Oculus Rift: US TV host Nick Cannon tries out the technology at CES
Oculus Rift: US TV host Nick Cannon tries out the technology at CES
A view from Frank Durrell

CES 2015: Drones, robots, wearables and VR

Four takeaways from the consumer electronics trade show that was so vast that journos and digital strategists are still emerging with their reports.

Everyone said CES would be crazy but no one could have prepared me for the week I’ve just had. The scale of the event beggars belief – over 160,000 people, more than 3,500 exhibitors, 15 miles of show floor, in excess of 20,000 product launches.

Luckily for me my employer Starcom MediaVest Group laid on curated tours so that we could navigate the show floor and it was apparent there were some core themes that dominated. Here are some trends and observations that stood out for me:

Drones and robots

I was lucky to see drones dancing. A beautiful sight it was. They swarmed to music, aware of each other, the boundaries in which they were moving, and were precise and elegant as they moved.

Tiny, cost-effective and smart, we heard how they will likely revolutionise delivery of goods and services. Amazon has made a big deal about them and many more brands are highlighting them as a feature of CES. From the number we saw, and their growing capabilities and reducing cost, it is clear that there is a real belief from manufacturers they could grow into a mass-market product.

Not all the drones were flying though. We had robots to offer customer service. Real-world applications such as car dealerships and airport lounges, or anywhere that you might need a personal touch that could be done without a person, were posited.

And there were drones for house cleaning. Though these aren’t new, the ones we saw this year looked like really powerful cleaning solutions.

Overall the air-based based drones were the most topical, and I immediately thought of the vital medical uses. A transplant patient waiting for that vital organ, would you rather have it being flown to you avoiding traffic and obstacles, or a drone quickly gliding through the air.

Wearables

There were a phenomenal number of different watches / wrist-based wearable products at CES, with a sizeable area of the Sands Hotel just dedicated to wearable tech. I never expected to see so many companies making wearables, many of which seem to offer a similar solution.

All of these devices were in some way measuring your ‘health/fitness’, and some integrated with your smartphone – acting as a notification amplifier of sorts. They measured your vital stats, how much you move, how much you sleep, and shared this information with your phone.

The elephant in this room was of course Apple Watch (not to mention Google’s greater focus on this area of wearables and fitness). When I asked one of the team on a wearables stand what they thought about Apple Watch, one memorable answer was "We aren’t happy about it but we will see what happens".

Our biggest opportunity was the ability to amplify notifications to aid in messaging. Also to (if possible and preferable for the user) be more precise in advertising by targeting them based on geographical relevance, ‘health/fitness’ related information, and the other opportunities to obtain more behavioural data.

One challenge is the amount of new data that these devices surface potentially means we have to create new models for how we use it. Another issue is saturation. Having left CES, I would not know which brand or product to buy if I wanted a wearable. Right now I would definitely wait for the Apple Watch to see what shake-up it created. With so many players now, with so many similar products, this is a massively exciting and hugely impactful product category.

VR

Virtual reality was a great hope in the 1990s, but has resurfaced as a possible game-changer. Oculus Rift and a number of rivals had a major presence this year, while Google had some presence with Glass too. But like Google Glass, I struggle to imagine a universal use in the consumer world for Oculus Rift.

I can see ‘specialist’ uses across gaming, education, commercial (certainly where simulation is needed like oil and gas, engineering), next-generation Skype, possibly even health.

2015 could be the year for VR, and there is certainly a push from people like Oculus to try to make this happen. I don’t believe it will make it into consumer’s living rooms, but I think this may be the tick to next year’s acceptance tock (much like 4K televisions last year).

Frank Durrell is digital strategy & technology director, global network clients, at Starcom MediaVest Group