AR

VR/AR Association Brings ‘AR for Producers’ to The Alley in Manhattan

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Some of New York’s leading AR technology developers attracted a crowd at The Alley, Verizon’s 5G collaborative lab and work space in Chelsea last Tuesday, May 8th, at an event sponsored by the VR/AR Association’s New York chapter. ‘AR for Producers: How to Engage Audiences on Multiple Platforms’ was well-titled, as most of the audience was comprised of new media and television producers who are looking at AR for a wide range of production elements, including fan engagement, 2nd-screen extensions, and location-based entertainment.

 

JR Dawkins welcomes the crowd to The Alley     Michael and Serge Doudy provide an overview of the VR/AR Association

Eric Schwertzel, head of business development for eyecandylab’s US presence, demonstrated the AugmenTV concept, in which TV content triggers experiences on mobile using an AR app. This is a long sought-after play, and should have traction in sports as well as episodic TV.

Eric Schwertzel discusses AugmentTV

Gordon Meyer, head of marketing for Lampix, demonstrated the company’s projector-based AR solution, which is ideal for retail and public venue experiences.

Gordon Meyer presents the Lampix innovation

JR Dawkins, head of business development for Envrmnt by Verizon, showcased the Envrmnt AR Designer tool, the industry’s first true drag-and-drop AR tool. The simplicity of the tool enables anyone – with no coding experience – to create AR triggers on physical objects, and more.

JR Dawkins presents AR Designer      Ryan Hilla assists with AR Designer demo

Far beyond what previous generations of AR solutions have provided, the presenters discussed the value that 5G will bring to AR, enabling seamless, low-latency experiences with greater connectivity levels.

JR Dawkins, Gordon Meyer, and Eric Schwertzel discuss the AR industry

Chris Pfaff, JR Dawkins, Gordon Meyer, and Eric Schwertzel during the panel discussion at ‘AR for Producers’

For many in the audience, it was their first time in The Alley, which opened last spring, and has gained a following among the technorati of the city.

Lampix demo at ‘AR for Producers’

Chris Pfaff and Ally Perez, event coordinator for The Alley, powered by Verizon

CES 2018 Is AI Unleashed: Laying the Foundation for the The Next Big Thing

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The CES 2018 that has come and gone will be remembered less for the things that we build and think that we can control – namely, AI systems, robots, and high-resolution displays – than for yet another instance of Mother Nature interfering with our well-laid plans, in the form of more than one inch of rain on Day 1 of the great CES show (Las Vegas receives around 4 inches of rain in an average year, so the Great CES 2018 Deluge was almost one-third of the annual intake. Many Las Vegans were quick to pridefully point out that “we just had 170 consecutive days without rainfall!”). And, oh yes, we will remember CES 2018 for the lights going out on Day 2 of the show (I was giving an executive VIP tour in the Intel booth when the power hit occurred). This produced a 2-hour shutdown of the Central and North Halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Somehow, we were given an indication of the things that we will soon be better prepared for – if only humans would listen.

But the humans were listening intently to the messages all over town during CES 2018: more autonomy; more AI; more machine learning. This may have been the year that it was clear how companies with well-developed, simply-focused point solutions could break through and show the way to not just new behaviors, but new industries. The big players – from Samsung to LG to Sony to Intel – were either moving in step to the trend, or were completely in thrall to the tune. CES acknowledged that the IoT and Smart Cities sectors were not just another way to bring in new crowds of well-funded companies, but a recognition of how the CE industry is now part of a larger industrial revolution, in which the device is – as we used to define it in telco speak – the “endpoint” on the greater network.

AR and VR were somewhat subdued at the show, even though HTC introduced its latest Vive headset with Wi-Gig, the Vive Pro, a nod to the emerging short-throw high-speed wireless transfer protocol as a way to untether headset wearers (getting the damn headset off their heads is the next step, but we’ll save that for another chat). But the likes of Vive and Oculus were not on the show floor, leaving more room for 3Drudder and others to show off new gear. CES Unveiled had its share of interesting start-ups, including Sniffy, a French platform for delivering fragrance on demand with touchscreens (see the demo at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dNPov0nsiA) and Bellus3D showed off its 3D face scanning camera for mobile devices.

