I first attended the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) more than 30 years ago and have visited periodically over the intervening years. Rest assured that the creativity and sheer volume of innovation exhibited there never ceases to amaze and impress me. While some of it is developed and showcased by global companies such as Samsung and Kohler, the showroom floor is also filled with talent previously working behind the scenes at various brands, or by truly start-up entrepreneurs.
This was the first time that I have viewed the show through the eyes of a corporate director. As I walked more than 10 miles through the aisles over the course of CES 2018, I considered the governance implications of what I saw.
To me, one of the benefits of being at CES is being away from daily routines and taking the opportunity to observe and just let your mind cogitate the possibilities. And cogitate I did. In some cases, I wanted to know not only what the product did, but how it was made. In other instances, I wondered how a product could be marketed or sold, what companies would create its competitor products, and what adoption rate was required to make the product financially successful.
So, what did I find exciting? What made the governance wheels in my head turn? Below are a few themes that stood out.
Quantum Computers. From a pure technology standpoint, the quantum computer stands out due to its astounding small size yet incredible processing power. Intel, which is one of the leaders of the quantum computing race, kicked the week off by exhibiting its own advancements in engineering one of the most powerful quantum chips yet. The IBM Research group, on the other hand, displayed its quantum computer as a stunning piece of art.
Sensors and the Internet of Things. Sensors—which were imbedded in everything from fabrics to headsets, from vehicles to medical products, and in everything else you might imagine would benefit from being connected—continued to impress due to the breadth of their utility. One clever use of sensors was the ShadeCraft patio umbrella whose electronics and robotics allowed it to automatically raise and lower itself based upon current light and weather conditions. This product not only understood sunrise and sunset, but followed the sun throughout the day to properly tilt the umbrella and gauged wind speed or rain to automatically close the umbrella without human intervention. No more worrying about your expensive patio umbrella being turned inside out, upending your table, or taking off as a projectile when you weren’t available to tend it.
Autonomous Vehicles. There was an incredible number of offerings around autonomous vehicles. I use the term vehicles instead of cars because the auto-drive implications are also clear for vans, trucks, tractors, forklifts, campers, and other vehicles. Here again the use of sensors was key, and there is no doubt that many of these machines will perform better than the drivers that we currently encounter on the road, human foibles and all.
Medical Aids. Regarding other products, I found so many to be interesting. There was an audio system that not only provided a hearing test but progressed to actually construct an ear bud that utilized the results of the hearing test to produce a customized hearing aid. Phenomenal! Anyone who has gone through the rigor of selecting a hearing aid device can appreciate this speedy, streamlined approach, especially when it is at half the price point of today’s offerings. Next, I liked the Gyenno Co., which developed a special spoon that automatically levels its contents to eliminate spilling. This will provide such a caring and practical solution for those with Parkinson’s or other medical issues that have a problem feeding themselves due to tremors.
3D Printing. Another greatly improved invention is 3D printing. Although the method has been around for a while, it is now not limited to plastics or small items. Printers can fabricate in a variety of mediums and to great scale. For example, there was a camper-type van displayed on the showroom floor that was created by 3D printing. It was produced quickly and at much less expense than a traditional van. It is easy to extrapolate the utility of 3D printing to assist various businesses since it permits specialty solutions that previously did not have the volume to be economically feasible from the producer’s perspective, and were not affordable from the buyer’s standpoint.
Odds and Ends. Three fun offerings were related to beer, fingernails, and laundry. Although I am not a beer drinker, the PicoBrew easily allows making craft beers at home and would be a hit with many of my friends. And I know those who would like the fingernail machine that can use any photos to create vinyl nails for application at home. Finally I’ll introduce the FoldiMate, a device that folds your laundry when you feed it into the machine. It could be the next best thing since sliced bread for the lazy among us.
It is worth noting that one of the great joys of CES is that everyone is welcome, and that the exhibitors and subject-matter experts arrive from many countries. CES makes clear that the desire to innovate transcends borders and creeds, and that the glue holding this incredible meeting together is not so-called “geekiness,” but a superior level of creativity, intellectual curiosity, and desire for business success—and, perhaps above all, the desire by many to improve living conditions around the world.
I’ll close by saying everyone should attend this show once their life time. As a director, I suggest setting the goal of attending every three to five years. CES presents a soup-to-nuts view of developments in products and technology that consumers will anticipate. Even if you are not affiliated with what is considered a consumer business, you do serve customers that will continue to expect innovation. As I absorbed the week’s events and considered the possibilities around every corner, CES opened my mind about what could or should be considered in the boardroom related to strategy and risk. It was well worth my time, and would be for you, too.
Kathleen Misunas is a director of Boingo Wireless and Tech Data Corp., two publicly traded technology companies.
Shelly Palmer guides directors through the show floor.
