, it appears passengers are pretty happy with their robot-taxi experience, giving Lyft’s self-driving vehicles nearly perfect ratings. Not only are self-driving cars becoming more commonplace – and perhaps preferred over traditional, human-driven cars.
Even though Tesla isn’t here, it’s clear the electrification revolution they helped spawn has really taken hold. Everywhere I turn, carmakers (and just about everyone else touting ways to move people) are leading with electric. And it feels like there are many more luxury electric models closer to production, meaning a growing range of electric vehicles will soon be available to more consumers.
Walking through the showroom, I see wide-eyed onlookers flocking to battery-powered models like bees to honey. And when you ask company reps about their coolest thing, more and more are keen to talk electric. Simply put, if you’re a carmaker not talking electric at CES this year, you’re just not keeping pace.
One of the biggest surprises for me at CES 2019 is what seems like a sudden explosion of AI-powered sensor and eye-tracking companies. They’ve sprouted up from nowhere, making the eye-tracking space much more crowded and vibrant than I previously realized.
My company, Smart Eye, has been around for 20 years – so it’s been fun to discover dozens more firms are starting to see the promise using eye-tracking to scan and analyze human behavior. While all the new entrants made me reflect about the range of applications for eye-tracking, I remained convinced that the automotive sector will be where we see the biggest advances.
Clearly, we’re on to something good.
No report from CES is complete without some mention of the gadget or innovation that left the biggest impression. Unsurprisingly, my votes go to two head-turning offerings related to mobility.
First, the new Mercedes Vision EQ Silver Arrow. It was just so beautifully designed and reminded me of a spaceship out of Star Wars. It was exactly the sort of over-the-top coolness that makes CES so fun. I can’t wait to (hopefully) get my hands on one someday.
I was also struck by an electric-powered flying taxi unveiled by Bell Helicopter and designed together with Uber. It was really something – and got me thinking even more about the future of urban mobility. Bell hopes to its flying taxis will be in the air in major cities in a few years.
Could we be airborne before we reach Level 5 autonomy?
Overall, this year’s CES has been inspiring, but short of mind-blowing. I didn’t encounter anything that made me fall over backwards in amazement (after seven years here, perhaps my threshold for being wowed is simply a bit higher than it once was).
Indeed, 2019 seems to have been a year of evolution, rather than revolution. A year when we saw the fruits of engineers doing what they do best: designing out errors, making things better, slowly but surely.
Who knows what next year will bring?
Martin Krantz is founder and CEO of Smart Eye, a leading eye-tracking technology provider based in Gothenburg, Sweden