What CES Taught Us about the Future of Tech
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is one of the largest technology conferences in the world. It draws companies hailing from all corners of the industry, from established giants showing off a sweeping new product lineup to lean startups hoping to find funding for their big idea. After exploring endless rows of booths and attending panels of experts discussing the tech industry’s most complex topics, we wanted to share our key takeaways from this year’s event.
The Rise of Task-specific Robots
Many are hoping a robot butler will show up at their door someday; one that is capable of walking the dog, making dinner, and mowing the lawn. Unfortunately, this all-in-one robot would require significant advancements in artificial intelligence and mechanical engineering beyond the current state of these technologies. Instead, a growing trend in the robotics industry is the emergence of task-specific robots capable of efficiently and accurately performing a narrow function. This can consist of one robot designed to vacuum floors, another to fold laundry, and a third that solely flips burgers on a grill. For the average homeowner, having a closet of robots is an unreasonable ask. But in commercial capacities, having a dedicated burger-flipping bot could help reduce costs for a fast food chain, while improving quality, and reducing injury risk. For a laundromat, a laundry-folding robot could dramatically increase the store’s capacity. Given the emergence of these task-specific robotics at reasonable prices, we believe commercial applications for these hyper-focused robots could see enormous growth in the coming years.
Autonomous Vehicle Technology is More Advanced than We Thought
After various demonstrations and panel discussions, the consensus among many conference attendees is that the technology behind autonomous driving is at a more advanced stage than originally expected. Some went as far as to say that they now believe autonomous vehicles (AVs) might only be about 5 years away, whereas before CES they thought the arrival of AVs would be about 10 years out. One trend that has accelerated the development of AV technology is the increased use of self-driving simulators that allow AV software to learn by ‘driving’ billions of miles in computer-generated driving environments, rather than driving physically on public roads. Another tailwind for AV technology has been the falling costs associated with the various sensors and LiDAR technology that enable AVs to ‘see’ the road, making early models of self-driving cars more affordable.
Yet as fast as AV technology may be developing, there still remains significant hurdles that humans will need to solve. How will AVs be regulated? Who is liable for accidents? How does an AV break a driving law, if it is required for safety or to bypass a construction zone? Even with near-perfect autonomous driving technology, these questions will need to be solved by regulators, manufacturers, programmers, and insurers before AVs become can become ubiquitous.
Get Ready for the Smart Home Takeover
The promise of smart home technology has been around for years, but the capabilities and breadth of products on display at CES indicate that this will be the next major frontier for consumer electronics companies. Imagine your refrigerator recommending a meal to you based on the food you have available, its expiration date, and the number of calories you burned throughout the day, as measured by your smart watch. Or envision walking into a room and having facial recognition software identify who you are and immediately adjusting the lighting, temperature, and music to your stored preferences. These features were all demonstrated at CES this year and appear to be available in the near future.
As smart home devices and the broader Internet of Things (IoT) continue to progress, there will continue to be increasingly impressive products that save us time, improve our health, or increase our efficiency. Yet a major challenge for smart home devices will be compatibility across platforms. Will a Google Home smart speaker be able to work with an iPhone, a Fire TV, and a Samsung Oven? Most of these companies would prefer to exert control over their smart home platforms rather than open them up to work alongside competitors’ devices. Yet for consumers, an open platform is highly preferable to increase choice and compatibility. Given that consumers are less likely to replace a dishwasher than a cell phone, the bar is high for smart home devices, and manufacturers need to make sure they are putting their customers first in order to see widespread adoption.
CES demonstrated that many disruptive and futuristic technologies will be coming to consumers in the near future. While many of these technologies are still in their infancy, they have substantial potential to change our daily lives, from performing chores, to driving us to work, and choosing what we eat. While not every product will be a success, we believe the broad growth of disruptive technologies, like robotics & artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, will continue to strengthen as they become more available to consumers.
BOTZ: The Global X Robotics & Artificial Intelligence ETF seeks to invest in companies that potentially stand to benefit from increased adoption and utilization of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), including those involved with industrial robotics and automation, non-industrial robots, and autonomous vehicles.
SNSR: The Global X Internet of Things ETF seeks to invest in companies that stand to potentially benefit from the broader adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT). This includes the development and manufacturing of semiconductors and sensors, integrated products and solutions, and applications serving smart grids, smart homes, connected cars, and the industrial internet.
LIT: The Global X Lithium & Battery Tech ETF invests in the full lithium cycle, from mining and refining the metal, through battery production.