Bellud3D shows off some face masks made with its 3D face scanning camera for mobile devices

Autostereoscopic 3D displays made a big move forward with streamTV Networks, which showed off a 65-inch 8 million pixel display that comfortably rendered 3D images from a safe distance.

streamTV Networks demonstrated an impressive 65-inch 3D auto stereoscopic display

When it came to AR and VR at the show, Intel made the most impressive statement, demonstrating its TrueVR to great effect, showcasing 360 real-time processing for sports venues as well as real-time streaming Web VR for the upcoming Winter Olympic Games. Intel announced that it was making yet another foray into Hollywood with the launch of an LA-based studio that will manage the back-end processing of the live streams. Intel also created a full VR replica of its CES booth, available for consumers to download as a full Unity experience for Vive. This was an amazing use of the venue and the technology, as viewers could even interact with Intel experts from Intel technology centers around the globe. Intel also showcased its work in the 5G arena, setting up a 5G network in its booth, courtesy of an Ericsson base station and Nokia repeaters. 5G was not as dominant a theme at the show this year, even though the year started with great optimism from carriers, notably Verizon, regarding their 5G trials in 2018.

Intel showed off more of its drone family, including the new Shooting Star drone, which is optimized for synchronized flights, such as the one that accompanied the Bellagio’s dancing water experience after Intel CEO Brian Krzanich’s keynote address on Monday night. The Intel experience also included one of the coolest demos at the show, a real-time 3D facial effects demo from its Intel China lab, originally used to create effects for a popular Chinese singer’s performance. The demo, using a standard Logitech web camera with algorithmically derived real-time processing, produced vivid, engaging facial effects. Intel was one of many companies highlighting its AI efforts, with an “AI Tower” comprised of code-based images that triggered an AR demo, shown on a Surface Pro tablet, which detailed Intel AI projects, including a “snotbot” for tracking whales. Intel also surely won the “Great CES Blackout Entertainment Award,” when a violinist, Häana, who was part of a synchronized music and images performance strolled out to the stage and played a solo, proving that analog still rules (at least, in some instances).

Intel’s Mobileye demo of smart sensors for vehicles

The Intel Shooting Star drone, optimized for synchronized flying

Häana, violinist who played a solo in the dark during the Great CES Blackout, and her trio mates, at the Intel booth. See video of her solo here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8JsMfnPOfc

The Intel “AI Tower,” with Aditi demonstrating the AR-driven experience showcasing different Intel AI projects

Intel’s real-time 3D facial effects demo. See video of the demo here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8JsMfnPOfc

AI at CES was mostly seen, in its most progressive form, in the North Hall – dubbed by some wags as “The Las Vegas International Auto Show” – but there were a number of leading AI companies conducting demos off the show floor, including Valossa (showing in the Sprockit Suite at the Cosmopolitan Hotel), which added new video insight features to what many in the industry consider to be the leading video AI platform.

Samsung’s CES presence was a radical departure from past years, for several reasons. For one, Samsung seems to have given up its annual tit-for-tat with its Korean arch-rival, LG and instead focused less on individual product lines and more on the underlying technology and platforms necessary to effect the smart home, or smart society. Samsung even highlighted some of its work in telematics, featuring an impressive OLED screen as a dashboard that could show video feeds from your Samsung refrigerator to indicate what food you need to buy on the way home. Samsung played up the number of partners now working with its SmartThings platform, and focused on its messaging capabilities for the SmartHub – even sending messages to the front screen on its latest refrigerator. The most impressive demos were saved for its display area, which did not showcase QLED TV products, but rather highlighted concepts, including a 146-inch 4K display, ‘The Wall,’ which is the world’s first modular screen. This was an amazing conceptual demonstration: tiled screens that can be modularized, and even display different resolutions. This could be a revolutionary way to deliver on-demand viewing experiences. Imagine if you wanted to see the news in a lower resolution than your favorite TV drama, or wanted to see a film letter-boxed. Screens could be modularized to accommodate larger viewing audiences, or to satisfy particular content resolutions.

‘The Wall’ at Samsung’s booth – a 146-inch display, the world’s first modular display

Samsung had a Video AI demo that showed some of the concepts on which it is working that hint at just these kinds of future product directions. Samsung, by the way, did not even try to outshine LG in the content display war. LG, which seemingly has won this battle for several years running now, continued to show incredible images in massive displays at the front of their booth.

LG wins the high-res display wall war, again, at CES 2018

One of the other major news stories at CES this year had more to do with something that did not happen than something that did. I am referring to Huawei’s thwarted press conference with AT&T to introduce the Mate 10 smartphone, which AT&T was planning to sell in the US, marking Huawei’s official US market introduction. The day before the scheduled event, AT&T announced that it was pulling out of the deal, no doubt receiving heavy pressure from Washington. This put the brakes on the Huawei keynote address by Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s consumer products group, which saw him stumbling and mumbling his way through a lengthy sales pitch for the Mate 10. The phone itself is worth looking at (this was the “AI phone” that Huawei said it was working on last year), and breaks new ground in displaying relevant contextual content for users.

