Tech trends 2016

Insights and predictions by Shawn DuBravac, chief economist. CEA

By Gabriela Ehrlich

The 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, USA, was again a show of records, reflecting the growing importance of consumer electronics and connected devices.

Food bieng analyzed with SCiO scanning device
SCiO is a non-intrusive, no-touch optical sensor that reads the chemical make-up of materials such as food, plants, medication, oil and fuels or plastics (Photo: SCiO)


Despite increased security measures, CES 2016 was massive. With a surface covering the equivalent of 50 football fields, it was the biggest show in the 49 years since it was launched. And CES is no longer solely focused on consumer electronic technologies. The show is a direct reflection of the fact that electronics now permeate every aspect of our lives.

“Last year the industry grew 1% and we expect that to increase slightly in 2016,” said DuBravac. “That growth is coming from nascent emerging categories that are relatively new to the mass market. This is playing out at CES and in the way the show is evolving.”

For example, the CES Eureka Park, which is developed for start-ups, has grown from 375 companies last year to 500 this year. The show will continue to be used as a go-to-market platform for such companies.

The major trends predicted by DuBravac in 2015 have all played out and are expanding. Computing is ubiquitous and extending into ever new areas; cheap digital storage allows more and more activities to take place in the cloud; connectivity is growing and leading to a vast proliferation of digital devices and sensorization of tech.

Three new trends emerge

Du Bravac offered his perspective on three seminal trends that are taking shape and were present on the show floor at this year’s CES. They included ambient sensing, aggregated learning and a maturing of nascent ecosystems.

In his words, the “changing of the guard from analogue to digital devices has finally taken place. We are moving into the second digital decade. Over the past years, conversations were centred on what technology would be able to do in the future but in the last 12 to 18 months the conversation has moved to what’s technologically meaningful, not merely what is possible. We are at an inflection point for the consumer technology industry.”

Sensing what’s going on

Sensors have moved, from being expensive, behind-the-scenes devices that enabled for example the deployment of airbags in cars, to being everywhere. They have become highly affordable and are used in sometimes unexpected ways to integrate aspects of the analogue world into the digital one.

According to DuBravac, of the 20 000 new products that were introduced at CES this year, probably 15 000 have some type of sensor embedded.

Ambient sensors continuously measure and collect information. They mirror all human senses, including visual, auditory, gesture, touch, presence and proximity but also mood and motion.

In 2006 ambient sensing was a sensational new thing and integrated first in the Nintendo Wii where motion and gestures were digitized and integrated into the users interaction with the game. By 2007 sensors became a part of smart phones. Here accelerometers changed the orientation of the screen, among other things. Today multiple sensors are included in a wide variety of monitoring devices for humans (baby monitors, for example), animals and the environment. They help analyze the content of food (DietSensor), sense surrounding light levels, adapt energy output by a television screen, or help blind people to “see” (Aipoly) by identifying objects and the environment that surrounds them. Whirlpool has launched a series of smart appliances that poll information from a smart thermostat and user sensor data to run the washing machine or dish washer when the owner is away.

IEC work in standardization and conformity assessment contributes significantly to sensor technologies in general and wearables in particular. Publications by IEC Technical Committee (TC) 47: Semiconductor devices, and IEC Subcommittee (SC) 47F: Microelectromechanical systems, help manufacturers to build reliable sensors and MEMS. IEC TC 100: Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment, produces International Standards which support quality, performance and interoperability with other systems and equipment.

In June 2015, the Standardization Management Board (SMB) set up Strategic Group (SG) 10: Wearable Smart Devices, with the task to establish an inventory of all activities in and outside the IEC and to set priorities and coordinate work.

Aggregated learning

As devices change how they connect, they literally learn and compile information in a new form of learning. The device is able to progressively improve its performance during the course of its functioning, and then share that information with other devices. DuBravac cited voice recognition as an example pointing to the fact that the error rate is now down to 5% from nearly 23% in 2013. “In 10 years I think we will have close to a 0% word error rate. This will be one of the biggest advances as it will change the way we interact with technology”, he commented.

