Chris Pfaff

VR/AR Association New York Chapter Celebrates 3 Years at RLAB

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The third anniversary of the VR/AR Association (VRARA) New York chapter was a positive snapshot on the growth of the immersive/XR industry in the greater New York area in the past few years. The event was hosted on Tuesday evening, May 21st, at RLAB (https://www.rlab.nyc), the massive space that NYU and its academic and City of New York partners opened in late-November, 2018. RLAB hosts several companies, including members of its XR Beta program, and is being built out as a larger facility for immersive innovation, including volumetric capture space.

Dex Yee (left), from VRARA, watches as Jason T. Jaslow signs in the VRARA NY 3rd anniversary

Chris Pfaff, VRARA NY Chaper advisor, welcomes the crowd at RLAB

As VRARA has grown globally, so too has its New York chapter, and this mirrors the broader focus on the XR industry in New York, which embraces enterprise and consumer firms alike.

Banu Ozden in discussion with Janice Brown, manager, education and outreach at RLAB

Robin White Owen and Michael Owen, the first XR couple of Brooklyn, at Rlab

Unseen Media demos its soon-to-be-released narrative AR game

Gur Arie Bittan, from Mantis Vision, demos for Banu Ozden and Jeffrey Ginsberg

More than 50 guests attended the mixer event, which featured demos from XR Beta companies, as well as Mantis Vision (http://mantis-vision.com), and remarks by RLAB’s Alexis Seeley and VRARA New York chapter advisor Chris Pfaff. And, of course, numerous demos of mobile AR experiences were shown by VRARA members as well.

Robin White Owen and Michael Owen listen to Tim Meyer, from IBM’s IoT group

Alexis Seeley, director of education and opportunity programs at Rlab, welcomes the crowd

Mantis Vision’s mo-cap installation, and some of its forthcoming collaboration tools, were a major hit at the event. Unseen Media ((https://www.unseenmedia.io), a narrative AR game developer, demonstrated its soon-to-be-released game, while echoAR (https://www.echoar.xyz), and AR-focused CMS and CDN provider, and SIY (Speak it Yourself – https://www.siyvr.com), a VR-based language instruction firm, demonstrated their solutions as well.

Chris Pfaff and Gordon Meyer, one of the Top 5 AR influencers in the industry

Chris Pfaff and Kate Specter, from Toonpack, at Rlab

Alexis Seeley and Janice Brown, with Rlab, prior to the VRARA event

 

TV of Tomorrow Show New York Panel, ‘Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence for the OTT Universe’

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It is always a pleasure to work with Tracey Swedlow and her team at the TV of Tomorrow Show. I have known Tracy since 1998, and she has indefatigably helped lead the discussion around advanced TV and video for more than two decades. And, yes, we shared the virtual stage in a famous Producers Guild of America (PGA) New Media Council event in February, 2008 (it was a webcast, with me in New York at the New School; she in San Francisco, at the Macromedia building), in which we presented panelists and debated the New York vs. San Francisco tech/new media scene.

At the recent TV of Tomorrow Show New York, held at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan on December 7th, 2018, I moderated a session, ‘Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence for the OTT Universe,’ that dove into a wide range of issues facing broadcasters; MSOs; user-generated content, and advertisers as machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) increase their sophistication in the overall OTT world.

My panelists included:

Romain Eude, CEO/founder, Utelly

Randa Minkarah, COO, Transform

Janne Neuvonen, CEO/co-founder, BCaster

Aman Sareen, CEO, Zypmedia

Have a listen to the audio from this session by clicking the link embedded in this post from the TV of Tomorrow site:

https://thetvoftomorrowshow.com/radio-itvt-machine-learning-and-artificial-intelligence-ott-universe

Super Bowl Ads Take a Knee, Punting Boldness for Blandness

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The orgy of bombastic advertising self-love otherwise known as the Super Bowl, the National Football League’s annual championship game, has become a prisoner of the web and social media, and cannot justify the outrageous cost of broadcast TV spots. This was particularly evident in Super Bowl LIII’s mostly miscued spots and lost opportunities, highlighted even further by the lowest-scoring Super Bowl of all time.