Set-up at the Huawei booth, which featured the ‘WOW WAY’ tagline

The Huawei booth at CES 2018. See demo of the Huawei Mate 10 smartphone here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGulQdjQwqw

The North Hall was all about enhanced features for autonomous vehicles (AVs), and aside from General Motors (who did not show, given that the Detroit International Auto Show was too close to CES this year), all the major auto manufacturers were on the floor. Delphi was back on the floor this year, after a foolish move at CES 2017 to draw traffic to a parking lot near the convention center. New faces, including Austin Electric Vehicles, were there as well.

Ford did not shine this year, even though their Smart City moving video wall was an impressive work of art. Mercedes-Benz outperformed. Their MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) platform showcased personalization as the hallmark of every car they will sell going forward. One cool feature was from a London start-up, What Three Words, which delivers a new kind of navigation system based on three-meter blocks being crushed into three-word addresses (like “dog.banana.fish”). This is, according to Mercedes-Benz, a more accurate way to deliver directions and locations than GPS addresses. Mercedes-Benz also showcased the Project 1, a 1000 horsepower engine futuristic vehicle that will sell in limited quantities for $3,000,000.

The Mercedes-Benz Project 1: a 1000-horse power engine and a $3 million price tag

Nissan showcased its b2v (brain-to-vehicle) system, which reads brain waves through headrest detectors to help deliver better predictive moves. Nvidia showed off its new AV processor, which is capable of 320 trillion operations per second.

The biggest splash on the CES car show floor was made by Chinese firm Byton, whose S.I.V. – Smart Intuitive Vehicle – was introduced at the show, marking only the second time that a car has been introduced at the show (two years ago, troubled Chinese firm Le Eco’s subsidiary Faraday Future introduced a car, which may never see a street, but – oh, what a buzz it was!). Byton’s vehicle will sell, according to its press release, in the US in 2020. Priced at $45,000, in the Tesla ballpark, the Byton vehicle has biometric sensors, AI, and a single screen dashboard, along with a tablet in the steering wheel.

Byton, a Chinese car company, introduced its S.I.V. – Smart Intuitive Vehicle, at CES 2018

Kia Motors showed off a personal assistant, and also touted what it calls the first in-vehicle 5G connection, showing a content stream from Seoul to Las Vegas, using the HECAS low-latency mobile video platform. Honda showed off its robotics, and no cars, further emphasizing their focus on CES as an opportunity to sign up OEM partners. Toyota won the cool concept car award this year, with the e-Palette, an autonomous delivery van with smart screens for digital signage. The boxy vehicle was an interesting design play, and was somewhat reminiscent of the Accessible Olli vehicle – the world’s most autonomous accessibility bus – that was on display in the Central Hall concourse of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Accessible Olli is already on the road, and is a joint venture between the CTA Foundation, IBM Watson and Knoxville, Tennessee-based Local Motors, which 3D-printed the vehicle. Accessible Olli fits up to 12 people, has smart screens, can determine if a passenger is blind, and has an ultrahaptic air button for signaling stops.

Accessible Olli – a smart, AI-powered autonomous accessibility bus

The e-Palette autonomous delivery van, a concept from Toyota

Nvidia introduced the first chip designed for AV use, capable of 320 trillion operations per second

Nissan unveiled its brain-to-vehicle (b2v) platform at CES 2018

Eureka Park this year was another strong showing by La French Tech, with about 350 French start-ups, almost half of all the start-ups in the area. There were many more clever IoT and mobile start-ups, as well as a smart musical ring, using MIDI, from Enhancia. My favorite Normandy start-up, Event Bots, was at the show, demonstrating their hospitality robots.

    

La French Tech was dominant at Eureka Park. Normandy start-up Event Bots was part of the massive French presence

The South Hall featured some new players, including Alibaba, which took over the South Hall Lower front booth. Alibaba’s presence reminded visitors of the strength of China’s companies at CES 2018. From TCL to Huawei to Baidu and Alibaba, Chinese technology was on display in great force. As a further example, Hi-Sense, which took over the Microsoft booth in the Central Hall, opposite Intel, a few years ago, showed a stunning laser TV product, which uses a short-throw laser projection system for high-resolution, large-screen displays. This is an astonishing change from just 8 years ago, when the only Chinese companies at CES were tucked away in a lackluster “China Pavilion” in the then-Las Vegas Hilton ballroom area. Now, they are a dominant presence.

