It was a case of absence makes the heart grow fonder when CC’ers Ruth Thomson and Niall Mottram returned in person to CES in Las Vegas, the annual tech jamboree that’s been a shadow of its former self during recent pandemic restricted years. This year’s bash – the most influential tech event in the world – was fully live and unleashed. Ruth and Niall loved being back in Nevada, and also enjoyed sitting down to discuss their reflections on the hot CES technology trends once back at CC HQ in Cambridge, UK.
Ruth Thomson: I’ve been attending CES for what, 13 years, and it was great to be finally back in person at such a renowned mecca for global innovators and breakthrough ideas. This year, more than 3,200 exhibitors and 173 countries, territories and regions were represented. It wasn’t quite back to pre-pandemic levels but the atmosphere was awesome. Our first post pandemic visit was a really productive trip for the CC team, which also included Sajith Wimalaratne and Sinan Yordem and colleagues from our sister company Synapse and parent Capgemini. Niall, you caught the big keynote presentations, what was your take?
Niall Mottram: I can only agree Ruth. CES is as compelling as ever And this time around it was really noticeable that many of the challenges that we at CC are addressing for clients – such as sustainability and emerging climate tech – were taking centre stage.
As for the keynotes? BMW was the first, with a presentation reserved for the media. Oliver Zipse, Chairman of the Board of Management, BMW AG, shared the spotlight with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Herbie. Both are movie stars but not everyone remembers Herbie – the autonomous VW Beetle, also known as the Love Bug, which was an icon of popular culture the late 1960s and early 70s. I think their joint appearance was indicative if nothing else of the vast amount of dollars that big companies throw at CES. The vibe from those who did attend was that the presentation was although it was suitability glitzy for Vegas, it didn’t bring much new technology inspiration to the table.
Clean tech for the future of mobility
In terms of content, I really enjoyed the John Deere keynote which opened the show. Contrasting with the BMW keynote, there was a heavy emphasis on technology and Deere used the platform to launch its ExactShot product, a great example of a climate tech focused innovation emerging from a large, traditional blue chip company. Using technology to reduce environmental impact and reduce costs for users – in this case farmers – was a common theme across the whole event.
It was followed up by Stellantis, the new multinational manufacturing corporation that embodies the likes of Jeep, Chrysler, Fiat and PSA. Its CEO Carlos Tavares laid out his vision for a clean, safe and affordable future for mobility. A really interesting element for me was a plea to the industry to improve battery technology. More specifically to try and get much more range out of much more energy dense chemistries.
All this tied in with what I identified as a much greater general emphasis on climate tech. The President and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, the organisation behind CES, is a guy called Gary Shapiro. He was on stage with John Deere emphasising the theme of climate tech like never before. As he saw it, the focus going forward will be about balancing economic growth with the ‘tech for good’ movement.
I think this new emphasis is a reflection on the huge amount of venture capital and private equity money that’s gone into climate tech over the last 12 months. The decision by CES to use its influence to get behind the initiative and provide a global platform to promote it signals huge significance for this expanding area of innovation.
Climate tech and tech for good
I’d just quickly add a couple of further talking points from the keynote stages. There was some sidebar commentary around certain US policy barriers hampering innovation and perhaps stymieing positive disruption. Not surprisingly given the nature of the event, there was frustration that Washington is perhaps too keen to preserve the status quo, when the very visible effect of climate change around the globe would suggest the opposite approach is needed. Great innovation always find a way through the red tape though, even if they have to bend the rules along the way.
When it came to digitalization there were lots of interesting views, with the emphasis being not just on digitalization for the sake of it but change that is driven by purpose – again inexorably linked to the drive for climate tech and tech for good. This mantra was repeated time and again throughout the keynotes.