All of this sounds familiar: brands using the bullhorn and the pie in the face to scream over the din. But that isn’t the real issue: it’s a lack of understanding where the audience is. The audience for the Super Bowl is everywhere (even on smart speakers), not just TV, and while TV is still king, it can no longer justify a one-screen-fits-all story.

What mystifies me about Super Bowl LIII’s ads is the lack of innovation, of 2nd-screen and even 3rd-screen interactive installations, calls to action, or use of technology that would make a non-football fan interested in a brand’s message. Why merely put up 30 seconds of overstuffed hyperbole and visual mayhem on broadcast television when you can leverage people’s more ubiquitous viewing screens: their mobile devices. This seems to me to be a travesty of capitulation, not mere conservatism.

I say that the Super Bowl ads are a prisoner of the web for a few reasons. One, it seems that brands are so skittish about instantaneous negative or critical reactions to spots that they are not taking any risks. This blandness and message sanitization is the curse of corporate communications in an age of increased polarization and, yes, fake news, but it doesn’t make sense if you are spending $5 million for a spot, on top of production and promotion costs. The “go big or go home” mantra for the world’s biggest advertising moment (never mind that more people watch the World Cup Final than the Super Bowl) seems to have been reduced to “go safe, or go home.” Secondly, the prisoner analogy seems apt in the way that brands now seem to have capitulated to the idea that whatever transmedia implementation they might embark upon is not worth the risk, or is only of interest to a tiny sliver of the audience. In an era of short-form content (even with the death of Vine), there seems to be much more that brands can do around the Super Bowl.

To be fair, the spots that were well-produced (Bud Light, Budweiser, Turkish Airlines, Weather Tech, to name a few) either have longstanding audiences and built-in online and social media audiences, but one would have expected some kind of prompt to an app or web extension, or even Facebook conversation. The mere fact that Ridley Scott returned to the Super Bowl with the cinematic thriller of an ad for Turkish Airlines was exciting, and had a nice call to action. The Burger King spot with Andy Warhol eating a Whopper in 1982 was amazing just for the site of Warhol eating a Whopper. Who knew? This was from a Swedish film, and the Warhol segment has been posted on YouTube. Perhaps #EatLikeAndy will catch on, and become part of a larger campaign, but there is no interactive component. Warhol would have found this a waste. He would have pulled all kinds of tricks with our mobile devices, game consoles, and even smart speakers. It was ironic that he showed up on this Super Bowl ad roster, in this sense.

And, yes, one of the few tech-related ads, from Amazon Alexa, was a massive failure of imagination and use of the technology. No spiffs for users of Alexa, no interesting narrative about the technology, and no tie-in via Amazon’s many sites (or, for that matter, Whole Foods). Just a colossal waste of time and money, with Harrison Ford (yes, get Han Solo and his dog to sell a backward message about what Alexa doesn’t do well) looking old and cranky. This was quite sad to see, on an evening where few tech companies were advertising.

If the Super Bowl really were the kind of event that we would all watch, regardless of our football affinities, the NFL and the broadcaster would make it as participatory as possible, leveraging more than 8K cameras, surround sound or the latest iso camera position. But, under fire for its handling of Colin Kaepernick and the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) lawsuits that former players have filed, the NFL and its advertisers seemed to feel under pressure from a blitz – from its own would-be audience. Hopefully, Super Bowl LIV will “LIV” up a greater expectation for putting on a show, and actually having fun with its audience, instead of just talking to themselves. And playing it safe.