Alibaba took over the South Hall lower level front booth this year

Other South Hall stops of note included gaming PC company Razer, who had their gaming tournament large keyboard on display. Speaking of gaming, Atari had a pong exhibit on the floor, creating great pangs of nostalgia for all.

Retro time meets Big Time: Atari Pong (left) and the Razer tournament gaming keyboard for e-sports

Last year’s CES was the “Alexa Show,” with Amazon’s intelligent assistant being shown in dozens of booths. This year, Google tried to step up to the plate, branding the Las Vegas Monorail with “Hey Google” and setting up numerous “Hey Google” signs in partner booths. A large Google Assistant pavilion in the Central Hall parking lot made its presence felt. They need it, of course; Amazon has about 70% of the smart speaker market to Google’s 23%, but many people would have argued that Amazon actually won this year’s battle, given that Alexa was still so prevalent. Cortana, Microsoft’s assistant, was virtually nowhere to be heard.

The Google Assistant pavilion in the Central Hall parking lot

What we have learned from CES 2018 is that more consumer choices will be made based on AI-powered devices or platforms and more products will highlight their AI or on-demand capabilities more than ever. It will be interesting to see how this trend translates into next year’s show, but it augurs a shift into the cloud in greater measures for the CE industry at large.

 

IBC Video Content Innovation Summit Kicks Off IBC 2017

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On the first morning of IBC 2017, Chris Pfaff Tech Media and Integer 1 hosted the IBC Video Content Innovation Summit at the Rockstart Accelerator in Amsterdam, which featured some of the leading innovators in the broadcast technology space today, including Vimond; Verizon envrmnt; HCL, and Valossa.

Emceed by Chris Pfaff, the breakfast event, held in the main event room at Rockstart, featured a technology keynote from Sanjay Macwan, focused on the shifting landscape for content distribution and consumption, and presented the audience of 55 producers, distributors, and vendors a view into where global content behaviors are headed. Macwan moderated a panel with Helge Hoibraaten, CEO of Vimond, Mika Rautiainen, CEO of Valossa, and Raheel Khalid, CTO of Verizon envrmnt (Kanwaldeep Kalsi, VP of Media for HCL, could not make the event, due to a delayed flight). The event literally presented some of the leading figures in OTT (Vimond), VR and AR (Verizon envrmnt), AI (Valossa), and cloud infrastructure (HCL).

Chris Pfaff emcees the IBC Video Content Innovation Summit

Sanjay Macwan, CEO of Integer 1, presents his keynote 

Sanjay gets into discussing the Muybridge experiment

Poster on front door of Rockstart Accelerator, Amsterdam

Raheel Khalid, CTO of Verizon envrmnt

Helge Hoibraaten, CEO of Vimond

Sanjay Macwan, left, and Mika Rautiainen, right

Long shot of the event room at Rockstart Accelerator

Sanjay poses a question to the panel

Raheel Khalid, Verizon envrmnt           Helge Hoibraaten, Vimond                   Mika Rautiainen, Valossa                     AI, OTT, and VR/AR all-stars

Highlights from the panel discussion included Helge’s discussion regarding content consumption (“we now have all the content we would ever want – in some ways, we don’t have to produce any more”) and content behaviors (“we interviewed teenagers about TV and they said ‘I have everything that I need in my phone'”). Raheel discussed the issue of every-cinreasing on -demand behaviors, in that people will “not wait for large files to download.” he said that Verizon envrmnt can now stream large-file content by taking game logic and running it on the fly. In this sense, VR and AR content is seamlessly distributed. He discussed Verizon envrmnt’s mobile edge compute strategy – which takes 20 milliseconds for a round trip. With 5G coming in, 1 gigabit bandwidth will enable VR content to be flawlessly streamed. Mika talked about the need to understand how video can be read and how machine learning can train to enable smarter questions around content itself.

See the promo highlight video at: https://youtu.be/lfZPjMLZa-w

The event was a swan song for Rockstart, as it was the last event in the main room at their 182 Herengracht location (they have since moved slightly north to a larger facility). But, it was a kickstart for IBC 2017, and in addition to a good meal, the crowd feasted on some hearty discussion.

