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CES2016: Imagination, Innovation, Invention and Iteration

I attended the international Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this month. Hosted by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) this was my first time at the show. I was excited with the promise of about 2.2 million square feet of exhibition space, spread out across three separate locations (Tech East, West and South), all aimed at providing a glimpse into the future of technology and innovation. Technologies on display related to Automotive, Smart Home, Wearables, Health and Fitness, Robotics, 3D Printing, Gaming and Virtual Reality, and more. Here are a few of my observations from the show:

  1. The Automotive segment was more subdued in their announcements this year, grounded in reality rather than in hype. Connected cars will be ubiquitous in the near future.

Automotive buzz has dominated CES the last couple of years, with announcements and demonstrations related to electric vehicles and autonomous driving capabilities that fired up peoples’ imaginations. This year, there were no overt announcements related to autonomous driving developments, though operating systems and artificial intelligence capabilities, technology standards, improved sensors, network connectivity and network security within the vehicle – and with external infrastructure – were all part of the conversation and on display. These are the technologies that must be refined to make the concepts a reality – so it makes sense that the OEMs are focused on this.

Here are some of the more significant announcements: Faraday Future emerged from stealth mode with their FFZERO1 concept sports car unveiling; GM gave a sneak peak and test rides of the new Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle, designed for the ride-sharing market; Toyota indicated their adoption of Ford’s SmartDeviceLink (SDL) platform for their next-gen in-car electronics and app interface, and a commitment to invest up to $1B for artificial intelligence capabilities for robotic transportation. Kia Motors unveiled their own autonomous car program while Ford tripled the size of their autonomous test vehicle fleet to thirty. Tier1 suppliers such as Delphi, Bosch and Harman were also displaying the platforms and technologies they provide to enable autonomous, safety and entertainment capabilities. Over-the-air (OTA) software updates for components and capabilities in a car is fast becoming a desirable feature, currently popularized by Tesla. Harman was demonstrating their service delivery platform to OEMs supporting this capability.

Connectivity in automobiles in the long-term is going to be ubiquitous. In the near term, it will be a unique selling proposition for OEMs – such as GMs embedded 4G LTE play with AT&T or the Ford Sync platform – becoming an important part of the purchasing decision. Coupled with other sensors in the vehicle, this will enable usage-based insurance (UBI) and value-add propositions that will benefit consumers. As an example, GM Europe has announced a partnership with Octo Telematics SpA, which allows for the sharing of OnStar data to support UBI and Fleet services. Ford announced support for integration of the Amazon Echo voice-activated product in the home (“Alexa, …!”) with Sync Connect – enabling cross-platform connectivity. Consumers can remote start their car or enquire about vehicle range from within the house with a voice command or via AppLink from within the vehicle, as well as control functions within their home such as turning off lights and locking doors. Pretty cool!

2. The Smart Home incorporates more features, easier solutions and more integration than ever before. Voice-activated interfaces will be the future.

Smart Home systems abound – we have officially connected just about everything – from smart toothbrushes to smartphone-connected air fresheners! However, for widespread adoption, solutions must resolve a problem or make consumers’ lives easier. Safety and Security is a popular use case scenario and there are now more professional and do-it-yourself (DIY) connected home safety and security solutions available with many additional convenience features. These DIY systems can now be bolstered by third-party professional monitoring integration, with no long-term contractual obligations and a la carte pricing, starting as low as $9.99 a month. The proliferation of these connected smart home systems could enable usage-based insurance for the home in the future, allowing consumers to demonstrate to an insurance company, via data-sharing, that their home is a lower risk to insure.

While smarter home appliances and fantastic TV displays were all being touted – the Amazon Echo was the sleeper product that was a huge hit, while not even being officially on display! With its powerful cloud-based, voice-activated assistant Alexa, and an easy integration interface, what started off as a seemingly simple, kitschy product is now being integrated by a host of third-party products as an invisible, voice-enabled interface for the future (no doubt helped by Amazons’ $100M Alexa Fund, which helps other companies integrate the software into their products). This certainly feels like a natural and easy way to interact with our smart systems, which should be standard setting and enduring.

3. Wearable technology was all about fitness – timely for all those New Year resolutions!

The electronics industry is zeroed-in on the “quantified self” – individuals looking to incorporate technology to acquire data on every aspect of their daily life, such as inputs (e.g. food consumed), states (e.g. mood, blood oxygen levels) and performance (mental and physical). Smart watches do offer some capabilities, albeit at a higher price point, and there were a few new offerings at CES from the likes of Casio. But it is the fitness category that is selling big and there were the dominant technology players – Jawbone, Fitbit, Shine, Under Armour, etc – with ranges of wristwear products to appeal to every type of consumer, from functional to fashion and technology conscious. New categories of wearables included connected sneakers and smart sports bras as well as smart socks! While still a niche product, wearables are gaining more widespread acceptance as they begin to work seamlessly, have significant relevance to consumers’ lifestyles and are becoming more affordable and accessible. It doesn’t hurt that companies are offering incentives to their employees to use these types of products to improve their lifestyle (e.g. improving fitness levels leading to reward points), which in turn could have positive impacts on their health outlooks and eventually insurance costs.


Observing all of the innovation on display first-hand does get the imagination fired-up and the creative juices flowing! CES definitely inspires deep analysis on how new technology can be utilized to solve problems that we face – both daily and occasionally – in our personal and professional lives. At Octo North America, we’re inspired to continue to innovate and turn such ideas into winning business propositions for insurers and consumers. I enjoyed this first experience at 2016 CES and look forward to returning for future iterations.

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