With the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas around the corner, market researcher Steve Koenig elaborates on smart cities and the emergence of evidence-based telemedicine at the world's largest tech trade show.
The 2020 edition of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is upon us: From January 7, 170,000 people from more than 150 countries are expected to descend upon Las Vegas to catch a glimpse of the latest consumer technology gadgets and innovations.
Since its first show, held in New York in 1967 with 117 exhibitors and 17,500 attendees, CES has grown more than tenfold, and now encompasses both traditional and nontraditional tech industries. DW reporter Benjamin Bathke spoke with Consumer Technology Association (CTA) Vice President of Research Steve Koenig about the future of mobility, Chinese consumers' privacy concerns and why augmented reality may steal some of the thunder from virtual reality.
DW: What can the world expect in terms of consumer electronics in 2020 and this new decade?
Steve Koenig: The word for the last decade [the 2010s], which I've described as the connected age, is IoT — the Internet of Things. CES 2020 and this new decade are about a new IoT — the Intelligence of Things. The common denominator of this connected intelligence decade will be data. Already today, data underpins everything we're doing, personally, professionally, at home, on the go — we're consuming and generating massive amounts of data everywhere.
And this is why artificial intelligence (AI) is now permeating almost every facet of our commerce and our culture: as a means to help both commercial enterprises and consumers cope with, interpret and compute a lot of this data. More and more, CES is about discovering new applications and use cases for technologies, and learning about how they ultimately are going to fit into our society.
In 2018, the UN published a study that projected that more than two-thirds of the world's population will live in cities by the year 2050. Where do you see innovation in the context of mobility and smart cities?
We are starting to see solutions for medium-range transportation needs within cities. With cities getting ever bigger, mass transit, vehicles, bicycles, as well as, most recently, car-, scooter- and bike-sharing no longer suffice. Whereas today we would take a tram or a bus to get to our destination, in the future we might get from point A to B with flying cars.
Uber, the ride-sharing service company, last October started a helicopter taxi service it calls Uber Copter, which zips passengers from lower Manhattan to JFK airport in eight minutes. Uber also has a program called Elevate; it's an experimental business model they experimented with in France, from Nice airport to Cannes. This was also just a regular helicopter. But these new passenger drones look quite different and are all electric. Bell, a CES 2020 exhibitor, has a very large, six-rotor passenger drone. It could be used by first responders and passengers or for transporting packages.
Bell is talking commercial deployment by 2025. These innovations, which look like science fiction today, will become a commercial and consumer reality in this decade thanks to 5G, AI, robotics as well as more sensors and electrification.
In 2017, the likes of Tesla, Uber and Waymo started to test and deploy self-driving vehicles. Where do you see the biggest advancement?
At CES, we've been talking about self-driving vehicles for around eight years in earnest. Lately, we've been starting to understand more and more how these vehicles fit into the urban landscape. In 2020, we'll see more ongoing road testing around the world on city streets and country roads.
Furthermore, we'll see more commercial deployments of autonomous fleets in the US, Europe and China around the first and last kilometer distance: shorter-range trips in and around dense urban areas, much like those one would take an Uber or a taxi for. Ford, for instance, has announced deployment in three US cities by 2021.
No consumer electronics fair without drones on display — CES will also be presenting a variety of both delivery and passenger drones
As fleets are coming, more and more companies around the world are focused on fleet management, which means partnerships between OEMs [automakers], service providers and software developers that are oriented toward commercial deployment. I expect there to be some announcements around these type of partnerships at CES 2020.
What are your observations and expectations in anti-data collection tech, an emerging industry geared toward helping consumers protect their personal information?
Consumers around the world are waking up to the fact that they leave behind a lot of personal data. In a lot of cases, they now think twice about adopting a service or using an app if they don't really understand how, how often and what kind of data it collects. Is this app I'm not even using sending my location data back to the company?
If there are a lot of question marks, I do think people will delete apps or not install them in the first place. There are even growing privacy concerns among Chinese citizens: After the Chinese government forced telecom operators to collect face scans when registering users of new phones at stores across the country, one of the country's first lawsuits was filed in November over facial recognition. There are more digital tools to equip consumers to practice good digital hygiene to the best of their understanding or their wishes, from very advanced Wi-Fi security with encryption to VPNs for further data encryption to prevent hacking and every day kind of things like password protectors and reminders. Industry and commerce are also starting to build this in with requiring you to change your password.
You mentioned remote surgeries at the beginning. How will digital health tech change us?
Digital health is the technology arena that will touch all of us at some point. One place it's moving to is evidence-based telemedicine. Today, we are symptoms-based: You talk to a doctor on the phone and describe your symptoms.
Evidence-based is where the doctor is actually getting vital, real-time statistics on you and other data about you that can inform a diagnosis or a treatment regimen. In terms of human-machine partnerships, this is certainly true between doctors and AIs, but also in AR and VR — think about remote patients surgery, maybe in VR and 8K video that's lifelike and uses robotic systems. With these advanced robotic surgical systems like da Vinci, a surgeon in New York can perform a procedure on a patient in Tel Aviv. So the patient benefits from that specialist where he would otherwise not be able to.
What can we expect in the VR and augmented reality (AR) hardware arena?
We will see six degrees of freedom [six different rotational movements], outward facing cameras that are smaller, lighter and more comfortable for VR headsets as well as untethered headsets. Oculus, for instance, now has cameras on the outside of its standalone VR headset that allows for "hand tracking."
In other words: You no longer need controllers but can now actually just use your hands to grab and grip a tennis racket and track your hands in a three-dimensional space. Moreover, smart glasses are getting more normal-looking with advanced features; I describe them as a smartwatch for your face. A lot of the same kind of smartwatch capabilities come through AR, but in both cases there are tons of different commercial applications, from training to stock picking in a warehouse. It's a very competitive global marketplace, and companies are looking for these technologies to help them gain an edge. That's why we are already seeing this cascade of different kinds of use cases for AR and VR in the commercial and industrial space.
In 2020, more of those will be coming forward in the consumer space, particularly with AR, which may actually steal some thunder from VR because it's finally starting to get more legitimate: The hardware is becoming more normal, such as eyewear, rather than some kind of Sci-Fi appliance.
Steve Koenig is the Consumer Technology Association's Vice President of Research. With more than 25 years of industry experience, he is also a frequent conference speaker and the CTA's media spokesman. Before joining CTA in 2004, he worked as a consultant for Comscore and the NDP Group.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.