 

Advertising Week TechX Brings the Fun to Ad-Tech

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The brainchild of VentureFuel and the Experiential Advertising Group, the Advertising Week New York 2017 TechX experience in Times Square, in a pop-up space between H&M and the NASDAQ MarketSite, curated some of the hippest tech for the ad world, from September 25-28. From digital art projects to AR apps to VR tools and holographic displays, the TechX arena offered a wide palette of commercially available experiences for attendees – creatives and media buyers – to play with and understand.

Ryan Hilla demonstrates Verizon envrmnt’s AR activation for Time Inc. to Guy Story and Vinne Grasso

The value of TechX cannot be understated: for years, Advertising Week has shunted ad-tech demos into the lower level of the Times Center on 8th and 41st, mainly as an afterthought to the main programming upstairs. TechX was both long overdue and also groundbreaking in its depth, bringing start-up companies in the immersive and AI worlds into a forum for major brand conversations on the state of the ad industry.

Mika Rautiainen demonstrates Valossa AI

TechX saw the launch of immersive analytics company QuantumXPR, with Scott Susskind and Kris Matheney camped out in the lower level of the venue, near two rows of digital art projects. Verizon envrmnt, the end-to-end VR/AR studio from Verizon Labs, was in full force, showcasing its AR projects for the likes of Time Inc., and Conde Nast, as well as its Virtual Sportsbar experience. The Valossa AI demo presented attendees with a new way to understand video, and VNTANA

showcased the best holographic display technology we have yet seen. Retinad’s VR in-console ad analytics and Tunity’s out of home display audio solution presented measurable technology for audiences underserved, or not yet measured. DreamSail Games showcased an expansive VR game environment, and Holosonics presented directional audio solutions.

VNTANA’s holographic display demonstrated the full-size immersive side of out of home displays

Sean Brown, with Turner Courageous, gets a demo of the Verizon envrmnt AR activation for a Verizon Store drone campaign, from JR Dawkins

Brian Roth, from Immersv, gets a VR demo from Christian Egeler, director of VR/AR at Verizon envrmnt

Nestled just steps away from the Times Square bustle, TechX was a rare opportunity to glimpse some of the more inventive ways to deliver and measure ads – and no PowerPoint involved.

Yes – there were sessions at TechX as well. Here’s a lively VC discussion in play

Chris Pfaff Tech Media hosts IBC Video Content Innovation Summit at IBC 2017 in Amsterdam

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This year’s IBC will likely have more content producers and distributors seeking solutions in AI, VR/AR, OTT, and cloud management. So, in order to help kick off this year’s show right, we have curated some of the leading players in media innovation today, and they are all at IBC 2017 at our Video Content Innovation Summit. 

Come have breakfast, network with industry peers, and enjoy discussions on the latest in VR/AR; AI for media; OTT; cloud and mobile content distribution and more. Meet with leading players in the broadcast; cable; OTT, and infrastructure arenas.
Our venue is the event space at the Rockstart Accelerator, one of Amsterdam’s main innovation hubs, at Herengracht 182, 1016 BR. 
Attendance is free, with registration. Please register your RSVP at: http://bit.ly/2gmeKYa
Produced by Chris Pfaff Tech Media LLC and Integer 1, the event will feature:
  • Helge Hoibraaten, CEO, Vimond
  • Raheel Khalid, CTO, Verizon envrmnt
  • Mika Rautiainen, CEO, Valossa
  • Kanwaldeep Kalsi, VP, Media & Entertainment, HCL Americas

Our esteemed colleague, Sanjay Macwan, will deliver a keynote presentation, and moderate our expert panel.

Hosted by Chris Pfaff Tech Media & Integer1.

8:00 am – 8:45 am – Registration and Breakfast

8:45 am – 9:00 am – Welcome and Opening Remarks (Chris Pfaff)

9:00 am – 9:30 am – The State of Global Video Technology and Content Innovation – keynote (Sanjay Macwan)

9:30 am – 10:00 am – Panel discussion with HCL, Verizon envrmnt, Valossa, and Vimond

10:00 am – 10:10 am – Closing Remarks

10:10 am – 10:30 am – Networking 

 

 

VR/AR Association Event, ‘VR for Producers’ Features Verizon envrmnt, Littlstar, and Associated Press at NYU Data Futures Lab

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The first VR/AR Association New York Chapter event of 2017, ‘Virtual Reality for Producers: How to Create and Deliver for the New Content Frontier,’ took place last Wednesday night, February 15th, at the NYU Data Futures Lab, and it delivered not only a full standing-room-only crowd of 95 people, but some of New York’s finest producers working the VR scene.

