CES 2017: Rise of the Robots

By • Posted & filed under Announcements

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



Chris Pfaff Tech Media at CES 2016: the 21st Century has Finally Arrived

By • Posted & filed under Uncategorized

The 1964-65 New York World’s Fair was the touchstone of a futuristic vision that predicted videophones, connected devices, and advanced – if not flying – automobiles. It has taken, literally, 50 years for that vision to become some sort of reality. And, in very palpable terms, that is what was on display at CES 2016 in Las Vegas last week. From Samsung’s SmartThings platform – with connected refrigerators – to the Faraday Future FFZero1 concept car – 1,000 horse power electric vehicle that makes Bruce Wayne’s Batmobile look like a tricycle – the CES 2016 floor and suites gushed with technology that now begins to flesh out a picture of the 21st century as we knew it…in the 1960s.


It was a long and productive week for Chris Pfaff Tech Media at CES 2016. We arrived on Sunday, January 3rd, just in time to see Chinese New Year’s displays going up at the Bellagio. I moderated a session at Storage Visions, at the Luxor, on Monday the 4th, ‘Epic Proportions: Storage for High Resolution Content Capture and Production,’ which featured an all-star panel of industry experts (Avid’s Gary Green; DDN’s Molly Rector; EMC’s Tom Burns; Panasas’ David Sallak) discussing the need for ever-larger storage workflows for production and post-production. With 4K content the big buzz at the show, storage should have had a larger presence, but the fact is that it is now more relevant than ever. The “consumer cloud” that envelops all of us is an outcropping of the enterprise storage world that enables blockbusters such as ‘The Martian’ and ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ to lock picture. I prefaced my introductions by encouraging the audience to repeat after me: ” I am. Storage Sexy.” The industry segment that has long been the grey face of progress (even though the likes of and Dropbox consume more syllables on CNBC than just about any other twosome) is now in a powerful perceptual position. I had the chance to catch up with ex-InPhase Technologies execs Will Loechl and Ken Anderson, who now lead Akonia Holographics, the descendant of the holographic company that we represented for 8 years. Akonia is moving forward with its drive and media, and should have something on the market in 2018.



The Akonia Holographics media, at Storage Visions 2016, at CES 2016, at the Luxor Hotel


It was a busy week, otherwise, with meetings all over Las Vegas, and well into the night. The best party, hands-down, was the Havas Media event at the Palazzo on Tuesday night, which featured Joe Jonas’ new band, DNCE (courtesy of Havas’ relationship with Universal Music Group), a tight quartet that blended bouncy pop-funk material with some expert covers. Havas CEO/chairman Yannick Bolloré and UMG’s Mike Tunnicliffe were emcees for the soiree.


Mike Tunnicliffe, EVP, Business Development & Partnerships, USA for Universal Music Group, and Yannick Bolloré, chairman and CEO of Havas, at the Palazzo Hotel

Joe Jonas and DNCE at Havas Media Event at CES 2016, 01.05.16

Joe Jonas, 2nd from left, and his band DNCE, at the Havas CES 2016 party at the Palazzo Hotel

For the second time, I joined the incredible (and growing) team of experts – including NBC Universal Media Labs execs – that Shelly Palmer assembled for the official CES Trendspotting tours on the CES show floors. While I covered the “Tech East” (read: Las Vegas Convention Center) arena with colleagues, another team covered the “Tech West” (read: Sands/Venetian convention centers) arena.



Chris Pfaff addresses a CES 2016 VIP Trendspotting tour in the Las Vegas Convention Center


Chris Pfaff and Fielding Kidd, manager of innovation programs at NBC Universal

This year’s mind-blowers included the amazing Intel RealSense/Curie content display with a video wall of digital “fish” that responded to Curie chip-enabled bracelets and RealSense cameras that tracked movements. “Air Instruments” of bungee chords that produced tonal music rounded out the experience. Intel made a big splash with its announcement of the $10 Curie chip – a button-sized System-on-a-Chip (SoC) that is low-power and high energy.



