October 26, 2015
Could you imagine what the world would be like without our modern advances? Without access to online tools like Dropbox that make saving our digital works? Without the very smartphones that we keep on or near our bodies at almost every hour of the day? Without the conveniences provided to us by these various consumer electronics and digital platforms? Further, incessantly changing expectations and rapid development have led to the application and implementation of more advanced technologies; every year, we’re introduced to better tools that enable us to do more things (and to do them better).
Earlier this year at the 2015 International CES, we got a glimpse at some of the coolest new consumer electronics – from a telepresence robot to an artificially intelligent belt that adjusts to your comfort level throughout the day. Now almost a full year in, we find that these trends in consumer electronics haven’t changed – with increases in the application of things like artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and virtual reality, the future of consumer gadgets seems closer to our 1980s sentiments involving robot companions, hoverboards, and immersive virtual reality environments.
Below, we take a look at some of these consumer electronic trends, and reached out to various companies to provide a critical look at how such trends will affect our modern relationship with technology. This series on consumer electronics is brought to you in partnership with CEA. You can read the rest of the series here.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
In 2014, AI startups (including those companies dealing with machine learning, natural language learning, and predictive APIs) saw a 302 percent increase in overall funding for the industry. The overall total amounted to $309 million across 40 deals. By the end of this year, it would not be surprising to see similar numbers, with companies like Kono and Charlie taking advantage of AI to power their personal assistant apps.
But AI is increasingly seeing wider application. For example, through a user’s smartphone, Driversiti enables a driver to utilize their phone’s sensors to transform their cars into “situational awareness safety devices”. Effectively, the company’s consumer product creates a connected car ecosystem that attempts to understand a user’s driving behavior through machine learning and AI – two things that are essential baselines for autonomous drive, according to Driversiti CEO, Sascha Simon. “We want to bring mobile safety to the roads, to the extent that smartphones will help drivers make more informed decisions while partaking in one of the most dangerous activities that they perform on the most frequent basis,” said Simon.
According to Simon, there are some really notable things going on in the AI space:
“We are seeing a lot around image recognition and tapping into mobile sensing. Due to the abundance of sensors in our mobile devices, there is more and more sensing data becoming available, which helps to round out machine learning algorithms. Companies are just now getting ample resources that enable them to find patterns that have been hidden previously in insignificant data sets. This is just the beginning of the interest in this space. As machine learning continues to be applied to mobile sensing in a deeper sense, it will be inserted into people’s lives in helpful and highly personalized ways so that they can operate more efficiently. Currently this is being explored most in health, routing, and customized advertising, but as this intel is applied more broadly we will begin to see extremely interesting, and perhaps surprising, areas of application emerge.”
Similarly, companies in the robotics space saw a boost in funding in 2014 – up to $341.3 million from $250.7 million in 2013 – and it kicked off 2015 with $51.9 million in funding halfway through January. So far, we’ve seen everything from education robots engaging kids in fundamental STEM skills to robots being used to improve our everyday telecommuting experience.
Fetch Robotics is a company that builds robot systems specifically for the logistics industry. The robots they design work alongside human workers, performing repetitive tasks (such as warehouse delivery or picking and packing things). “Robotics can and is having an impact all over the world,” said Fetch Robotics CEO Melonee Wise.
“Historically, robots were considered a great solution for human jobs that were dirty, dangerous or dull. That’s still the case today in many instances; robots can free up people to take on the more sophisticated work while robots trudge along…”
According to Wise, over the next few years, we’ll see people increasingly work alongside robots in the workplace:
“There’s already a successful industrial robotics industry. We see service robotics as a natural extension of that industry, with the significant exception that service robots work alongside people instead of apart from them…Over the next few years, expect to see many more warehouse and e-commerce companies turn to robotic solution to streamline their operations and gain competitive advantage.”
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
Virtual reality and augmented reality startups have raised more than $1 billion since the start of 2014. Massive successes from companies like Magic Leap (with its nearly $600 million investment from Google) and Oculus (which was acquired by Facebook in early 2014) indicate a significant interest in VR/AR technology. Which is great for consumers, for whom such technologies can impact lives in many surprising ways. With top firms like Rothenberg Ventures, Google Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, and Intel Capital, we’re certain to see many more applications of VR/AR in consumer electronics.
Among them is IonVR, a company that’s created its own virtual reality headset that gives consumers the ability to experience virtual reality right from their mobile phones. “The innovation going on right now in virtual reality is really amazing and is pushing the boundaries across verticals,” said cofounder and CEO Brooke Linville. “Just as the smartphone revolutionized how we interact with content, so too will virtual reality, pushing us much further into the role of active participant in content consumption.”
“People are excited about VR in part because it is going to open up a once in a lifetime (or in many cases, never in a lifetime) experiences for millions of people. Can’t catch a ride to the moon? You might be able to experience the first step through the eyes of Neil Armstrong in the virtual worlds being created. Virtual Reality allows us to experience the impossible.”
When it comes to augmented reality, Dr. Hermann Schindler, CEO of HS Innovation, expects a bigger future. “Augmented reality will change the way we will interact. Nobody needs a sports watch when you [can] wear sports glasses – like you do in skiing, biking, and inline skating. We’ll also see home maintenance and gardening tutorial & support by AR – [HS Innovation] is already working on it.”
Update: An earlier copy of this article inaccurately attributed Sascha Simon’s quotes to Kelsey Simmons.
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