Ruth Thomson: Thanks Niall. Another important aspect of CES, away from the keynotes, is the show floor – as well as the private suites of course. For me, it’s always fascinating to keep my ear to the ground and track the trends and changes of focus that happen over time, and the things that come and go. Focus on the fitness sector was tiny when I first attended CES back in 2009, then it became absolutely huge, and now it’s back to being pretty small. Sleep tech is another area that has peaked and shrunk again.
Conversely, digital health innovation was one area that was looking way more mature than I’ve seen in previous years. There’s often plenty of technology focus around measurement and biometrics but here there was a much more diverse and mature selection of interesting developments across sectors. Withings has been a regular exhibitor for years but has widened and matured its offerings. I was interested to see their expansion into at-home urine analysis segment which scans your urine for biomarkers such as hydration and ketone levels. It claimed to be able to distinguish who was using the toilet from the pee stream which I was doubtful about but it’s great to see innovation progressing in this area.
Extended reality and haptics
XR (extended reality) and haptics – technology that harnesses the senses of touch and motion – was a huge area of interest at CES with some really interesting technology that will bridge the physical/digital which I think is key for the wider adoption of the metaverse. There was any number of wearable haptics gloves interacting with headsets and other devices – and I also noted lots of non-contact gesture interaction, which for me was a nod towards changed attitudes after years of pandemic restrictions. For example, the Ultraleap technology.
Niall Mottram: Picking up on your thread of trends Ruth I’d add that another to that in the form of automation to autonomy, which also happens to be a focus area of many of our clients at CC. Many companies went big on it at CES – with Caterpillar quite literally getting the prize for biggest exhibit at the show. A big crowd gathered around their house-sized autonomous dumper truck which has been developed for the mining industry. Apparently, they have one that is four times bigger but even Las Vegas couldn’t fit that onto its stage!
I thought the take on robotics at CES was interesting. There were fewer robotics offerings in the traditional sense, and almost no drone companies at the show – so it was all rather like the fitness trend that you talked about Ruth. Three of four years ago you couldn’t move for drone companies but there were notable by their absence this time around. Conversely it was fascinating to note that AI was absolutely everywhere. Whether it was an autonomous dumper truck or a smart toilet, everyone was talking about how it was enabled by artificial intelligence.
Digital services for autonomy
On the automotive side, the traditional motor companies were staying in the same lane that they’ve been in for some time. Everyone was talking about the usual theme – let’s have electrification today, while we hint at digital services delivery soon. Autonomy is still promised in the future, but here’s still no commitment to dates. Billions of dollars have been thrown at this but still the problem hasn’t been fully resolved.
But what certainly is gathering pace is the industrial metaverse play. I thought it was noteworthy that Mercedes claimed it had conducted 300,000km of testing for its new electric concept car – but purely in a simulated world, using a technology solution that utilised the Unity development platform. Again, resounded with me as it reflected a good deal of work we’re doing for clients by using synthetic data and simulated environments to reduce the time and cost of industrial autonomy.
Precision planting innovation
A quick final observation from the agri sector… I really enjoyed catching up with John Deere’s precision planting innovation - ExactShot. It sprays a precise dose of fertilizer on every single seed that it plants in the field. When you consider that a field has an average of 24 million seeds it highlights what a clever and transformative application this is. A great combination of great machine vision and clever fluidics.
Consumer Packaged Goods
Ruth Thomson: Thanks Niall, great stuff. Another trend that I continue to see is the rise of CPG involvement in CES. Tech scouts from well-known CPG brands have been walking the floor for a decade and innovators like L’Oreal have had a private suite and significant media releases for quite a few years now. This year it was interesting to see the very diverse range of technologies from Suntory in the exhibit hall.
One of our current clients was privately showcasing a novel physical/digital system that we’ve been working with them on to enable them to bring their brand closer to consumers. Unfortunately, I need to keep our involvement under wraps for now. I can’t wait to share insights into this exciting development when the time is right.
But for now, please get in touch if you’d like to discuss any of the topics Niall and I have covered. And here’s to CES next year!