Take a listen to my conversation with my brother, Fred Pfaff, on the hits and misses of Super Bowl LIII ads, which we conducted on February 4, 2019 over lunch at P.J. Clarke’s at Lincoln Center, New York City. You can listen at: https://soundcloud.com/chris-pfaff-1/chris-and-fred-pfaff-discussing-super-bowl-liii-ads

 

Fred Pfaff (left) and me, at P.J. Clarke’s at Lincoln Center, NYC

 

 

 

 

The Gathering of the Immersive Tribes: VR/AR Global Summit in Vancouver Takes It Up a Level

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The industry gathering that officially cemented Vancouver as one of the major centers of virtual reality and augmented reality (or, just use extended reality – or XR – as your umbrella designation), the VR/AR Global Summit, provided a view of the technology and creative sectors that are driving new avenues for audiences and investors on a global scale. Held at the gleaming Parq Vancouver hotel and casino, which just recently celebrated its first anniversary, the event was largely sponsored by Vancouver’s events chamber, and had the British Columbia economic development stamp of approval all over it. And, for those of us who have known Vancouver as a powerhouse in the visual effects and videogaming spaces for years, the increased emphasis on Vancouver as a hub for XR development of all kinds is both obvious and welcoming.

Nathan Pettyjohn welcomes the crowd at the VR/AR Global Summit in Vancouver, September 21, 2018

HP Entertainment’s Joanna Popper details HP’s work in the immersive space

While the VR/AR Global Summit, held on Friday, September 21stand Saturday, September 22nd, was as much a homecoming and meet-up for members of the three-year-old VR/AR Association, many of whom had never met in person (and, yes, Kris Kolo, the elusive, near-mythical executive director, was there for people to actually meet, and dispel rumors that he is merely a clever avatar), the event summoned an even greater level of introduction to innovation that is happening rapidly in the immersive space, even for those whose revenue depends on some form of XR development.

 

The brainchild of Anne Marie Ens, executive producer of the event, the VR/AR Global Summit brought leaders from Hollywood, New York, Washington, D.C., the Bay Area, Taiwan, Ukraine, New Zealand, and, of course, all across Canada. What was resident, even from hardware providers, at the event was the level of creative production that is just starting to bubble in a meaningful way from major tech companies, from Intel’s Optane platform, showcased in its Smithsonian Museum Renwick Gallery walk-through, to HP’s impressive work with the likes of VR Studios, which itself got a PR boost the week prior to the event with Cineplex’s announcement of more than 40 full VR arcades to be installed across Canada by 2021.

Intel’s Raj Puran, with YDreams’ Daniel Japiassu; VR Studios’ Chanel Summers; Dark Slope Studios’ Ben Unsworth, and DreamCraft Attractions’ Krystian Guevara at the location-based entertainment panel, September 22, 2018

Perhaps the most famous global IP that was on display at the show was from Taiwan’s Studio2 Animation, which debuted its VR series of shorts for the popular animated character Barkley the cat. The 6-minute block of 25 shorts marks a major move into VR for animated content; the Barkely feature film was a huge hit in mainland China and Taiwan in 2016.

Chris Pfaff, Grace Chuang, and Chiu Li Wei (Studio2 Animation) with Studio2’s Barkley the cat

Producers were quite evident at the show, and highlighted by back-to-back panels on Saturday afternoon, as Chris Pfaff led the ‘Producing in XR: What to Know Before Immersion’ panel, with Silverscreen Cinematics’ Jeff Olm; AWE Company’s Srinivas Krishna, and MediaCombo’s Michael Owen. The panel explored major AR and VR production techniques, as well as post-production considerations. A second panel, ‘Storytelling and Content Creation in VR/AR’ featured Observe Media’s Travis Cloyd; InspireVR’s John Penn; Vuze’s Jim Malcolm, and Cloudhead Games’ Denny Unger.

Michael Owen, from MediaCombo; Jeff Olm, from Silverscreen Cinematics; Chris Pfaff, from Chris Pfaff Tech Media, and Srinivas Krishna, from AWE Company, prior to, and on the ‘Producing in XR: What to Know Before Immersion’ panel, September 22, 2018

Michael Owen, Srinivas Krishna, Chris Pfaff, Travis Cloyd, and John Penn after their panels, September 22, 2018

Local Vancouver firms were quite visible, from Cognitive3D to Mythical City Games to Stambol Studios. Dark Slope Studios, based in Toronto, held a private event with its principals; the studio is creating location-based immersive entertainment and features an all-star cast of principals, including Raja Khanna, Ben Unsworth, and CJ Hervey.

