CES 2017: Bots, Autonomous Cars and a Peek at Tomorrow’s Tech

By: Jeff Bertolucci| - Leave a comment

Robots, drones and self-driving vehicles are the new lions, tigers and bears of the tech world. These are the innovations you expect to see at International CES, the tech industry’s annual electronics extravaganza in Las Vegas — and this year’s event didn’t disappoint. Despite its strong consumer slant, CES 2017, which ran Jan. 5–8, had a lot to offer enterprise users, too. Most notable were innovations in virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), the Internet of Things (IoT) and other emerging technologies that display how the consumerization of IT is here to stay.

Here’s a quick look at the most intriguing announcements at CES 2017.

Alexa and Voice-Controlled Cars

Amazon’s Alexa voice-powered virtual assistant is moving beyond the company’s Echo smart speaker. At CES 2017, Ford Motor announced that its customers would soon be able to use Alexa to access information and perform tasks while driving.

Alexa can handle a variety of tasks, including her ability to give weather reports, stream music from Amazon Music and start or unlock cars remotely, The New York Times reports. Voice controls will be available in a few months on select Ford models, including the Focus Electric and Fusion Energi, and later on other vehicles, the company said.

Of course, Alexa isn’t the only vehicle-friend voice assistant available for cars. Apple’s Siri and Google’s Android Auto promise similar capabilities, and most major carmakers — including BMW, General Motors and Mercedes — have already introduced voice-recognition systems.

Autonomous Vehicles

Self-driving technology was one of the hottest topics at CES, and it was a major focus of Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn’s Jan. 5 keynote speech. In addition to adding the semi-autonomous ProPilot system to the next-generation Nissan Leaf, Ghosn reported that the Japanese automaker is developing a technology called Seamless Autonomous Mobility that signals a command center when it needs help. This functions similarly to a traffic cop using hand signals to aid pedestrians and reroute cars so everything runs together smoothly and safely, CNET reports.

With all these innovations, automakers are dreaming big on autonomous vehicles. Sweden can look forward to Volvo delivering a fleet of 100 self-driving cars to real-world customers on public roads into the country. Volvo hopes that this long-term endeavor to increase the use of self-driving cars by everyday citizens will empower the country to travel calmer, safer and cleaner.

VR Without Wires

Virtual reality headsets have been around for a while, but it’s still early days for VR technology, which shows huge potential not only for immersive gaming but also for training simulations and hazardous environments where VR visor-wearing professionals control drones and robots from afar.

Today’s VR headsets from HTC, Oculus, Google and Samsung are bulky and wired, limiting their usefulness. This may change soon, however, if Intel’s Project Alloy effort delivers on its promise. Unlike today’s VR gear, Project Alloy devices plan to place all processing and graphics capabilities inside the headset, eliminating the need to connect to a separate desktop or laptop PC, reports USA TODAY. Intel reported at the conference that it’s currently actively working with its manufacturing partners to develop commercial Project Alloy products, which should arrive later this year.

Robot Coworkers

The idea of efficient, tireless and competent robots replacing office workers isn’t necessarily a comforting thought, but bots are arguably better-equipped to handle certain tasks. Wavebot, an intelligent service robot on display at CES 2017, is the brainchild of robot-builder Ling Al. The thin, black Wavebot uses facial and voice recognition to identify colleagues and listen to conversations. In patrol mode, Wavebot can move in a set pattern, detect motion and even contact authorities when needed, reports VentureBeat.

Drones: Better, Cheaper

Flying machines were buzzing around the CES show floor, which isn’t surprising. What’s new is that drones are getting less expensive as Chinese manufacturers enter the market. Take, for instance, DJI’s Phantom 4, currently marked at $999, down from about $1,400 last year, according to The New York Times. Prices are expected to drop even further in 2017, says Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin, who notes that drones will add new capabilities including advanced tracking abilities.

The new tech innovations revealed at CES 2017, as well as the dreamers behind them, aim to lead us into a safer, more productive and exciting future.

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About The Author

Jeff Bertolucci

News Writer

Jeff Bertolucci is a Los Angeles-based journalist specializing in technology, digital media, and education. His work has appeared in Kiplinger's Personal Finance, InformationWeek, PCWorld, Macworld, The Saturday Evening Post, The Los Angeles Times and many other publications.