Intel RealSense and Curie demo at the Intel booth at CES 2016


Samsung featured a riot of new things, including a sensorround display of its Samsung Gear VR product, which had previously been released in Q4 ’15 for $99.00. But the biggest relevation was its Soundbar product, a Dolby Atmos-enabled answer to the Amazon Echo speaker. The Soundbar was featured in one of the best home theater demos I have ever seen, which paired a Samsung SUHD 4K television with the Soundbar, producing a powerful immersive cinema experience.




Samsung’s SUHD TV 4K content display at CES 2016


Internet of Things (IoT) solutions were everywhere at the show, and nowhere was this more evident than in the automotive section in the North Hall, with Toyota announcing its $1 billion Toyota Research Institute, a partnership that includes Stanford and M.I.T. Toyota also showed off its ultra-cool Kikai (which means “work” in Japanese) concept car, a Rube Goldberg-inspired vehicle.


Toyota Kikai Car at CES 2016

The Toyota Kikai concept car at CES 2016


Ford had a massive booth that showed off its LiDar-enabled concept car, and touted its partnership with Amazon’s Alexa platform. Ford’s mobile partner, Blackberry, had a presence in the North Hall with its ONX platform. Audi had the best-designed booth at the entire show, and Kia showed up for the first time.


Audi Booth at CES 2016

Audi’s booth at CES 2016 was a mechanistic orgy of chrome piping


But, the winner in the automotive sector at CES 2016 was the Faraday Future FFZero1 concept car, a 1,000 horsepower electric vehicle that is a single-occupant vehicle. Faraday Future became the first automotive company to launch a new car at CES. This is significant: car introductions are almost exclusively the province of automotive shows. Faraday Future made a secret launch in a parking lot off the Las Vegas Strip, and then assembled its booth in the North Hall in 6 hours, with the car in tow. Faraday Future is backed by the Chinese conglomerate LeTV, which announced a $1 billion factory launch in Las Vegas for its cars. Watch this company.


Faraday Future’s FFZERO1 concept car (1,000 horsepower electric vehicle) at CES 2016


Speaking of LeTV, they had a strong presence at the show, with a booth in the South Hall that displayed their power in telecom, consumer electronics, film/TV, and gaming. They are moving into the U.S. market in a big way, and will become more of a force in the coming year.


LeTV Booth at CES 2016

Panoramic shot of the LeTV booth at CES 2016


On the other end of the dial, Sony Electronics – while sporting a newly designed, and friendlier booth – looked somewhat forlorn, and we captured CEO Kazuo Hirai in a pre-show interview on the first day looking rather wan.


Sony’s CEO, Kazuo Hirai, during an interview in the Sony booth, pre-show on Day 1 of CES 2016


The Sands/Venetian halls were filled with even more wearables companies, expanding the health and sleep-tech sectors, and 3D printing was as hot as ever. But the real revelation was a vastly expanded Eureka Park start-up zone, which was located downstairs, and featured more than 500 start-ups. One of the coolest things I saw at the show was from UK firm Kino-Mo, which showed off its projectable hologram solution. This was an eye-catcher, and of real interest given that the company is now selling its solution to retailers. Other cool bits in Eureka Park included Plussh, a newly-launched mobile video platform that was part of the massive French start-up contingent at this year’s show. For the 2nd straight year, France had the largest national presence, next to the U.S., at CES (remember, people – “entrepreneur” is a French word). There were far more countries represented in Eureka Park this year, and the university accelerator section was also expanded. This is a healthy sign, indeed.


Kino-Mo shows off its holographic projection technology at Eureka Park start-up zone at CES 2016


While this year’s CES was the largest ever (more than 176,000 attendees), it has become more of an “information” show in its envelopment of the advertising and media industries. While fewer celebrities attend the show on behalf of exhibitors or studios/networks, CES is of huge interest to the advertising congloms that need to show relevance to their clients. And, of course, this enhances the overall experience for technology developers. We hope to see next year’s show increasing the media/marketing presence.


That’s a wrap from CES 2016. Now, we have to get out there and start living on the promise of that New York World’s Fair – which finally arrived, in some form, in Las Vegas this year.

Chris Pfaff at Venetian Hotel Grand Hotel, CES 2016

He who wears the most badges wins: Chris Pfaff at the Venetian Hotel Grand Canal, at the end of CES 2016