CES 2016: Where innovation meets intuition for this crazy, connected world

CES is where it’s at to see what’s possible, far and away beyond our imagination. CES 2016 featured a litany of connected devices, cars, socks, shoes and appliances – but does intelligence and innovation mean it’s intuitive to use?
light bulb illustrates how IoT innovation finally met function at CES 2016

CES has always been a mecca for tech enthusiasts and innovators – an opportunity for everyone to see what’s possible, far and away beyond our imagination. But something about CES 2016 was different.

The sheer breadth of connected Things was in a word, incredible. Virtual reality, connected cars, smart refrigerators, smart water bottles and mattresses – we are thriving in the Internet of Things and the world is never going to be the same. Literally everything is becoming smarter – socks, footballs – you name it – it’s connected and loaded with intelligence.

And since it’s smarter, it should seamlessly fit into your daily routine, right? It should – that’s the promise of technology. But unless it has an interface that makes interaction with these Things and cars effortless to engage, usability may prove to be difficult. If you have to manually enter data or commands, this smart experience becomes overwhelming and in time, those smart things ultimately become relegated to the junk drawer.

Innovators know that these experiences must be smart yet human. And that’s where things become even more interesting at CES 2016, with connected devices and cars that are making voice and gesture central to the user experience. The Internet of Things is no longer just about being connected with loads of artificial intelligence (AI) smarts – it’s about creating an experience that maximizes the potential of innovation and quite frankly, our daily lives.

Let’s take light bulbs for instance. Pretty basic necessity that many of us take for granted until one blows out and we keep forgetting to replace it until the millionth time we’ve flipped the switch and we’re still in the dark (I can’t be the only one…). Light bulbs evolved from soft white to energy efficient and LED – and thanks to Sengled’s bright idea, light bulbs are now so intelligent they can alert you of a smoke alarm or crying baby, and even search the Web – all while doubling as a Bluetooth speaker. Voice is central to this experience, creating a hands-off experience that is intuitive and well-integrated as part of the smart home.

Nuance CTO Vlad Sejnoha at CNET CES 2016 voice panel


This idea of voice and gesture being central to the user interface was featured as part of CNET’s Next Big Thing panel “Is Typing Dead?” Panelists, including Nuance’s CTO Vlad Sejnoha, discussed human forms of communication with cars and devices – which has evolved quite rapidly from voice dictation and search on a smart phone to virtual assistants and natural language interfaces that allow for conversational engagement with smart cars and appliances. Panel participant Marcus Behrendt, head of user experience at BMW, stated that voice “is part of the orchestra of communicating…” In fact, Nuance announced that its Dragon Drive voice capabilities were behind the new BMW 7Series, which Jonathan Gitlin of ARS Technica deemed “…the best car voice activation system we’ve spoken to.”

Speaking of talking cars, intelligent in-cars systems were front and center at CES 2016 – marking another shift in the consumer electronics industry. Nearly every major auto manufacturer came to the show floor demonstrating what’s next for dashboard innovation – virtual reality, autonomous driving and systems that connect to the smart home. Nuance demonstrated how the dashboard will evolve into a personal assistant created specifically for the in-car experience with Dragon Drive Automotive Assistant. The solution combines Nuance’s automotive voice, natural language, contextual awareness, data and AI to give automakers the ability to develop an intelligent system that gives drivers a personalized and safer experience. In fact, Dragon Drive Automotive Assistant was a CES 2016 Innovation Award Honoree.

Nuance Dragon Drive automotive team at CES 2016


It’s clear that the things around us are become incredibly smart with the goal of making life easier. But communication is key – if people and things can’t speak the same language through voice or even gesture – the experience goes from intelligent to inconvenient.

The good news? Voice is the new normal, and that’s what makes me excited about what’s to come – if I can speak to enter my CrossFit workout summary to a pair of intelligent sneakers that measure and track my performance – with an intelligent water bottle that reminds me to stay hydrated (and to back away from the coffee maker) – I’m sold. And thanks to platforms like Nuance Mix – developers have access to everything they need to make their innovations speak the human language.

And to answer the question of when all this connectivity and smarts is just too much?  I think Vlad summed it up best during the Next Big Thing panel: “I’m a technology optimist. There was a time when books were thought of as dangerous. We should be thoughtful about how we go about it, but it’s powerful.”

Now it’s your turn: if you could make any ‘thing’ or car feature more intelligent, what would it be?  Chances are it’ll be making waves at next year’s event.


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