Smart assistants – the protagonists of CES 2018

Brid-Aine Parnell

Wednesday 17 January 2018

Robots revolted, virtual reality (VR) went wireless and there was a two-hour blackout in the central hall. But the real news was the global-domination aspirations of Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.

They say the show must go on and it certainly did at CES this year, in spite of misbehaving robots and an unexpected power cut.

The annual Consumer Electronics Show hosts tens of thousands of visitors looking for the latest tech news and coolest gadgets. But none were expecting a two-hour blackout in the central hall due to the first rain in Las Vegas in 116 days.

Despite the hiccup, there was more than enough advanced technology on show to whet the appetite.

Smart assistants

Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa were everywhere at CES, showing that both tech giants want their smart assistant to be ubiquitous by putting it in as many gadgets as possible.

Alexa popped up in a host of different third-party devices, including an Optoma 4K projector, iDevices’ new smart light switch Instinct and the Eufy Genie smart home speaker. Not to be outdone, Assistant also appeared all over the show – perhaps most prominently in the new Lenovo Smart Display, which turns the smart helper into a vibrant HD touchscreen companion. The command hub connects to smart home devices, allowing the user to control features like lighting and heating through voice or touch.

Assistant could also be found in smart speakers like the LG WK9 smart speaker with built-in touchscreen and the similarly screened-up JBL LINK View speaker.

As smart assistants gradually pair with more devices, a new battleground for tech leaders will emerge.

Robot friends

It’s fair to say that some robots didn’t do so well at CES 2018 – from the household Aeolus robot who (briefly) downed tools to the smart home helper CLOi who refused to even respond to commands during an LG presentation.

But while high-profile stumbles might have marred some proceedings, it’s clear that robotic development continues apace. Honda showed off a range of concept robots for specific uses, including heavy loaders for construction or emergency services and an upright alternative to the wheelchair. And Sony’s rebooted robot dog Aibo delivered the wow factor with a personality that develops over time and facial recognition so that it can recognise different members of the family.

Mixed realities

Last year was supposed to be the year that VR went mainstream. We’re not there yet, but progress is steady. Lenovo introduced the world’s first standalone Daydream VR headset, the Mirage Solo, which crucially offers a wire-free experience – so no tripping over cords in the midst of virtual chase. The Lenovo Mirage VR180 camera contributes to the seamless experience, as does the integrated WorldSense technology, which allows you to lean, dodge or duck through space. Photos and videos from the Lenovo Mirage camera can then be uploaded to your personal Google Photos and YouTube account for viewing and sharing.

On the AI and AR front, Lenovo presented the Lenovo Glass C220: a wearable device consisting of a glass unit and pocket unit working in tandem to identify real-life objects with AI technologies. The result is an AR experience through one eye and the real world through the other. With the pocket unit connected to your smartphone, you can give step-by-step directions for repair, identify faulty equipment or troubleshoot, all while keeping your hands free.

HTC’s offerings included the new VIVE Pro headset, but also a wireless adaptor that beams video and audio straight from a VR-capable computer.

Smart assistants definitely took the crown at CES 2018, but other technologies that people have been excited about for a few years – VR, AR, robotics and drones – all showed significant advances.

Oddly enough, for once CES might not be the place to see the top-of-the-range products in these techs, as most of them are really shining in their commercial and industrial applications rather than their consumer incarnations. Nevertheless, CES again offered a taste of things to come – and some sobering anecdotes about how technology can still go wrong.

Check out Lenovo’s full offering at CES 2018.

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