Four Takeaways From CES for Librarians #4for14

Brian Pichman attended the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year and shared his thoughts on the big themes unveiled as they impact libraries.  The four major areas are: Home/Life Automation, Wearable Technologies, Self-Driving Cars, Current Tech (3D Printers/4K TVs/3D TVs).


The following is from Brian Pichman

Consumer Electronic Show 2014 Recap

Every year, Las Vegas is becomes swamped with technology enthusiast, all gravitating in to hear about the latest and greatest in technology and other gadgets. Companies from across the globe, like Samsung and Sony, and all the way down to small start-up companies make an appearance in presentations, exhibits, or to simply see what other companies are doing. These companies are providing demos, pre-release information, and some even give products away.

Out of over 150,000 industry professionals in technology, I was lucky enough to be in attendance. While being there, my goal was to spread the

word of Libraries to the exhibitors, and ask if they have considered libraries as places to market their products too and build those partnerships up. There was more than 3,200 exhibitors crammed together in a two million square feet exhibit hall…which is the equivalent to roughly 35 football fields (assuming the football fields are 57,600 sq feet). For me to walk up and down and visit the majority of the exhibits, I walked (according to my fitbit) over 20 miles between those exhibits and conference halls during three days.

I noticed a lot of really unique trends; namely, they are revolve around sensors and how those sensors communicate with each other and their user. There wasn’t really anything “new” or completely earth shattering, as the majority of the new technology being demoed was just a new arrangement and placement of sensors. I broke this down into a few different categories:

Home Automation / Life Automation
A few companies (such as Whirlpool and LG) where demoing their new “innovative” cooking surfaces and smart fridges. Essentially, your stove can now communicate to your fridge. You can send a recipe you plan on making to your fridge, and your fridge can verify the necessary ingredients. It can detect how many eggs you have left, and if you have enough milk. You can pull up the recipe on your cook top stove, and simply by touching the surface, you can change the temperature and move recipes around as if it was a giant iPad that can warm up any spot you place a pot on.

On the other side of the coin, in regards to home automation, companies such as Nest and Canary and Drop Cam can learn our habits, identify whose coming home and when, adjust temperature accordingly, and alert us if unexpected arrivals happen. Pretty freaky uh?

Wearable Technologies

The other huge sections at CES was the wearable technologies…mostly Health / Performance monitors that detect movement, distance, heart rate, and even blood pressure. From FitBit to FitBark (not affiliated with FitBit) technologies can be worn and they track and analyze how we perform. They even have wearable performance monitors for dogs…one of the two companies I saw was called the FitBark.

There was other wearable technologies that included augmented reality and wearable gear to take photos and glasses that can record video (like the Google Glass). As a side note, there was a few companies showing very similar products to Google Glass (runs via Android and communicates to your Android device) all well under $1,000 …much less than the $1,500 Google Glass. What was really interesting was a company that developed wearable glasses for the visually impaired that will actually read books for them, and learn their gestures and replay information via headphones to them.

Self-Driving Cars

Lots of people were huddled around Google’s Self-Driven car and Audi’s press release of their self-driven cars drew even more people in. This seems to be coming in the near future to be more affordable, and it appears that a lot of states are preparing new laws for the Self Driving cars. I didn’t spend too much time in the car exhibits to hear more, but this is something to keep track of. It would become very interesting as this plays out. Maybe we can get self-driven book carts, self-driven interlibrary loan vehicles, etc…

But now let’s take a step back, from a component perspective a lot of these are all technologies we have already had. Self-driven cars are just a pile (a massive pile) of sensors, cameras, and intercommunicating technology. As for the other tech, we have had cameras that can detect movement for decades, we have been using touch technology for what feels like forever. We have devices that can detect temperature, and others that detect activity and stress amounts. The difference is how these devices interact and how they analyze data and where that data is sent next till it is finally delivered to us highlighting the content that we actually need to know. A fun fact I heard was that your mobile phone has roughly 12-17 different sensors on it already.

Current Tech: 3D Printers / 4K TVs / 3D TVs

Now, these things, by far, are not necessarily new. Sony, Samsung, LG, had massive TV displays showing off their new hip and happening TVs. Yes, it was super cool to watch and experience; a really nice “wow” factor. But all in all, most places don’t even have the wall space to hang some of these larger TVs. I personally don’t think 3D TVs are going to take off, as they have been trying to push the whole “3D in your home” for at least 15 years now, and I think the movie Avatar was the last breath taking 3D Movie that everyone was talking about.

There was a decent amount of 3D Printing companies, showing off their 3D Printers and even taking 3D scans of your face and printing it out. I understand the rave and the hype of 3D Printers, but they have been around since the 1980s, and only recently have been marketed more towards the consumer end of things. What I liked most of these exhibits was the new companies that people haven’t even heard of. One company, called Robo sells their 3D Printers for well under $1000, and it has amazing quality. They weren’t the only company selling high end 3D printers at much lower costs than the better branded companies. That’s something to keep in mind if your library is shopping around for 3D Printers.

Things To Watch:

I saw one company (Tobii) who had technology that could track eye movement. You would hook up this device to your tablet, and you can play Fruit Ninja (or move your mouse) just by moving your eyes across the tablet. This gave me an incredible headache, but it will be interesting how that pans out.

Other things I noticed was the desire for mobile power. One company called Dark Energy has products that can keep your phone charged for weeks if you are away from your power outlet.

A few other companies made debut’s within robotics, from SmartPhone controlled robots to robots that you can build with Lego-Like pieces, all designed for the STEM learning model.

There are a lot of people trying to blend Physical back to Digital spaces – everything from interactive playgrounds (Playworld Systems Inc) to companies that offer easy to program physical technologies like Play-I. I noticed a lot more technology geared for children, including mobile phones that can track everything down to calls and alert the parents when they go out of their “geo-fence” {a geographic perimeter you can setup on a map as “boundaries”}. Others had watches that act as phones and can’t be removed in case the parents needs to contact their child, or the child has an emergency and needs to contact their parents. There are even tablets out now that in order to be used, children have to answer questions and do activities to earn “game-time” on the device.

Overall, there was a lot to do and see at CES. This is just a small snip-it of what I saw, and I didn’t even get to see everything at CES. You can see some photos on my Flickr page here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/113019908@N08/sets/72157639204052603/ which also includes videos from the Wearable Technology Fashion show.

More reviews and updates will be posted on my blog at http://www.evolveproject.org as I frame up and continue conversations with a variety of companies I met while at CES. A lot of these companies want to help reshape libraries and bring in new technology to better our libraries, our communities, and ourselves.

– Brian Pichman.
Brian works with the Evolve Project “changing the way people see libraries.”   @bpichman


It seems to me that many of these tech updates though impactful are not grand revolutions (the VCR and tablets were unveiled at past CES events), reflecting a larger trend of incremental change happening now. With less dramatic revolutions in tech, it may be easier to trace directions of change and be a part of these technologies. How will wearable tech, home automation, smart cars etc provide opportunities for your libraries?

What else do you think librarians should take from this year’s CES?

What are your 4for14?

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