You can watch the video of the event at:

https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B58D21m9dOMOdFJJSGE1UWMzVzA

Kris Kolo, New York chapter head of the VR/AR Association, introduces the goals and benefits of the organization

As more New York producers learn the craft of producing in VR, the industry will grow concomitantly. Wednesday’s session was an ideal session for learnings from the likes of Paul Cheung, direct of interactive at Associated Press (AP); Alissa Crevier, global head of partnerships, at Littlstar, and Christian Egeler, director of VR/AR product development with Verizon envrmnt.

Chris Pfaff introduces the speakers and sets up the event

Paul Cheung guided the audience through his learnings with the almost dozen VR cameras that he and his team have tested. He discussed some of the work that AP has done with branded content partners, and how to adapt the standards of the AP (an organization that literally developed the journalistic standards known as “AP Style” over the past 180-plus years) to VR production. In other words, while shooting a scene, do you keep the DP and/or the producer in the shot, or matte that out? For AP, that choice is obvious: leave the production team in the frame. Cheung described some of the learnings in VR as they apply to the overall production work that his interactive has to deal with, enabling a smoother workflow scenario.

Paul Cheung discusses the range of VR cameras that AP has tested and and used

For Alissa Crevier, Littlstar’s work has grown to the point where the company is as much a platform for content as it is a stand-alone producer of VR content. This has created a new kind of channel for VR partners, and the Littlstar roster of clients includes the who’s who of major content distributors, including Disney/ABC, Discovery, Nat Geo, Showtime, and the Wall Street Journal, among others. Crevier’s experience with Spotify, and the music industry in general, have helped her navigate clearances and understand the vagaries of the live music scene, and live streaming, to understand the value of WebVR versus individual VR platforms, such as Oculus, Gear, or Vive, among others.

Alissa Crevier presents Littlstar’s productions and its content platform model

Christian Egeler took the audience through the Verizon envrmnt learnings, and how they have applied to the studio’s growth in areas that include their Social VR platform. The envrmnt cross-platform SDK has gained traction in the industry, including with the March, 2017 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, which includes an AR app, a native app, and integrated envrmnt SDK so that trigger images are easier to recognize. Egeler also showed an Alpine Village demo with dynamic updates (first showed at the Amazon Web Services Invent and Nvidia conferences). He hinted at the possibility that envrmnt might release a “build your own” 3D engine later this year. A VR experience produced for Super Bowl LI was also demonstrated.

Christian Egeler shares learnings from Verizon envrmnt’s studio work, and showcases new work, including its Social VR platform

The audience, mostly comprised of producers, was intrigued by the experiences that the three presenters had. The lively panel discussion dove into issues surrounding the growth of an industry that still has yet to standardize areas of production and post-production, as well as the growth of WebVR, in the wake of a still-early headset market.

Paul Cheung during the panel discussion

Mina Salib (right, speaking), program manager at the NYU Futures Labs, introduces the audience to new opportunities at the Labs

Paul Cheung (rear of photo, against window), and Alissa Crevier (right front), address audience questions after the ‘VR for Producers’ event

 

CES 2017: Rise of the Robots

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When Karl Capek, the famed Czech playwright, wrote the play ‘R.U.R’ (Rossum’s Universal Robots) in 1920, introducing the word “robot” to the English language, the idea of a synthetic human was dystopian. And, frankly, most fictional depictions of robots since then have not been kind; C3PO and R2D2 being notable exceptions. But, robots are more likely to be mechanical or software-controlled agents today – helpers that are reliable and functional, not diabolical. Even with the threat of technological displacement or unemployment, humans still marvel at how our lives are enhanced and even saved by technology. We have lived with robots, digital assistants, and avatars for years, and the more we outsource our brains and our memories to the likes of Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon, we gain greater facility to personalize and even interact with our technology. This has been part of a growing shift that places greater technological emphasis on interfaces that rely on machine learning, AI (artificial, or augmented, intelligence), natural language processing, and other advances that pass the Turing test.

CES 2017 put robots at center stage in ways that we can now accept, and Chris Pfaff Tech Media was there to take it all in over an intense 6-day period. These virtual, and even mechanical, assistants are baked into experiences that can develop habits for humanity. While many pundits were touting this year’s show as “the Alexa show,” intelligent systems were predominant in ways well beyond ASR (atomatic speech recognition). Intel’s RealSense was on display again this year, with a drone camera demo that was part of the latest “hero demo” in which a single human had powered a 500-drone flight. The drone-camera demo was part of Intel’s attempt to show how RealSense can automate the process of shooting/plotting information via drone. Intel also showed off its Curie processors, and the new Quark SoC (system-on-a-chip) with high-flying dunkateers from Dunk Elite, a London-based team of acrobatic dunk artists, which captured a myriad of body measurements and sports data. Intel also showed off its latest acquisition, Voke VR, which conducted a live VR streaming demo over an AT&T 5G demo network, with Ericsson. For some, this was a bit of a thin demo: Intel and Ericsson’s booths were seprated by a mere 10 meters.

