CES 2019 | Reflections & Implications for Cincinnati

As I reflect on CES 2019, all roads continued to converge towards an always-on, AI-powered “concierge desk.”  24/7 service. Talking robots. Voice activation.  Personalized health advice. Consultative “smart” kitchens. Virtual nurses or doctors. Auto “guides.”  Even the smooth reassuring voice of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant (now singing w/hundreds of partners).

The vast majority of devices on display at CES last week offered utility, service, and instant answers. For example, Lenovo now has an Alexa-powered smart clock, and Google Assistant’s now been integrated with select Disney books to integrate choice music with adult storytelling to a child. The penetration numbers are staggering. Amazon has now sold 100 million devices, and Google claims “Assistant” will be embedded on a billion devices by the end of the month.

Check it out: A link to the livestream of our ‘Virtual CES from Union Hall

CES 2019 also confirmed the AI behind these devices keeps getting smarter.  Five years ago, AI systems had an error rate of about 23%, but today they have reached parity with humans.

Startups continued to own a bigger share of exhibition “shelf” via the Tech West and Eureka Park areas.  Moreover, a huge number of the startups crowdsourced via players like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, a development our Fund Manager, Sarah Anderson, discussed in our Virtual CES Q&A.  The theme of “Smart Cities” was evident across many of the vendor exhibits and panel discussions.

Top 10 Highlights

Now, it only takes a Google search or #CES2019 hashtag double-click to unleash a fire-hydrant of event learning, but I’d like to call out ten (10) areas that really inspired me (and many members of the Cintrifuse team).  In winnowing this down, I factored in social media buzz, Cincinnati company participation, and promising technologies we might improve, adapt, or leapfrog in our startup efforts.

1 – Connected Health & FemTech:  The Tech West area of CES was heavily devoted to wearables, fitness tech, health-tech, and even FemTech.  Healthcare consumer devices leaped well past calorie counting and step/arm movements to de facto portable doctorsWithings’ BPM Corp puts a digital stethoscope in its at-home blood pressure cuff, meaning you can take electrocardiograms and get real-time monitoring of your heartbeat and analyze for heart conditions. Deregulation for everyday hearing aids, now available directly without a doctor’s prescription, opens the gates for incumbents like Bose and Apple to create clinical application of hearing technology. Cintrifuse VP of BigCo Innovation Emily Geiger highlighted much of this in our panel discussion, including the achievement of Hillman company Proov which measures pregnancy hormones formerly done with tests that were only available at doctor’s office. “The ‘quantified self’ movement is reaching mainstream,” Emily noted.

2 – French Version of Cintrifuse Storms Vegas!   Of the 1200 start-ups on display at CES, 315 were from France (part of Le French Tech consortium) followed by 293 from the US, 107 from South Korea, and significant number from China (according to CES organizers). France was exceptionally well organized, and I’ve now seen the Le French Tech cluster in trade shows across the globe. Interestingly, North Carolina also had an organized presence with over 20 startups on display. Among the French startups, I particularly liked Mywah’s “Edgar Wine Butler,” a connected wine dispenser which uses RFID-tagged bags and WiFi to track wine stock, portioning and remote monitoring and can serve three different kinds of wines at their right temperature, immediately and continuously.

3 – P&G Puts Real Skin in the Game:  Unlike previous years, P&G stood out at CES in a big way, especially around “Connected Beauty” via products like “Opte Precision Wand” which scans you face with a tiny camera at 200 frames per second, detects trouble spots, and instantly applies a remedy serum. P&G Ventures also showcased a line of new soaps and other cleaning products that don’t contain water or require plastic packaging.  Perhaps most interesting, some of these products were initially tested on Indiegogo, a popular crowd-sourcing platform.

4 – Go Sun Innovation Award:  Cincinnati startup GoSun was awarded the CES 2019 Climate Change Innovator Award.  The hybrid solar cooker is the world’s first portable, electric oven to work off-grid– the most resourceful source clean-energy available. The GoSun Fusion is reportedly five times more efficient than anything else on the market, through (1) reduced power consumption (2) reduced weight (3) deployment of off-the-grid solar energy, including a back-up re-chargeable lithium-ion battery power bank and (4) a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions with zero need for fuel.