At the conclusion of day two of NACD and Grant Thornton’s board-focused experience at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), my feet are throbbing, my head is spinning, and I have a clearer picture of what the future holds thanks to a much sought-after spot at Shelly Palmer’s breakfast lecture on innovation and future trends, which was followed by an exclusive, small-group tour of this colossal show—some 3,900 exhibitors in all.
According to Palmer, the next-generation automobiles displayed by Mitsubishi, Nissan, Ford, and so many other companies raises the following question: How will we move—or want to be moved—from point A to point B?
“What does it mean to get from here to there? Uber is already self-driving. I push a few buttons and the car shows up,” Palmer said as he took us through the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center—home to what has been dubbed the world’s largest auto show.
Among the flashier electric vehicles on display was the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE Showcar, an electric hybrid Formula 1 race car. While only 275 of these cars will be made, the technology applied in its engineering eventually could end up in your self-driving car. AI might also sneak its way in. (To see more about the implications of AI, watch Erin Essenmacher’s interview with data scientist J.T. Kostman.)
Palmer also highlighted the following provocative insights to the directors in our tour group:
Smart speakers are among the fastest-adopted technologies, having achieved 50-percent penetration in U.S. homes in just three years.
Any device powered by electricity will be voice-controlled.
While Amazon is not exhibiting at this year’s show, its presence was abundantly visible through some 30,000 examples of apps compatible with its Alexa device.
Companies that may be considered old-line—Blackberry, Honeywell, ADP—have reinvented themselves through their understanding and embrace of technology that makes us more secure. “Security,” Palmer said, “is the gateway drug to home systems.”
At Honda’s booth, spectators were charmed by an adorable three-foot robot. The Japanese automaker discovered after the devastating tsunami in 2011 that children responded to the robot, which is capable of expressing empathy. “Americans have no interest in this,” Palmer said, adding this nugget: “Robotics are way ahead of anthropology and sociology.”
Chinese companies are the world’s leader in artificial intelligence. Google and Facebook lead in America. The presence of Chinese companies exhibiting at CES was a quantum leap over last year.
Some 15 million American homes have cut the cable cord and instead have roof antennas for TV service. So how can Comcast expect to flourish? The broadband giant will provide its customers the ability to connect various Internet of Things technologies that can be controlled through its voice remote.
More insights from CES and directors’ impressions of the governance implications raised by some of what they experienced will be covered in the January/February 2018 issue of NACD Directorship magazine. You can also watch the video below of NACD Chief Programming Officer Erin Essenmacher discussing AI with data scientist J.T. Kostman.
The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) opened to the public yesterday in Las Vegas. With over 3,900 exhibitors from 29 countries, there is a lot to absorb.
For a group of some 40 directors, a sneak peek of CES given courtesy of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) and Grant Thornton LLP provided a focused beginning to a three-day exploration of new technology—from robots to self-driving cars and augmented reality to smarter cities—and the implications for corporate governance.
To see more highlights from the floor, click here.
For Grant Thornton, supporting NACD’s first CES Experience underscores the accounting firm’s position “as a challenger brand in the marketplace,” said Michael Desmond, a partner and National Audit Industry & Growth Leader at Grant Thornton. “Being here at CES with a group of directors allows us to support our partnership with NACD and continue our reach into the marketplace at the C-suite and board levels. At the same time, this is where forward thinking and innovation are on display and all of these elements converge.”
Accompanying Desmond was David Wedding, a Grant Thornton partner who also chairs the firm’s board. “I’m here as a director myself and we, of course, are facing disruption in our industry from the impact of technology just like our customers. It will be interesting to see what’s trending and how other directors assess the ramifications of what we see.”
Maureen Conners, a director of Fashion Incubator in San Francisco and NACD’s Northern California Chapter, and former director of Deckers Brands, has been attending CES for at least 15 years. “The best advice I would give to any one coming to CES is not to be afraid to ask the dumb questions,” she said. Conners worked in product development at Gillette, Levi Strauss, and Mattel and started attending CES when as a consultant she helped Polaroid launch its first digital camera. She spoke of how seeing a driverless car maneuver onto a stage during an Intel presentation on Monday night stirred questions for her about how they will ultimately be used.
“I must admit it’s different seeing it in person,” she said.
Liane Pelletier, a director who was on the tour, serves on the boards of ATN International, Expeditors International, and NACD’s Northwest Chapter, echoed that sentiment: “It’s one thing to read about discrete enabling technologies that can disrupt our companies, and it’s entirely different to see and envision all of the use cases.”
Some of the other new products that stand to have industry-altering impacts included: a concept bed from Reverie that adjusts itself based on brain-wave activity; a self-driving Lyft vehicle; and a plush Aflac duck robot with three patents pending that uses a mixed-reality app to help comfort kids coping with cancer.
Come back tomorrow for additional coverage of NACD and Grant Thornton’s board-focused CES Experience.