Dunk Elite shows off the Curie processor technology at the Intel booth

AMD provided some competition in the chip space, showing off its new Ryzen processor, which rivals the Intel Core i5 7600K. This is impressive, particularly in the gaming space, which should heat up this year. Some estimates show the eSports market rising to a cool $9 billion.

AMD shows off its Ryzen processor – a rival to Intel’s Core i5 7600K – at CES Unveiled, at CES 2017

Qualcomm, as always, had a huge presence at the show. They featured three booths, with the largest in the central hall touting IoT concepts, and VR/AR. Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 835 processor was featured. This new chip is all about VR; Qualcomm is touting greater depth and lower power (it boasts that the 835 is part of the first commercial 10 nanometer chip fab process). Qualcomm also had a booth in the North Hall touting its car platform; the company’s 2016 acquisition of NXP has vaulted it into the front ranks of connected car chip companies.

But, of all the chip giants, the biggest spotlight shone on Nvidia. Jen-Hsun Huang, founder/CEO of Nvidia, gave the opening keynote of CES, and it rocked the show. Nvidia showed off its Nvidia AI Car Platform, with announcements that Nvidia and Audi will build an AI car. Nvidia also introduced the Nvidia AI Car Supercomputer, named Xavier. Nvidia also announced AI car-related deals with ZF, Tom Tom, Here, and Bosch. Nvidia’s booth was tucked into a corner area of the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, next to Volkswagen (which, in a face-saving move, took Delphi’s old space on the show floor). This was a huge statement: that the company that made its name with the GPU is now bidding to be the next big innovator in intelligent cars. Jen-Hsun Huang’s keynote speech is worth watching. One line alone almost made me tear up: “Let’s make sure our kids never have to drive again.”

Nvidia’s booth featured the Nvidia AI Car Platform

Other intelligent systems and products came from the likes of DISH Networks, which probably won most heroic demo on the show floor: a voice-activated Hopper that controls your EPG and records shows for you. The fact that the demo was done in a suite that was not sound-proofed, and took in lots of ambient show floor noise, made the Alexa integration all the more impressive. Samsung showed off its SmartThings hub, with voice-activated technology from its Viv acquisition.

The big boys, Samsung and LG, went at it again this year in stunning one-upmanship. For the record, Samsung won the product battle. Its QLED displays were introduced at a pretty spectacular event at the Keep Memory Alive Center in downtown Las Vegas. The Frank Gehry-designed building, part-temple/part ocean-going vessel design, provided the ideal backdrop for Samsung’s roll-out of its latest OLED displays, which have a wider viewing angle, greater contrast/brightness (1500-2000 nits), and a wide color gamut (WCG) that actually encompasses the full range of the human eye. It has a flush mounting system with a single fiber connection to an external input box (smart idea). It was an amazing event, and it was a total display geek-out for someone like me. My old Sharp LCD client, Joe Stinziano, was there doing God’s work, as were dozens of other Samsung technical and sales/marketing execs. Samsung’s branding of QLED (a play on its quantum dot crystal structure) extended the “Q” prefix to other products. This was a huge play for Samsung, which is rebounding from its spectacular Galaxy Note 7 disaster. The QLED products go on sale next month.

Samsung QLED intro at the Keep Memory Alive Center in downtown Las Vegas, 01.03.17

Samsung is ready for its OLED close-up, in this technical demo at the QLED intro event

LG, meanwhile, won the battle of the display content. This is not news to anyone who has been to these booths the past few years, but LG upped the ante this year, with a full, immersive content “room” that made one feel as if they were in an aquarium or a planetarium. LG Display gave us a private demo of its latest products, which included the world’s thinnest (1 millimeter) display, and introduced its Crystal OLED Sound technology (clever integration of speakers in the actual display), which has already been used by Sony in its latest TV.

LG Display’s Hanbits Oh demonstrates the LG Crystal OLED Sound technology

Hanbits Oh shows off the LG Display kiosk

LG wins the OLED display content war, against Samsung, again at CES 2017

Other impressive products and/or displays included EyeLock’s retina detection system (tucked away in a prominent corner of the palatial Voxx booth), and Bosch’s APAS system, the first assistance system certified for use with human operators. Bosch used APAS robots to serve coffee, among other tasks, in its massive booth, just in front of the Samsung booth.