IEC work is essential in driving forward aggregated learning technologies in general and voice recognition in particular. IEC TC 100 has set up Technical Area (TA) 16: Active Assisted Living (AAL), accessibility and user interfaces, and voice recognition is one of the areas that is covered by this group. Artificial intelligence and speech recognition are also dealt with by ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee (JTC) 1: Information technology.

DuBravac also used the example of Google’s self-driving car, which has travelled 1,6 million miles – the equivalent of about 75 years’ worth of driving. Here levels of automation are increasing. And while there is still a driver sitting behind the steering wheel, in the not so distant future they will not actually have to drive, just monitor certain aspects. “All that information is shared across all self-driving vehicles,” and will help the autonomous vehicle movement develop such that by 2030, there could be a million self-driving cars and by 2045, they could account for half of vehicles on the road.” Here as everywhere else, IEC work contributes essential elements to smart driving and cars in general.

The maturing of nascent ecosystems

Virtual and augmented reality

DuBravac predicts the growth of several relatively new technology categories. He particularly points to Virtual Reality, for which he projects 1,2 million unit sales for 2016. Over 100 companies at CES are involved in either that category or in Augmented Reality, he added.

Nevertheless DuBravac believes that this category is still very much in its infancy. Right now it is still an “eyewear story” but it will have to move to other hardware. One example for a different virtual reality application is a 360-degree camera (Panono) which offers a fully immersive experience, allowing a viewer to look into any direction they want as if they were inside the image.

DuBravac sees VR playing an important role in the future of storytelling by companies such as advertising agencies: “Maybe we will start to book cruises this way or see our view from a seat in the stadium before booking. Today we think about it as a gaming platform but quickly it will start to work into the commercial environment and impact hospitality, leisure, entertainment and consumers and how we share our narrative.”

The work of a number of IEC TCs helps with the development of the different aspects of virtual and augmented reality technology. IEC International Standards cover many of the components which are driving VR forward. This also includes screens, which are dealt with by TC 110: Electronic display devices. This committee focuses on developing the technical foundation for flat electronic display devices, including the flexible screen launched by LG at CES.

DuBravac noted that the trend is broadening beyond fitness trackers and watches to include medical applications with a number of products for pain relief receiving regulatory approval (Reliefband) or smart fashion that no longer looks like an engineer designed it. For example the Samsung Welt, a belt that tracks the size of your waist and how many steps you take… and it can hold up a pair of pants; or a pair of jeans that can charge your smart phone or clean your smart phone’s screen every time you pull it from a special pocket.

In terms of the Internet of Things, DuBravac pointed out that we see it everywhere and nowhere: “It is both big and non-existent. We point to 60 billion connected objects that are playing out in the IoT space but when they launch they fit into a different category so we don’t tend to think about them as IoT. We call them wearables or fit them into another category. As IoT continues to develop you’ll see these connected objects fitting into other areas such as the smart home.”

Food bieng analyzed with SCiO scanning device SCiO is a non-intrusive, no-touch optical sensor that reads the chemical make-up of materials such as food, plants, medication, oil and fuels or plastics (Photo: SCiO)
DietSensor Dietsensor, which uses the sensor developed by SCiO, scans food and determines its nutritional value (Photo: POPSUGAR Photography/Lisette Mejia)
Samsung WELT Samsung WELT is a smart wearable healthcare belt that can measure waist size, count the number of steps and record the amount of time spent sitting down (Photo: Samsung)
Hello iPhone charging jeans The #Hello line of jeans features a custom battery pack and a patent pending pocket that holds an iPhone (Photo Joe's Jeans)
PANONO panoramic camera The Panono camera can create full 360° x 360° panoramas in a single shot when thrown up in the air (Photo: Panono)
Relief Band The ReliefBand provides relief from nausea and vomiting often associated with transportation, gaming, amusement parks as well as morning sickness (Photo: ReliefBand Technologies)