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CES 2016: A Lot Still Missing

CES is the event that usually gets me energized about the upcoming year; however, this year I almost didn’t attend because I didn’t think there was going to be anything new that would shake up the industry. At the last minute I decided to put on my best walking shoes and fight the crowds. Unfortunately, I think my initial gut feeling was correct.

Sure, there were a lot of people waiting in lines to sit in the new self-driving and electric vehicles or eager to put on the new VR headsets, but there were still several things missing. IoT and power for our mobile electronics need a revolutionary innovation to attain the next level of ubiquitous technology.

First of all, I was disappointed to see so many booths still touting wireless charging solutions aka Powermat. I still have too many charging cables and every month that my phone or Fitbit device ages, the life of the battery charge declines. There were a number of people walking around with a cute, bright green bag that was plugging its ‘Big power, small cells’ product. I wasn’t sure what their product was, but I was definitely curious and feverishly looked for their booth. I was hoping they’d have a product that provided a breakthrough in battery technology or possibly an energy harvesting option. Unfortunately when I got close to their booth, I was handed the cute bag which included a USB charger that was powered by two rechargeable AA batteries. Really?

My colleague, Tony Massimini, released his first energy harvesting study in 2012. “An Early Growing Season” was a very appropriate title as most of the technologies that he wrote about have still not been ‘harvested’. He’s revisiting the topic in a report to be released this month. There are some advances that have been made for industrial, medical and small volume applications. Semico did talk to a few companies at CES, such as EnOcean, Inc., that are making progress with batteryless wireless sensors. EnOcean has technology that is powered by ambient energy, but I have to say, we have a long way to go before that connected bra doesn’t have to be plugged in.

Another area that Semico has been watching is 3D printing. Our first report on 3D printing came out in 2014 and is currently being updated. Although there didn’t appear to be as many vendors at CES this year, the ones who were present certainly presented their story with more marketing flair. 3D Systems had to provide a map of their booth just to highlight all their customer displays. It was good to see real 3D products not just plastic animals or candy. Invisalign had a representative in the 3D Systems booth showing off their 3D printed mold for teeth alignment as well as implants. 3D Systems also showed off the Jay Leno Garage project. It’s been widely publicized that Jay Leno uses 3D printing to produce antique car parts. There were even a few new companies featured in the 3D Systems booth, such as Wiivv, a company that manufactures 3D printed orthotics. Wiivv has already exceeded its goal on Kickstarter with 28 days still remaining. Initial investors can get a pair of orthotics for only $50. Although XYZ was promoting a 3D printer that is priced at only $269, I still don’t see the ‘must-have’ application for my home use.

The other product that is re-targeting its marketing focus is robotic technology. Instead of pursuing robots for elderly care and services, there seemed to be more robots aimed at children and pets. The technology hasn’t really changed all that much, but the applications and potential acceptance level for children and pets seem much more appropriate. A robot that can play games with your child, teach your child how to talk or monitor their location seems like a great way to utilize robotics today.

CES was not on my list of events to attend in 2016. I really don’t know why I would need a closet from LG that steams and shakes out my clothes and I’m not sure if I really need an 80” TV that is only as thick as four credit cards. I’m looking forward to the energy harvesting technology that will keep my fitness tracker working for more than just three or four days, and I can’t wait until someone comes up with a product that will truly integrate the smart systems in my home to make the smart home the next killer app. CES 2016 didn’t provide that solution, but I still have hope for the future.