5 – AI-enabled Augmentation of Personalized Healthcare:  CES confirmed that AI is already powering a next-generation of Telemedicine and remote-driven surgeries.  Now it is coming home, combined with IoT, to revolutionize health and wellness.   Wearables are measuring a growing number of factors, and tailored technologies are impacting everything from oral care, hearing, vision, skin care, sleep, and support for chronic conditions. Nanit’s Breathing Wear can be used to monitor a child’s breathing remotely (using a mounted HD camera and AI).  Smart Sleep from Philips brings a family of clinically validated smart devices to monitor sleep, reduce snoring, and improve sleep quality.

6 – Kroger & Microsoft Push Boundaries:  Also generating some CES buzz was the release of additional details on the Microsoft/Kroger relationship around digital-retail strategy.  In essence, Kroger is building a retail-as-a-service offering on top of Azure and will use some Azure AI technologies. Microsoft and Azure will jointly market Kroger’s commercial retail-as-a-service (RaaS) product based on this solution to other retailers, officials said.  Azure will store and process data generated in stores, near smart shelves and on Kroger’s application.

7 – Advertising Without Ads:  The CMOs for both Unilever and P&G made important noise on stage at CES around the state of advertising. Unilever CMO Keith Weed continued his appeal for industry solutions such as blockchain to fix a broken digital ecosystem.  P&G was even more provocative, noting that the “days of advertising as we know it today are numbered… We need to start thinking about a world with no ads.” (Say what?!?)

8 – Transformation of the Kitchen:  This was humbling! Three years ago Nestle was the first company to pair voice activation with visual browsing for recipe solutions. Now that seems trivial.  Google’s Kitchen Aid Smart display allows you to do a host of interactive engagement around anything going on in the kitchen. It responds to voice commands, and you can also use the touchscreen to control your smart home gadgets and search local restaurants.  CES saw dozens of impressive “smart kitchen” innovation.

9 – Gaming Pushes Sensory Boundries:  Imagine if you could feel your PC gaming — every shot, jump, or explosion? Razer’s HyperSense is converting 3D sound into haptic feedback, making gaming worlds more immersive. At CES, Razer showed off a gaming chair, keyboard wrist pad rest, and a gaming mouse with built-in haptic feedback synced to Overwatch and Doom.  If you are scratching your head, talk to your kid, grandchild or any kid on the street.

10 – 5G is Finally Arriving: Lastly, 5G is real.  5G is a connectivity technology focused on delivery MORE to the consumer.  This means our smartphones will soon be able to stream 4K video, download a movie in seconds, and allow developers to write bigger, more robust, and certainly more “immersive” and “experiential” apps.

Now, wait a second – I barely mentioned blockchain.  Tis true, as I do worry about the hype curve! That said, I do believe the work IBM is facilitating related to blockchain and “food trust” shows tremendous promise. At Nestle, we joined P&G & Walmart in this exploratory w/IBM. If you want to geek-out on this topic, you can see a CES overview of the IBM food trust work (Go to 1:08 in the video.)

Closing with a Bold Idea! 

Considering our ambition to be the #1 startup hub in the Midwest, and one of the top innovation hubs in the country, I actually wonder whether there’s a big opportunity to create our own “mini-CES.”  Put another way, can Cincinnati be a mega-conference ankle-biter?   

Why not start thinking about laying foundation for our own event – imagine the “Greater Cincinnati Consumer Show– that not only puts our startups on display, but also draws the outside vendors and companies to Cincinnati (not unlike the Detroit Auto Show) to showcase their best products.

If we’re truly a “consumer” center of gravity (going as far back as 1800s), why not grab a piece of the future?  And if we anchor such an event to the emerging trends we regularly touch (and in some cases own) – connected health, everywhere commerce, multi-sensory experiences – we might just surprise ourselves.  We also bring a “FinTech” edge (banks, insurance players, payment processors) that could more holistic, integrated wrapper around the consumer opportunity.

Here I suspect our “Midwest mindset” might bring a more nuanced conversation around the more complicated realities of emerging tech.  Indeed, the proliferation of AI opens hard questions about job tradeoffs.  Smart devices anchored to “personalization at scale” raise hard (mostly unresolved) issues around consumer trust (which barely got discussed at CES in my view).

As you can see, I’m inspired!  I welcome your feedback or builds! Again, feel free to share.

(I also want to credit my friend and former PlanetFeedback/Intelliseek CTO Sundar Kadayam for helping me scour the vast universe of CES content.)