Raja Khanna, center, executive chairman of Dark Slope Studios, welcomes the audience at a private event, Tap & Barrel, Athlete’s Village, Vancouver, September 21, 2018

Of all the myriad experiences being demonstrated on platforms from Vive to Hololens to, yes, Magic Leap, perhaps the most compelling was YDreams’ ‘The Last Squad,’ produced with ArkaveVR. The 3-person VR shooter is an ideal arcade game, and is addictive in its graphical clarity, screen direction, and sheer entertainment value. As a sign of Vancouver’s attractiveness for the XR community, YDreams recently moved its company to the city. The BC Tech group put the final punctuation on the event by holding an after-party at The Cube, the 6,000-square foot co-working space that hosts a wide range of start-ups in the VR/AR space.

The Cube, scene of the after-party for the VR/AR Global Summit, Vancouver, September 22, 2018

Overall, the VR/AR Global Summit was an affirmation of what the VR/AR Global Association set out to accomplish when Nathan Pettyjohn and a few people started a truly global organization in 2015: bringing the immersive community together on a grand scale. This is still an industry in its early days, and yet even those who have been involved in it for decades see something new every day. So it was in Vancouver; another eye-opener for the immersive crowd.

Amar Dhaliwal, Atheer; Parm Sandhu, Telus, and Kris Kolo, executive director of the VR/AR Association 

 

 

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.

 

VR/AR Association Presents ‘Narrative in VR: How to Create Compelling Stories with Virtual Reality’ at NYU Tandon Future Lab

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On a steamy late-September Monday (September 25, 2017), on the first day of Advertising Week New York, the VR/AR Association hosted an event with some of the leaders in VR storytelling, ‘Narrative in VR: How to Create Compelling Stories with Virtual Reality,’ at the NYU Tandon Future Lab in DUMBO, Brooklyn.

(l to r) Brian Seth Hurst; Caitlin Burns; Raheel Khalid, and Lewis Smithingham at the NYU Tandon Future Lab in DUMBO

Moderated by Chris Pfaff, the panel featured Brian Seth Hurst, Chief Storytelling and President at StoryTech Immersive; Raheel Khalid, CTO of Verizon envrmnt; Caitlin Burns, founder/CEO of Caitlin Burns & Associates, and Lewis Smithingham, president and partner at 30ninjas. An audience of 35 producers, artists, and students were part of a lively discussion regarding VR’s narrative structures, and how much of today’s VR industry has adapted game design techniques to better deliver moving experiences.

Marco Castro, artist in residence at NYU Tandon Future Lab, welcomes the crowd

Brian Seth Hurst showed his groundbreaking piece ‘My Brother’s Keeper,’ which premiered on HTC Viveport at Sundance 2017, and was produced for PBS Digital Studios. Currently the most widely distributed VR film to date, ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ was what Hurst detailed as an invention process, as it is the first live action VR film shot at 120 frames per second, and includes innovation such as 180 framing and Bokeh inside the sphere.

Brian Seth Hurst discusses ‘My Brother’s Keeper’

Raheel Khalid showed some of Verizon envrmnt’s latest work, its ‘Virtual Sports Bar’ experience, which creates opportunities for multi-user drop-in experiences. He has helped build new tools for multi-user VR experiences that will enable producers and consumers to shape their own VR narratives in real-time.

Raheel Khalid shows off the Verizon envrmnt virtual sports bar, and discusses new VR tools for multi-user narratives

Caitlin Burns described some of her work on Space Nation, a Helsinki-based organization that uses virtual experiences to train civilians for space travel. She also discussed some of her early learnings in VR storytelling, and how to overcome technological hurdles to maintain narrative focus.

Caitlin Burns discusses Space Nation

Lewis Smithingham described challenges that he has faced with VR and AR productions, including his work for the ‘Conan O’Brien Show.’