Bosch shows off its APAS platform        EyeLock’s retinal detection system

The North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, though, was the real show this year. For the second time, a car was introduced at CES. This year, it was Faraday Future’s FF91. This impressive vehicle, the progeny of much-questioned Faraday Future, owned by Chinese conglomerate Le Eco, showed off a 1000 horsepower all-electric powertrain which can travel more than 370 miles per electric charge. The built-in LiDAR and more than 30 cameras, radars, and ultrasonic sensors are augmented by a smart app that parks the car for you and can bring it to you from parking, as well as facial recognition for unlocking the car. All of this can be had for a mere $5,0000 reservation fee. Le Eco has some new funding, apparently, so we may yet see these beauties on the road this year. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, the real car companies showed off quite a lot. Mercedes-Benz showed off its mouthful of a corporate mantra, CASE (Connected, Autonomous, Shared, Electric), with the Mercedes Electric Intelligence platform, which was represented by a concept car, EQ, which uses solar energy stored at home, and wireless charging. The hippest car at the show, though, was the Mercedes Vision Van, a new delivery/sprinter van that has two drones on top, and is driverless. Mercedes also announced that it would launch its driverless freight truck, the Daimler Freightliner, by 2025.

The Mercedes Vision Van, an example of what the company calls the “cognitive car”

Honda was back at CES for the first time in years, showing off its ‘Cooperative Mobility Ecosystem.’ This included a motorcycle that has riding assist, self-balancing features, and autonomous operation (i.e., it can be called by the river). Honda showed off the way-cool NueV concept car – an electric vehicle for ride sharing that has an “emotion engine” and charges itself at the lowest rate times. The Honda Uni-Cub (best known for their use in the latest OKGO music video), a seated Segway-type transport vehicle, was a bit hit. it moves via body control/leaning.

Honda’s NuEV electric concept car

Honda’s Uni-Cub personal transport robots

Fiat Chrysler was one of many companies that showcased its work with Google’s Waymo spin-out, a driverless car ride sharing service, which will heavily feature the Chrysler Pacifica cars.

Toyota, again, showed off the coolest concept car at the show, which featured an excellent emotion detection platform.

Toyota’s ‘Tron’-like concept car

While 5G was a big technology looming over the show, not much was shown. AT&T, which holds its annual developers forum just prior to the start of CES, claimed that 2017 would be the year of video on its network. It has already planned major 5G trials this year, with video a major feature, and preliminary speeds of 1 Gb/s in initial trials.

International delegations were quite prominent this year, but mostly for the massive Chinese presence, with ZTE, Huawei, DJI, TCL, Hi-Sense and Honor as major sponsors and exhibitors. The French delegation outdid itself, again, and Eureka Park was practically a French tech zone.

The Normandy delegation – with marinier shirts – at the La French Tech pitch event, at the Paris Hotel’s French village, 01.06.17

The Swedish delegation was stronger than ever, and several Swedish start-ups, notably Manomotion, made their presence felt.

Tobias Berneth, of Stockholm-based Things to Be, with the Honor phone that he helped design, at the Sweden@CES breakfast at CES 2017

I caught up with members of the “Estonian Mafia” at the show, including the only Estonian company exhibiting at the show, Starship Technologies, which has some pretty cool delivery robots (I got a demo when I was in Tallinn last September). Starship just announced, post-CES, a major funding round of $17.2million, with Daimler AG as the lead investor.

Estonian Mafia at CES (l to r): Andrus Viirg, Enterprise Estonia; two members of the Starship Technologies team; Andres Mellik, Cognuse, and Rain Rannu, Fortumo

Eureka Park was bigger than ever this year – 600 exhibitors, up from 500 at CES 2016. Kino-mo had another way-cool display, with Pokemon Go figures, and there were more funded companies, it seemed, than in previous years.

Kino-Mo’s display was mobbed at Eureka Park

The robots could have helped the ride-sharing queues that created Lyft and Uber traffic jams outside the convention center. This was unfortunate, but will require more than robots to solve the crisis: political leadership (Las Vegas not known for its progressive thinking where non-gamblers are concerned).

Until next year, go out and buy an Amazon Echo, or the many equivalents, and find new ways to integrate AI into your life. In other words, help a robot brutha out.

Me at CES 2017, outside the Sands/Venetian halls