I attended CES in Las Vegas for the first time in early January and it was even more sprawling than I expected, with the show seeming to take over the entire Las Vegas Strip.
As a VC investor, my goal in attending was to see what insights I could glean from all the activity, conversations, keynotes and press that could help shape my thinking on investment opportunities in the upcoming year and beyond. While there was certainly a lot to soak in, below are my main takeaways from the craziness that is CES:
Amazon’s Alexa has redefined the conversation around Smart Home and is rapidly positioning itself as a (the?) primary UI for controlling connected devices in the home. According to Wired, the number of Alexa skills (aka integrations) has grown from 1,000 to 7,000 over the past 7 months. The Alexa ecosystem is clearly growing rapidly and startups building connected devices should be thinking about if and how voice-as-an-interface impacts their products and strategy.
Cars, cars and more cars. There was an entire hall dedicated to Mobility at the show and it appeared that all the major auto makers were showing off their visions for the future of Mobility.
I believe that the movement towards autonomous vehicles over the next decade will have profound changes on many aspects of the economy and society, and there is clearly a lot of investment going into the development of new technologies to make the vision of autonomous vehicles a mainstream reality.
A panelist at one of the sessions I attended commented that cars were evolving to becoming data centers on wheels, and it was notable that the large semi players (e.g. Intel, Nvidia) and cloud platform providers (e.g. Microsoft Azure) were forging partnerships with the large auto makers. I’m excited to meet with founders building new technologies which are poised to capitalize on the movement towards autonomous vehicles and mobility-as-a-service.
AR & VR
There were over 70 virtual reality companies on the show floor at CES this year showing off their tech. The focus of almost all of the vendors I saw was on the gaming use case. While gaming is certainly a massive global market, I’m also interested in seeing how VR can be applied to non-gaming use cases.
On the Augmented Reality front, several non-AR vendors used AR as an engaging tool to highlight their offerings. For instance, Magna had one booth which had empty tables in it which came to life when viewed using an AR headset. BMW used AR to give the viewer an X-ray like look at some of the components of a car. Microsoft Hololens was the AR gear I saw used the most.
Many of the robots being demo’d at CES this year fell into the “toy” category. But you don’t have to squint very hard to see how robots in the home could evolve over the next couple years to become useful assistants which will be capable of completing many of the chores that currently chew up Saturday mornings.
The main form factor for wearables was eyeglasses, with many different vendors showing off sensor-packed glasses. Cameras and motion sensors where commonplace, so the wearables that stood out were those that injected new technology into devices.
I’m biased here, but one example I thought was very cool was the launch of the Smith Lowdown Focus glasses, which is the result of a partnership between eyeglass maker Safilo and Interaxon (an OMERS Ventures portfolio company). This product integrates Interaxon’s brainwave sensing technology into a stylish form factor for everyday use, which this video from Techcrunch covers.
Those were my main takeaways from CES this year — I’m already looking forward to what the 2018 show will bring!