Here’s a true story from this year’s CES event. A ski boot company launched a new model with a new design, modern materials and technology. So, they were proud to come with it to CES. But when they arrived, various attendees started to ask them what kind of data the ski boots are collecting and how it could be utilized. The creators of those newly designed ski boots quickly realized that sensors and data are important elements in ski-boot design.
This story illustrates the fact that data is unavoidable in any business. Data and tools to utilize it are coming from everywhere. If your product cannot collect, store and utilize data, it starts to look strange and even become an obstacle to sales. I wrote last year that MWC had become a data and AI show – the same is happening for CES too.
This year is CES’s big comeback after several virtual events during the COVID lockdown. The Consumer Technology Association, which organizes CES annually, estimates that about 100,000 attendees were present at the event in Las Vegas, double the size of last year’s event. That shows at least there is demand for physical events.
But the focus has also shifted from earlier years. For example, mobile phones and other electric devices – even robots – are not so interesting anymore if they are not connected and don’t utilize data in some way. All devices need to be more connected and have more intelligence. Ecosystems and interfaces are also important.
Key components in the data business
Basically, we can say the main components in the data business are 1) sensors and other sources to collect data, 2) the capability to transfer, store and organize data, and 3) applications to utilize the data. The basic structure is the same, whether we talk about devices and solutions for home, personal use, vehicles, hospitals, or various industries. And all those components are really needed to create useful applications. Smart AI doesn’t work without quality data; many sensors are of no value if the data cannot be utilized; and data must be organized, cleaned and pre-processed if it is going to be useful.
Vehicles smarter homes and personal sensors and health devices and were the visible categories at this year’s show. Home and vehicle products and solutions also included another important theme for this year’s event: energy efficiency. That’s to be expected with current energy prices. But actually many products go beyond the current situation.
Electric autonomous cars are coming, but electric bicycles and motorcycles were also at the show. They have a lot of sensors that assist drivers as well as optimize functionality. Recharging them is also linked to data, which can be used to optimize the process. This is true not only for vehicles but many other connected devices we need to charge. In fact, homes and vehicles are becoming charging and data connectivity stations themselves.
Sensors are appearing everywhere. We already have a word for this: ‘sensorization’. It starts from wearables, clothes and footwear. We are constantly seeing new sensors that are smaller, less power-hungry and more capable. At the same time, sensors are becoming a commodity, although their development needs a lot of hardware competence and production capability. Korean and Taiwanese companies were especially visible at CES with their hardware solutions. And there are also innovations in areas such as, for example, how to make smaller batteries and integrate sensors into textiles.
Sensors also measure and analyze all kinds of body functions related to health and wellbeing. One popular category at CES was smart toilets, where even bowl sound analysis is a thing. Brain activities was another hot product area, with many new products from brain wave helmets to glasses. Meanwhile, the food we eat can be analyzed based on plate photos.
Makeup and skin analysis is another fast-growing category to better find the right makeup and even virtually test different skin products. And of course shoes have sensors. So we can really say we are going to have sensors from head to toe.
Also, these products are not only for human beings. Pets – especially dogs – also now have sensors and apps for their wellbeing and health. For example, there were mattresses and collars for dogs to measure their heart rate, movement and sleep, and then analyze their health and indicate treatment needs based on the resulting data.
Sustainable sensor models
Earlier many wearables companies wanted to offer a full solution – i.e. the device, a proprietary data model and app. This is not a sustainable model when sensors are coming to everything we wear and everywhere we live. Discussions with sensor and data ecosystem companies during this year’s CES confirm that many companies are now accepting this fact.
For example, many sensor, IoT and wearables companies are willing to open their data models and data to companies that can offer data infrastructure and applications to users. This is important for the whole ecosystem; it enables us to combine data from different sources and have more resources and competition for data analysis and app development.
We still have questions about what kind of data ecosystems we’ll get and who’ll dominate them. For example, Google is obviously active in this area, but more consumers, companies and policymakers are keen on solutions where consumers can better control and utilize their own data. Data from personal body sensors and home sensors is very sensitive – individuals don’t really want companies sharing and monetizing it.
So, all in all, this year’s CES was really about connected devices that can collect, analyze and utilize data to offer better and more effective functionality. There have been visions and signs of sensorization, smart devices and products for years, but now we can see these visions are becoming reality. These smart products will come into our lives, help us to navigate daily situations, advise with wellbeing and health and become integrated into many services we use.
There is still a lot of work to do in many of these areas, but when we now look at the offerings at CES, and how sensors and data collection and intelligence are becoming ubiquitous, this is clearly a development no one can stop.