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Trends everyone missed at this year's CES


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Every year that I attend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, I reach a point of sensory overload. It’s not just from all the people, lights, noise and smells, but an overload of product strategies and emerging trends for the coming year.

As events go, it’s one of the largest in the world, attracting a record 170,000 people, including 45,000 from other countries. Out of 3,600 exhibitors, 375 of them were startups, with special attention being paid to them in an exhibit area called Eureka Park.

In so many ways, CES sets the tone for the global economy, with tens of thousands of private meetings being conducted in the background forcing more deals to be cut in a shorter period of time than virtually any other event on the planet.

Walking across the exhibit floors is quite a mind-expanding experience. Since I tend to use a radically different set of lenses to experience this show, I walked away with some rather unusual perspectives.

For this reason, I’d like to mention 12 trends everyone seemed to have missed at CES.

1.) Traditional Gambling Usurped by Video Games - Even though the gambling industry is trying to tell the world it’s fine, the numbers simply don’t add up. In its 2013 State of the States report, the American Gaming Association reported that 39 percent of people age 21-35 spent time in casinos, with 90 percent saying they planned to return. Around the same time, a survey of 3,000 young adults in 16 markets in the Northeast found that only 18 percent of those under 35 had visited a casino in the past year.

At CES, I walked through dozens of major casinos along the strip and never once did I see a casino operating at more than 15 percent capacity. The biggest event of all in Vegas and the number of empty seats could fill several giant football stadiums.

However there could be a light at the end of this tunnel of gloom. Since young people would much rather play fast-action rapidly-advancing video games, and gambling laws for slot machines and roulette tables haven’t changed much since the 1950s, the best option may be to build large video game tournament centers and allow people to bet on the action, similar to betting on college basketball.

If casino owners in Vegas were to pick up on this idea, and you heard it first here, major hotels throughout the city could be retrofitted into a video game tournament centers, where every major title from Call of Duty, to Middle Earth, Bayonetta, Wolfenstein and Destiny would have annual competitions. Las Vegas could once again reclaim it’s position, only this time with a new kind of gambling that appeals in a huge way to today’s young people.


2.) Formation of the Underground Economy for Flying Drones - Flying drones are hot! With over 100 exhibitors at CES showing off the latest in drone tech and the FAA saying the whole industry needs to hold tight until sometime in 2017, the only direction this industry can possibly go is underground.

Yeah, theres something very ironic about a highly visible industry involving flying objects creating an underground economy, but since the FAA doesn’t have an enforcement division, and since the operators will soon be miles away from where the machines are flying, it becomes a low risk crime.

That, coupled with a drone industry that is progressing at an exponential rate, while the FAA is still operating with a linear progression mindset, means that we’ll be seeing the equivalent of policemen blowing whistles running down the street trying to stop hyper jet drones flying at 2,000 mph in less than two years.


3.) First Generation Mood-Casters - The Internet of Things had a huge presence at CES as well as vendors offering every kind of Smart Home tech imaginable. The one thing both of these emerging industries has in common is their quest to make life more manageable for everyone.

But here’s the problem. Everyone is different.

So while giving people have access to 10,000 options for controlling the lights in their house or giving them streaming access to a million new songs, video games, or TV shows may sound appealing, all these decision points adds more stress to a person’s day, not less.

There is, however, a solution - Mood-Casting.

If every smart device were able to tap into the mood of people it came into contact with, it could easily make the decisions for them. The good news is that much of today’s wearable technology is giving off the signals necessary for these devices to instantly fine tune their decision-making processes.

For example, if a person walked into a room and the lighting was too harsh, sensors could read common stress indicators and keep making changes to the brightness, color, and intensity until it reached an optimal level.

Mood-Casters could be used to play the perfect music while working out, driving, or trying to relax. Every fire in a fireplace could be altered in both color and brilliance to match the desires of those nearby. Restaurants could adjust the smells in their dining rooms until they were optimized for guests on a moment by moment basis. (i.e. people may prefer a different smell while eating appetizers as opposed to eating dessert.)


4.) The Rise of the Health care Circumventionist – Health care is a hierarchical industry with doctors firmly entrenched on the top rung. It is also one of the world’s most lucrative industries. The entrepreneurial community knows this and has been plotting for years to find ways to tap into these revenue streams.

Doctors, in general, are not a big fan of the hundreds of medical devices coming out of the woodwork that are designed to circumvent their authority.

They’re even less of a fan of the big data analysts, who have never once studied medicine, that are telling them what to do.

In just a few years, many people will be switching from going in for a “medical checkup” to having a “health analytics screening.”

With hundreds of new entries into the emerging wearable tech industry coming out of the woodwork, in just a few years, most people will be able to make their own diagnosis before ever setting foot in the doctor's office. The piece that entrepreneurs will have the greatest difficulty prying away from doctors is their ability to write prescriptions. But that too is destined to be undermined with technology work-around.

5.) Becoming One with My Virtual Self - Every time I look at the Internet through the rectangular screen on my desk, I wonder what it would be like to have a screen 10 times bigger. Better yet, what would it be like to eliminate the screen altogether.

In many ways, CES has been this ongoing competition to see which big industry player can cram the most TVs into their exhibit space in the most interesting fashion. Seeing more than a thousand 4K TVs integrated into one massive 40-foot high video wall is impressive to say the least.

The days of “observer-based” television is on the verge of being replaced with immersive VR, and eliminating the limitations of the viewing screen is only the first of 10,000 steps towards having the observer integrated into the entertainment experience.

Recent studies have shown that VR users can feel like they’re part of what’s happening just by being able to view their own hands. Viewable hands will lead to other viewable body parts, as well as friends, pets, and other non-real characters.

Just as 3D television is now losing its annoying glasses, over time, virtual reality will lose the goggles and be blended into our real-life experiences, with an entirely new genre’s of entertainment entering the fold.


6.) Smart Things Vs Smarter Things - In much the same way toy companies began giving a voice to every fuzzy and plastic creature in play land, companies are finding it increasingly easy to make intelligence the differentiator in virtually every new product.

With everything from connected toothbrushes, to smart heated insoles for your shoes, belts that automatically readjust themselves, and helmets that autocorrect their venting system to keep a person’s head cool, the Internet of Things is providing wireless intelligence and connectivity to everything we interact with.

At the heart of the Internet of Things is a micro sensor industry where every new kind of sensor will create an entire new industry, and the sensors themself are becoming exponentially cheaper, smaller, and more ubiquitous.

Projections show the world breaking the trillion sensor barrier in less than 10 years, and the 100 trillion sensor milestone around 20 years from now.

Sensors are meaningless if not connected to other parts of the “anatomy,” and that’s where MEMS (microelectronic mechanical systems), very small machines, come into play. MEMS are the devices that power everyday things like the Pebble Watch, smart light bulbs, and real-time blood-sugar monitors.

Even though the amount of “intelligence” being added to devices today is still primitive, the trend is towards a universe where devices become aware of changes made by other devices and respond accordingly.

Technologies like Intel’s button-sized Curie device is a step toward integrating far more processing power into wearable tech and its field of sensors.

All this integration is setting the stage for the emerging operating system battlefield.

Coming up: The last six.

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Thomas Frey

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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