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15 : 01 : 18

15.01.2018 CES 2018 : Technology : Auto

CES snapshot: Alexa versus Google Assistant, Hyundai’s health-conscious cars, service bots from LG and Honda, smarter kitchens, new beauty tech, and more.

1. The battle of the assistants

Actions for Google Assistant, Las Vegas

At Las Vegas in 2017, the biggest presence was by a company that didn’t even have a booth – Amazon and its AI assistant Alexa. This year, one of the biggest booths belonged to Google, whose installation, dedicated to showing off its own intelligent Google Assistant, was so big it was located outside the convention centre in a breakout space.

Google Assistant was everywhere, from the billboards on the Las Vegas Strip to the Google Assistant ambassadors, who were clad in white jumpsuits and could be found at stalls ranging from smart light manufacturer Xiaomi to kitchen appliance company Gourmia.

Both Alexa and Google Assistant were omnipresent, with many companies showing off their voice-enabled wares. Most brands were assistant-agnostic. Kohler, which was displaying its range of smart bathroom products launched Vedera, a smart mirror that has Amazon Alexa as well as speakers integrated. The brand says users could be shaving and tell Alexa to turn on music, or ask the assistant to turn on Kohler’s connected smart showerhead. But Shane Allis, director of marketing at Kohler, was quick to point out that it will soon be equipped with Google Assistant as well.

Chinese telecoms brand Baidu showed its smart speaker H, a device with a difference. Unlike Amazon Echo or Google Home, H is modular. Composed of colourful blocks, the top block – the brain of the device that is powered by Baidu’s AI DuerOS – is removable and can be carried through the house, so that users can take their assistant with them.

Alongside Alexa, Google Assistant and DuerOS, Samsung showed off the capabilities of its assistant Bixby – which made even more stark the lack of presence of Apple and Siri. Whether Apple will find its way to CES in 2019 remains to be seen, but what is clear is that ‘voice as interface’ is here to stay.

2. Connected Beauty shows up

Skin360 SkinScanner by Neutrogena, Las Vegas Skin360 SkinScanner by Neutrogena, Las Vegas
UFO by Foreo, Las Vegas UFO by Foreo, Las Vegas
UV Sense by L'Oréal, Las Vegas UV Sense by L'Oréal, Las Vegas

Beauty brands had a strong showing this year, with several launching new devices that are aimed at addressing consumers’ desire for more knowledge around their skin and hair.

Neutrogena announced its Skin360 app and SkinScanner attachment for the iPhone, developed in collaboration with start-up FitSkin. The device uses the phone’s camera combined with sensors and 30x magnification to capture data about a user’s skin. HiMirror also presented the latest iteration of its smart mirror, which assesses a person’s skin quality, and is now equipped with Alexa, so that users can ask for information as they do their make-up or easily order products through Amazon.

L'Oréal offered innovation through the first battery-free wearable in any sector. Designed in conjunction with Yves Béhar, the UV Sense presents a vision of the future of wearables that become a part of your body. ‘The curves of the body is what wearables need to conform to,’ Guive Balooch, global vice-president of L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator explained. Miniaturising the sensor and making it battery-free also means that consumers don’t have to think about it. ‘The idea is that it’s not something that has to be taken care of in and of itself, but rather is a part of the body,’ added Béhar.

In the haircare context, Schwarzkopf Professional launched SalonLab, a hand-held device for hair stylists that allows them to measure their clients’ inner hair condition, moisture levels and current hair colour in order to give a more, personalised and accurate salon consultation.

3. Kitchen hearth becomes a hub

Kitchen Hub by GE Appliances, Las Vegas Kitchen Hub by GE Appliances, Las Vegas

Several brands presented voice assistant-enabled appliances that aimed to turn the heart of the home, the kitchen, into a connected hub.

Haier brand GE Appliances showed its kitchen ventilation hood that has a 27-inch large screen, which integrates the control of all other Haier appliances in the home. For instance, users can see who is at the door through Haier’s smart doorbell or tell the dryer to turn on. It also has recipe integration, using recipe providers Drop and Innit, which can display the various steps of the recipes as you cook.

