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I come to Las Vegas in the first week of January each year to attend what used to be called the Consumer Electronics Show but now is officially just its initials CES. Over 175,000 attendees are expected. The first pleasant surprise was that they had half-a-dozen badge terminals in the San Jose Airport. They have had them in Las Vegas Airport for years, but I've not seen them in the starting airports before. They seemed to be staffed by Delta Employees, so it might just be a one-year thing since Delta gave one of the keynotes on the future of transportation.
The show opened on Monday evening with a couple of keynotes, one by Samsung, and one by Daimler (Mercedes). As seems typical in these keynotes, nobody seems to try and sell what they actually have. The Samsung one was all about "personalized experiences rather than hardware products". The Mercedes one was about cars as storytelling. I think this was mostly an excuse to bring out several members of the team responsible for making the Avatar sequels, finishing up for the last ten minutes with James Cameron himself. I'm all for motherhood and apple pie, but I like a bit more crunchy silicon in my keynotes.
The second surprise I got was wandering around in the automotive hall. The whole of the North Hall is transportation, although it goes from self-driving car technology to loudspeakers and lights. I came across this speaker company, Cadence! They were as surprised as I was when I showed them my badge.
One company I did actually look for was NVIDIA. In past years, they have had a huge booth with its distinctive green color. Since they are one of the leaders in automotive silicon I expected them to be here this year but apparently they are not. NXP, who I believe are the #1 semiconductor supplier in automotive, had a big tent/building in the parking lot. Intel's Mobileye, who I think must be the leader in current-generation chips for ADAS had one of those huge booths that feels like it should have its own zip code.
Amazon also had a big booth in the automotive hall, pushing the future of automotive retail (although it still seems to involve dealerships, since every state has a law that auto dealers cannot be bypassed). Also, Alexa voice recognition is in many devices. But if you had to guess which car would be the first to incorporate Alexa to control the heating, infotainment, maps, and more, I'm sure you'd guess...Lamborghini. And you'd be right.
Cars escaped from the automotive hall. One surprise announcement was by Sony announcing a car. It is called the Vision S Prototype Vehicle. It is unclear how serious Sony are about entering the automotive market, or whether this is a marketing gimmick to get people to visit their booth way at the back of the central hall. If so, it worked and the car was surrounded by people several deep. The car did seem to be serious, in that it looked like a real car you might see on the road, rather than one that is a concept car that will never see the market, like the Mercedes vehicle in the first picture of this post. It's electric, but it is unclear from the information on the booth what ADAS/autonomous features it has. But if they do enter the market, they have one of the same advantages as Tesla: they don't have an existing non-electric business to protect and existing internal combustion engine factories.
Another surprise announcement in the transportation area was the cooperation between Hyundai and Uber to build helicopters, although they are more like an oversized drone with eight rotors. Bell Helicopter also had a mockup of their latest helicopter there. In some ways, flying is an easier problem than driving. Although there is an extra dimension, there is not so much traffic and no pedestrians, street signs, and all the other things that make automated driving such a challenge.
Still in the vehicle space, and now in the South Hall near Cadence's booth, is the biggest vehicle at the show. John Deere had the largest piece of farm equipment that I have ever seen (and I've even driven a combine harvester, so I'm not a townie who has no clue about these things. Even with a fisheye lens, I couldn't get it all in the picture. The boom you can see stretches out the same distance on the far side of the vehicle, so this is literally about a hundred yards wide. People seemed to be wondering how they got it into the hall, but there is the same challenge getting it down a normal road—the booms fold up.
From the biggest thing at the show to one of the smallest. Nreal had augmented reality (AR) glasses. I've worn my share of VR goggles, and a Microsoft Hololens, but these were the smallest displays I've worn. When nothing is being shown, you can see through them like normal glasses, but they can also show text, 3D video, and more. Perhaps most importantly, they manage to do it without making the wearer look a total dork like Google Glasses did. I have seen them described as "the first viable consumer AR headset" so it was interesting to try them. I was impressed.
I expected a lot more 5G stuff at CES, although MWC in Barcelona comes up in a few weeks, which is the main focus for all things mobile. Last year, Samsung had 5G basestations on their booth, but this year they just had handsets. Most of them were actually "simulating 5G on WiFi 6" since there was no 5G network in the convention center. I believe Samsung are still the only company to actually have 5G handsets available. This is a picture of one downloading an 8K video. I'm not sure if this is over a real 5G air interface (radio) or simulated with WiFi 6.
The most beautiful object on the floor has to go to the latest version of IBM's quantum computer. I've seen these for the last few years at shows (they had one at SEMICON that I wrote about over the summer). They get smaller each time. This whole structure is immersed in cryogenic liquid to get it close to absolute zero when in use. All the brass tubes are microwave waveguides, which is how information is loaded into the computer to entangle the qbits, and then detect what "answer" the computer came up with.
Next week I will cover what Cadence has been showing at CES.
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