VR, Smart Gadgets, China Innovations Break Through All The Hype At CES 2017

Benjamin Joffe of HAX showcases China hardware startups at CES

The biggest debate going on this year at the Consumer Electronics Show is, what exactly was really new, inventive, breakthrough?

Walking the floor of the show brought close-ups of a lot of connected gadgets for smart everything – homes, cities, cars, lights, weights, watches, clothes, appliances, energy, health and so on. The smartest of these Internet of things leveraged artificial intelligence to make them more useful. But while these and all the Alexi and Siri-powered gadgets sound like must haves in a new age for electronics, you have to wonder how many of these odd devices are really necessary, or just another digital nuisance or toy. Do we really need a digitally connected, data intensive toothbrush, lawn mower, cat pop scooper or dumbbell, just to name a few examples.

Then there were the drones. While all the rage last year, the most exciting thing going on there this year was the small paper airplane turned into a drone. Have to say that the AI-empowered robots were getting a lot more attention than drones.

Not to be missed were dozen of booths devoted to virtual reality and a big presence from HTC Vive with its new specialized accessories, and Samsung Gear, and its ever-so-exciting VR-enhanced theme park rides. Here, the big question was how much hype is surrounding VR.  Will VR go the way of 3D printing, which has seemed to have lost its way in consumer markets?

It was clear that the buzz is about startups today, not so much innovation coming from the corporates. The Sands Convention Hall, which housed the emerging companies, was larger than ever and jammed with earnest lookers–not that the main Convention Hall wasn’t. Crowd financing provider Indiegogo was front and center in the main startup area.

The large presence of international tech companies was notable, with large contingents from Israel (46 startups) and France, which had more than one-third of the more than 600 startups exhibiting. Chinese tech was notable too, from the titans such as Alibaba, Xiaomi, LeEco, Huawei, Baidu, DJI and ZTE that introduced new products to a wide range of startups spanning all kinds of technology that are helping China shed its reputation as just a copier but increasingly an innovator.

What stood out among the Chinese startups was fingerprint sensor system Goodix, healthtech wearable company Vivalnk, AI-empowered robotics maker Ubtech; the interactive smartwatch Mobvoi; the hybrid golf cart, mini car designer Eli Zero; intelligent hardware operating system Thundersoft, nanotechnology biosensors eNano Health (with a lady founder Winnie Leung) and from Taiwan, an Internet of Vehicles (new term, IOV!) scooter Kymco. Shenzhen-based accelerator HAX had 80 deep hardware tech startups on display — a contrast to the numerous lower-end, small manufacturers mostly from Shenzhen and Dongguan tucked toward the back of the exhibit space.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the futuristic unveiling of superfast electric vehicle from China-connected Faraday Future, which claims to have 65,000 pre-orders in just two days of the show.

Sure, CES was exciting. There were loads of parties, panels and several side shows where the action centered on the next, new thing in tech. It was obvious that technology has gone mainstream in both the consumer and business worlds. Many major services were there to capitalize on the commercialization trend at CES, from the firms in management consulting, law, advertising and finance to the public relations firms and media outlets as well. No one wants to miss out, and all are getting smarter about it.