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By Arthur Goldstuck

Contributor


CES 2019: TV, cars, health and gadgets galore

If CES proved anything this year, it is that new technology is as relevant to the youth as it is to the oldest among us.


The cliche question goes: if you didn’t post a pic on social media from a place you visited, were you really there? The equivalent in the world of gadgetry is: if a new product wasn’t launched at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), was it really launched?

Obviously, there are other shows and events that are perfectly adequate for launches, but CES is the one that defines the high-tech year. Hosted in Las Vegas, the US, in the second week of January every year, it provides the on-ramp into the public mind for the next generation of TV, automotive and health technology, among many others.

Those three categories have helped redefine the event in recent years. Starting with TV, the big names like Samsung, LG, Panasonic and Hisense use CES as a showcase their next generation of display technology. This year, they jostled with the likes of Sony, TCL and Skyworth for attention, but LG and Samsung stole the show.

LG Electronics has been a trendsetter at CES for several years now and it keeps making a bigger splash. This year, along with a waterfall of TVs that combined dozens of concave, convex and flat screens into a room-sized vista, it introduced the world’s first roll-up OLED TV.

The LG Signature OLED TV R transforms into three viewing options, starting with a full-screen. The display rolls back into its base into a display sliver, which can run news headlines or other scrolling information. Finally, it retracts completely into the base in what LG calls Zero View. It can still play music in this format, but becomes an unobtrusive piece of furniture as opposed to the centrepiece of a room.

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Samsung went large and small with its Micro LED modular TV. And this is not just a TV. It is many TVs. Fully assembled in standard format, it is a 75″ TV made up of 12″ by 12″ micro LED panels that clip together seamlessly. This allows the user to customise the display, turning it into a square, a vertical strip of a wide-screen TV.

Each micro LED panel can display videos or images independently, or in unison. If any of them fail, only the individual panel needs to be repaired or replaced.

“For decades, Samsung has led the way in next-generation display innovation,” said Cambridge Mokanyane, chief marketing officer at Samsung SA. “Our Micro LED technology is at the forefront of the next screen revolution with intelligent, customisable displays that excel in every performance category. Samsung Micro LED has no boundaries, only endless possibilities.”

Along with Sony, Samsung also unveiled its first 8K TVs – that’s 16 times the resolution of high-definition displays. The difference is that the Samsung QLED 8K range uses artificial intelligence to enable the TV itself to guide users in its use and enhance the viewing experience.

Reginald Nxumalo, director of consumer electronics at Samsung SA, said: “The traditional TV was only focused on technical features, such as picture quality and performance, but now TVs are also a lifestyle platform that blends into consumers’ daily life.”

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Shape-shifting was also the theme of one of the few smartphones to make a big impact at CES this year.

The Royole FlexPai is the world’s first foldable smartphone with a flexible screen, that is in commercial production. It can be used folded, as a smartphone, or unfolded, as a high-definition tablet.

Royole chief executive Bill Liu said: “It perfectly solves the contradiction between the high-definition large-screen experience and portability, which introduces a new dimension to the human-machine interface. The phone’s design will change the consumer electronics industry, as well as the way people interact with and perceive their world.”

Word is that Samsung will also announce a foldable phone this year. Then, all other manufacturers will follow.

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Meanwhile, CES is also becoming the platform of choice for new automotive technology. So much so that in 2018, it was voted one of the top 10 auto shows in the US. This year, it will climb up the ranks, especially with the news that organisers of the Detroit Motor Show, one of the most important in the US, have decided to move it from its usual January slot to June from next year.

One of the major car brands responsible for the shift is Daimler-Benz, which launched both an electric car, the new MercedesBenz CLA, and a partially autonomous truck, the Cascadia, at CES last week. The CLA features a new version of the Mercedes-BenzUser Experience infotainment system, which can be controlled by voice or gesture.

The Cascadia is a Level 2 autonomous vehicle, which refers to the classification of the Society of Automotive Engineers. This means that the driver gets automated assistance with steering, acceleration and lane-keeping, depending on the road and traffic conditions. Thanks to those two vehicles, CES is now firmly established as the premier event to launch new automotive technology.

It is no surprise, then, that Hyundai chose CES to unveil the first vehicle with moveable legs, called the Elevate. Categorised as an Ultimate Mobility Vehicle, it can switch out different bodies for a variety of situations and can move in any direction.

The Elevate combines the technology of electric cars and robots, and can climb over debris after a natural disaster. Aimed at emergency services that need to traverse terrain beyond the limitations of regular off-road vehicles, it is expected to become a cutting edge tool for first responders.

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Nissan demonstrated a concept it intends to use, called Invisible-to-Visible (I2V). It uses data from sensors inside and outside the vehicle and mapping and satellite or graphic information updated via the cloud. This enables it to create an augmented reality-style virtual map of the area, meaning drivers can literally get the full picture of what lurks around corners or behind buildings.

The third big theme of CES is digital health, built on the show’s track record in providing the launchpad for the pioneering activity trackers of the past decade. This year, health tech covered no less than 5 000m², with displays ranging from digital therapeutics, artificial intelligence and sleep tech, to condition-specific wearables and precision medicine.

There were many highlights, but the standout was probably Addison, a computer with a face, body and personality. In effect, it is a conversational speech interface with artificial intelligence (AI) built in.

Created by Electronic Caregiver, it is intended to transform the home into a full-time health and wellness environment. “Her” face appears on 15-inch media screens throughout a residence. It provides medication management, support for adherence to care plans, social experiences and an emergency response service.

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Addison defines a category referred to as elder-care tech. At CES, it rubbed robotic shoulders with ElliQ, built by Intuition Robotics with a similar role. It is a robot that uses an AI platform called Q, which has the ability to make cognitive decisions based on a user’s body language, lights, sounds, images, and speech.

“Addison will transform the way people interact with technology,” said Anthony Dohrmann, chief executive of SameDay Security, owners of Electronic Caregiver. “She uniquely inspires a feeling of affection …”

And then there are the always-on, on-body remote sensors from Philips Care that monitor the physical status of the elderly. This allows them to live independently, but also ensures safety by dispatching help in an emergency.

If CES proved anything this year, it is that new technology is as relevant to the youth as it is to the oldest among us.

Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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