From beautiful objects to bewildering blackouts: Lessons from CES

Day 2 at the 51st annual show of CES was filled with gorgeous cars, impossibly beautiful screens, and the much tweeted about blackout. And yes, the irony of no electricity at the Consumer Electronics Show was not lost on us. The OMD Ignition Factory led us on a curated tour of the vast and sprawling Las Vegas Convention Center and their message to us was this; although CES 2018 is less about radically new news and more about the subtle refinements and iterative improvements in tech, it’s the cross-thinking and cross-pollination of ideas across industries that is important for us to note.

First up were the Autonomous Driving Vehicles and boy were they lovely. Whether you’re a petrol head or simply someone who appreciates design, the cars on display definitely merited the many photos taken. The cars were packed with Voice and AI functionality, with Nissan harnessing the power of AI to deliver its promise of Intelligent Mobility. From the safe handling of unpredictable driving situations to shifting the way cars are integrated into society, and ultimately powering an evolution in the infrastructure of transportation, their promises were as bold as their physical presence at the show.

There was also talk of how AI will one day position the car as your companion, as it will not only recognise your emotions and your levels of stress while driving but, like a great assistant, your car will also help you re-arrange your appointments for the day, and manage your home and personal life.  Mercedes’ use of Nvidia’s AI computing will personalise the driving experience so as to infuse health and wellness into the automotive space.

Various manufacturers alluded to a future in which the car would function as a ‘third space’, a space is on a par with your house or office, ultimately allowing each of us to be more productive with our time. After all, if you’re spared the need to keep your hands on the steering wheel and your eyes on the road, you should, in theory, be able to work (or workout!), rest and play in your car or pod. Whether you actually fancy getting hot and sweaty in your car or pod is quite another matter.

Speaking of pods, Toyota’s e-palette Pods were definitely fun to look at. Imagine self-driving, ride-sharing boxes that may one day transport people, groceries, and packages around cities. These pods could radically change how retailers operate, as shoppers can simply summon a mobile shopping pod to arrive at their home an hour before a special event, kitted out with a range of outfits, handbags, and shoes for the savvy shopper to peruse and purchase before heading out for the night! This could radically alter the shopper journey and the business model of many retailers, as the usual methods of access and distribution are turned on their heads. We can expect to see a raft of interesting partnerships develop as brands consider the impact of autonomous vehicles on their operations, their ‘in-pod’ brand proposition and their consumer base in the future.

Then there was Byton’s concept car which was installed with a super sexy screen that took over its entire dashboard. The position of the steering wheel and airbags were shifted to make way for the sleek entertainment system. Stunning as this screen is, the challenge will be around having access to great content and plenty of bandwidth; cars will need 5G to make them truly equal to the home in terms of a destination for entertainment, so we’re talking 10 to 15 years from now before this becomes a reality.

What’s interesting about the automotive sector is that over the last few years, we’ve heard that Smarter Cars will become driverless in 2021 and so far, this really does seem to be the year when it will happen.

This doesn’t mean that we’ll suddenly all hand over our keys and let the AI take charge; instead, there will be options for people to have the car ‘chauffeur’ them to meetings, and for the car to keep them safer as we determine the type of experience that we need and want from our cars.

We then shifted gears and headed over to the screens and delighted our eyes with The Wall. Samsung’s stunning 8K screen was a glory to behold, but I’m not sure whether I can tell the difference between that and 4K. And that’s the thing about CES; whilst you gaze in amazement at the latest innovation, it can at times feel like you’re looking at innovation for innovation’s sake. However, Samsung’s choice of images for The Wall; namely nature, landscapes and art were so intense that for a moment, you looked past the technology and you were transported beyond the madness of CES into that forest scene. It was beautiful and emotional and that is why we loved it.

Speaking of emotions, if you put an adorable puppy in a space, you’re bound to have a winner. One of the stars on the floor was Sony’s Aibo robot dog which responds to voice and touch and has a camera that allows it to recognize people. Its purpose is to be a companion robot and its developments like this that will help to make AI’s move into peoples’ lives far less worrisome.

And right then, we saw something new at CES; a blackout. For two hours, the Convention Center was plunged into darkness as the power went out and the screens went down. It was without a doubt one of the funnier and more bizarre moments of CES as thousands of people stood in shared confusion wondering what was happening. Sony responded with the tweet: ‘’aibo, did you trip over the power cord?’’, showing that humor in such situations is a wonderful thing. And that reminded us of the need to be prepared for the unexpected, to lean into shared cultural moments and consider what are the possible stories that we can tell to stand out from the crowd and connect with one another on an emotional level. So whilst our tour of the Central and South Halls ended abruptly, the post-CES thoughts were this: if, amidst the crowds and the camera flashes, you can take a pause to truly consider what you’re seeing, and pinpoint the patterns that reveal where consumers and technology are heading, well then you’re more likely to appreciate the real impact of CES and the inventions contained within. I look forward to seeing what the 52nd show will bring.


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Chrissie Hanson

Chrissie leads the global communications planning for Sony Pictures Entertainment and is responsible for elevating the creativity, innovation, and strategic rigour across 26 markets around the world. Chrissie has worked across 15 categories and 40 brands over the past 17 years, and on every campaign harnesses a deep knowledge of consumer behaviour and motivation to develop ideas that connect people to brands with greatest effect.

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