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5 Technologies to Watch for at This Week’s Consumer Electronics Show

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Image from CES 2013 courtesy of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)

As the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has grown to mammoth proportions in recent the years, you would be hard-pressed to come up with a technology category that is not represented. Carmakers and healthcare providers have jumped into the consumer tech market with both feet, joining the dozens of makers of PCs, mobile phones, entertainment appliances and related accessories that have been making annual January pilgrimage to Las Vegas since the mid-1990s.

1) Wearables
CES 2014 promises plenty of gadgets building  on tech trends that have blossomed over the past year. Smartwatches—including the Qualcomm Toq—and other wearable devices for health and fitness will get a lot of attention, particularly in the wake of Samsung’s high-profile 2013 Galaxy Gear launch and speculation that Apple will enter that market this year with an “iWatch” or similarly named product.

There will be 215 different companies presenting digital-health related products this year, up 40 percent from a year ago, according to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), which organizes CES. Similarly, 169 companies plugging digital-fitness products will be on the show floor, up 30 percent from CES 2013. The volume of wearable technology at this year’s CES shouldn’t come as a surprise. Vendors sold as much as $2 billion worth of these devices worldwide in 2013, and the market is expected to grow to $8 billion in 2018, according to John Curran, a senior executive for the consulting firm Accenture.

2) 3-D Printing
3-D printing will continue its strong showing at CES with more than three times as many vendors as last year. Makerbot Industries, Stratasys, 3D Systems and Sculpteo are just a few of the 30 companies expected to be  [promoting printers, supplies and apps that help the average consumer make custom-designed items. Tech heavyweight HP could well throw its hat into the 3-D printing ring this year, although it probably won’t do so at CES, Curran says.

3) Ultra High-Definition TV (4K)
3-D televisions will be decidedly less popular than 3-D printers this year, but ultra high-definition TVs—which deliver four times the picture resolution of a regular HD set—will attract their fair share of attention, Curran predicts. Starting at about $5,000, 4K TVs are still expensive, and not much content can yet take full advantage of such screen clarity. TV makers will look to address both cost and content at CES this year. “The killer apps for these TVs are sports and movies, and gaming to some extent,” Curran adds.

4) Phablets
Now that smartphones and tablets have become so pervasive, it’s no wonder that the “phablet” category has emerged in the past year or so to appeal to consumers who think their phone’s screen is too small and their tablet too big. With screen sizes from 5 to 6.9 inches (anything bigger is a mini tablet), phablets are basically a cell phone with a larger screen optimized for watching TV and videos. Samsung jumped on this trend quickly, followed by LG and Huawei. Other vendors will probably  follow suit in the coming year, using CES as a springboard. Accenture expects as many as 200 million phablets to be sold by 2016, so look for several new models to debut this week.

5) Energy-Efficient and Driverless Autos
This year’s CES will also feature nine of the world’s 10 biggest automakers, including Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Ford, GM, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota. Car companies have increasingly sought out the show in recent years as a way to promote in-car entertainment systems and fuel-efficiency features they hope will appeal to the average car buyer. Ford will have its C-MAX Solar Energi Concept on display at the show. This prototype vehicle promises drivers the ability to recharge the plug-in hybrid’s lithium-ion battery using solar panels installed on the C-MAX’s roof. Ford is also developing a special canopy and onboard sun-tracking system to speed up the recharging process. BMW, meanwhile, will have its first all-electric car—the i3—on display as well.

Several vendors in the automobile industry will also look to generate enthusiasm for driverless cars, which these companies see as a potential market within the next few years. Induct, Ford and Bosch will offer CES attendees test rides in their autonomous vehicles. French automotive components manufacturer Valeo is expected to demonstrate technology that enables vehicles to park themselves but won’t be taking any passengers.

Larry Greenemeier About the Author: Larry Greenemeier is the associate editor of technology for Scientific American, covering a variety of tech-related topics, including biotech, computers, military tech, nanotech and robots. Follow on Twitter @lggreenemeier.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. dbtinc 8:34 am 01/6/2014

    Sounds like we’re running out of ideas. 4K – another way of selling more TV’s. Didn’t work for 3D and it won’t work here. No new bandwidth for one reason alone.

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  2. 2. sault 12:21 pm 01/6/2014

    The Solar Energi concept is not a simple as this article makes it out to be. First of all, it has to be parked under a large carport that acts as a lense to focus sunlight on it’s body-mounted solar panels in order to generate a usable amount of energy. Secondly, the car automatically moves a few meters over the course of a day in order to stay in the focus of the solar beam. This high-intensity solar beam will make thermal management of the solar cells and the interior cabin a little complicated, but it’s not a showstopper. While this setup would be impractical for attached garages or areas without a lot of direct sunlight, many businesses would also be hard-pressed to set these up for their employees or customers in lieu of a few charging stations. It’s a neat demonstration of a concept, but I think it has a lot of difficulty in practice.

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  3. 3. lesizz 8:11 pm 01/7/2014

    What a huge disappointment. Tech is progressing in such baby steps these days. Here’s what I’d expect of these technologies by now:
    1) Wearables: You still have to put them on, turn them on and distract yourself to input from them. I would expect “Swallowable” tech that would interface directly with the brain.
    2) 3-D Printing: Only 3D? String Theory is off into many more dimensions, why not printers?
    and so on…

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