The future promises better wearable electronics, interactive screens on everyday items and massive amounts of data harvesting.
Wade Holmes, director of engineering and technology at TDS, was one of approximately 170,000 visitors at last week’s 2016 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
“This is the fifth year I’ve gone,” Holmes said Thursday. “In some ways, it’s amazing how little things change from year to year. The first time you see a new technology, it’s often a solution looking for a problem. But the further it’s (developed), it becomes more practical.”
Holmes, himself an avid runner, pointed to wearable electronics as an example.
“We’re finally starting to see more practical things,” he said, pointing out a belt produced by Samsung called the Welt — it’s a wellness belt, get it? — that tracks its users steps, how long they’ve been sitting and waist change. “You don’t want something embedded in your shirt or pants or shoes, but a belt makes more sense.”
For bike commuters and runners, Los Angeles-based Lumenus previewed jackets and backpacks that have their own turning signals and brake lights. Users enter their destination into their smartphone before they ride or run and the jacket or pack flashes hazard lights at intersections and turn signals before route changes.
Augmented reality — technology that layers computer images on top of real-world visuals — also shined at this year’s show, Holmes said.
“We really saw less virtual reality and more augmented reality this year,” he noted. “For example, a smartphone that scans the room and makes a 3D model of everything in the room. Now we can go into an augmented reality world where we take what originally existed in that room and manipulate it.
“We could take the table and the desk from the office and put them in the middle of a field,” Holmes continued. “Augmented reality allows us to take something super basic and allows us to have a whole different experience.”
Also looking to make the leap from conceptual to functional, Holmes said, are interactive surfaces on everything from car consoles and coffee tables to refrigerators.
“The front of your fridge, it’ll have an interactive pane that you can order groceries from,” Holmes said. “When you’re at the store, you can look at your smartphone and see a photo of the last time your fridge was opened and see what you need. The fridge could conceivably keep an inventory of everything that goes in and out and help tell you when goods have expired.
“The way the industry would love to see this technology go,” he added, “is that when you’re low on, say, a bag of carrots, the fridge would automatically order them and Amazon would send you more carrots.”
Corning, the makers of Gorilla Glass found in many smartphones, showcased ways its interactive surfaces could work in cars, office tables and even as a replacement for an entire wall in a residential home.
“With an (interactive) wall, you could change the texture whenever you wanted, or watch a football game or use it to video conference,” Holmes said. “You’ve got complete control over that surface where before it was a waste.”
“All these interactive concepts, whether it’s with students’ desks or coffee tables, it provides really powerful ways to interact with the environment,” Holmes said. “Mix that in with the augmented reality world and you have some really exciting possibilities for remote working and for education.”