Whirlpool similarly announced recipe integration, but this time with the Yummly recipe search engine, which the company acquired in 2017, and its smart oven range. Users can select recipes they’d like to make from Yummly as well as when dinner needs to be ready by. The app will then send cooking instructions, such as pre-heating the oven or setting it to bake versus broil, as well as turning it all off when done.

For Samsung and LG, the fridge is the centrepiece of the kitchen and updates to their refrigerator lines included LG’s InstaView ThinQ fridge which connects to the LG oven. Not only will it take over controlling temperatures for recipes but the Alexa-enabled fridge will read recipes out loud. Samsung’s updated Family Hub 3.0 meanwhile uses the company’s own assistant Bixby to connect to third-party devices such as thermostats and lights.

For more, look out for our Connected Kitchens microtrend.

4. Rise of the service robots

3E Robotics Concept by Honda, Las Vegas 3E Robotics Concept by Honda, Las Vegas

While the 2017 event was dominated by domesticated droids such as Kuri, the robots that took centre stage at this year’s event were more suited to a commercial context. Both LG and Honda revealed a range of devices designed to help consumers in day-to-day tasks such as shopping, dining and working.

LG’s new range of robots were essentially an evolution of those already guiding passengers around Seoul Incheon International Airport. These latest examples come under LG’s new CLOi branding and are focused on hospitality and retail services, with one example acting as a combined hotel porter and receptionist, while another carries and itemises consumers’ shopping.

Although a name long synonymous with cutting-edge robotics, the prototypes Honda had on show this year focused on functionality over futurism. The most interesting concept was the 3E-C18, a kind of mobile workspace targeted at entrepreneurs. The device was shown operating as an outdoor countertop and retail space, but also contained an AI-enable platform that learns about people’s behaviour so that it can operate autonomously if needed.

5. Cars get health-conscious

Byton, Las Vegas

The relationship between car-owners and their vehicles is set to become much more intimate, with several brands showing concepts that analyse the passengers’ vital signs in order to enhance their offer.

Hyundai’s stand featured an experimental, AI-powered ‘Intelligent Personal Cockpit’ that offered what the brand called Wellness Care, a system that detects driver stress using sensors embedded in the seat and steering wheel. The car can respond by changing environmental factors such as lighting and music to calm the driver, or in extreme cases provide access to a video consultation with a doctor.

New automotive brand Byton is launching an even more invasive health-monitoring system in its first model. There are dedicated units that passengers can use to measure parameters such as blood pressure and oxygen saturation levels, which the car uses to generate health data reports and offer advice.

‘If you set a goal of a certain number of steps a day but you haven’t reached that target, the car might suggest that you park a certain a distance from your dinner reservation to make up that number, also potentially enabling you to get free parking,’ explains Byton’s Dr Petar Strahinja.

For more, look out for our forthcoming Health-conscious Cars microtrend.

6. Thought starter: Do mobility brands need to be open-source?

Auto-makers’ grip on CES was consolidated this year as the advent of autonomous driving draws ever closer and car brands start changing their business models to focus squarely on ‘mobility as a service’. There is a growing understanding across all quarters that this industry will transform consumers’ day-to-day experience over the next 10 years, from the way they work to how they shop and spend their leisure time.

But while clearly revelling in the strength of their position, car brands such as Ford and Toyota were also at pains to stress that they understood how this paradigm shift required them to work more freely with third parties, almost as a moral imperative.

‘The technology you see will be open and collaborative. They're inclusive, and will involve input from the community... I need the community here at CES to participate,’ commented Ford CEO Jim Hackett when discussing autonomous vehicles' potential impact on public life. ‘I want you to work with us to bring this new civic freedom.’ Similarly, Toyota's new e-Palette system will be a 'plug-and-play open platform’ that brand partners can instal with their own software if they wish. It's an attitude that shows car brands accepting that their improved status also carries a greater weight of societal responsibility.

Together, Let’s Take Back the Streets by Ford, Las Vegas Together, Let’s Take Back the Streets by Ford, Las Vegas