Lewis Smithingham describes the challenges of live VR and AR production

Raheel Khalid gives Lewis Smithingham a Google Daydream demo

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

 

 

Ad:Tech New York Panel, ‘Ad-Tech and Content Collide: Producing in the Programmatic Era,’ Packs the House

By • Posted & filed under Announcements

The revivified Ad:Tech New York 2016 show featured a rollicking panel that the Producers Guild of America (PGA) produced on Thursday, November 3rd, Day 2 of the show, in which leading New York agency producers (all but one PGA members) discussed the trends that are shifting behaviors among brands and consumers alike.

Produced and moderated by Chris Pfaff, one of the founders of the PGA New Media Council, and head of consultancy Chris Pfaff Tech Media LLC, the panel, ‘Ad-Tech and Content Collide: Producing in the Programmatic Era,’ featured Jason Jercinovic, global head of marketing innovation and global brand director for Havas; Cindy Pound, executive direct, R/GA; Tom Goodwin, executive vice president, head of innovation, ZenithOptimedia, and Raoul Didisheim, consultant with Mariana Media.

A packed house filled the “Titan Hall” in the Javits Center, listening to a discussion that focused on various topics, including:

  • AI and automation are dominating discussions among producers. How do we harness machine learning and real-time technologies for greater storytelling?
  • “Conversational content” is now part of the lexicon. How are these devices and platforms – from Amazon Alexa to Cortana to Siri and Google Talk – part of the “targeted consumer?”
  • Chatbots are the rage now; everyone’s mother seems to have a chatbot. Every VC is talking about chatbots. Is this another fad, like Pokemon Go, or are chatbots going to be a sustained part of the producer’s world?
  • The luxury sector of the economy is still robust.  The whole premise of the luxury relationship is to have a bespoke experience. How do you deliver that in an era of commoditized personalization?
  • The “cognitive” era may be upon us, but can we deliver truly “real-time” experiences that swing with societal trends, fast-moving news, or even more granular data on consumers? How does human creativity catch up to the massive technological capabilities comingout of our research labs?
  • “Targeted advertising” has reared its head again, largely from AT&T. How do you see this playing into the mix of platforms you leverage for reaching consumers?
img_7620
(From l to r): Cindy Pound, R/GA; Tom Goodwin, ZenithOptimedia; Jason Jercinovic, Havas; Chris Pfaff, Chris Pfaff Tech Media LLC; Raoul Didisheim, Mariana Media
Tom Goodwin talked about how AI has created a new set of expectations, for brands and agencies, and that the industry has to manage these expectations carefully.
img_7618Tom Goodwin discusses agency expectations for AI
Jason Jercinovic iscussed the “humans behind AI” and how cognitive computing – namely, IBM Watson – has helped generate better decision-making for clients such as TD Ameritrade, where customers were more likely to honestly interact with machines than with their human counterparts.
20161103_144241Jason Jercinovic discusses the cognitive era of producing
Cindy Pound mentioned the Pumpkin Spice Latte chatbot that Starbucks set up in October, 2016, where more than 500,000 interactions yielded impressive engagement for the coffee company.
20161103_152320Cindy Pound discuses the chatbot phenomenon
Raoul Didisheim outlined the challenge that luxury brands still have with new technology, and said that the integration of human high-touch retail experiences must be delicate and seamless in order not to offend luxury customers. He said that “any email list of a luxury brand would show that a large percentage of their consumers still have AOL addresses.”
20161103_144612Raoul Didisheim discusses the luxury sector 
The audience discussed opportunities that have been seized upon – such as the smart integration of brands in NetFlix’s ‘Luke Cage’ – and possibly missed – such as Game 7 of the World Series, where no “Dunk in the Dark” moments emerged on social media (despite, as an audience member indicated, the success of Twitter’s Hashtag World Series).
Ad:Tech New York 2016 was a milestone for the digital media industry: the 20th anniversary of a show that used to be mostly about platforms and technologies, but has now recognized that th content creators are still behind what is sold to consumers. Kudos to Lori Schwartz, Kendall Allen, and the team that produced the show. It brought in many firt-time visitors to Ad:Tech, and that in itself will help shape the future of this vital industry sector.
img_4885 A view from the audience.