ONE OF THE technology calendar’s biggest annual events, CES 2022, or the Consumer Electronics Show, took place in Las Vegas, US, from January 5 to 8.
More than 40 000 people from 119 countries attended the event where 2 300-plus companies from all over the world showcased their latest technologies in digital health, food tech, automotive tech, space tech, Non-fungible Tokens (NFTs), gaming, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, 5G, and much more.
The show displayed the next wave of innovation that would shape 2022 and the economy of tomorrow, such as the evolution of the metaverse and intelligent automation.
According to Forbes, CES has often been the seismometer of the most seismic shifts in the recent history of technology.
Wi-fi powered remote controls
In the previous years of CES, the newest television technologies received major attention. Every year, manufacturers demonstrated their TVs that became ever smarter and bigger.
This year, the attention came from an unexpected, smaller television accessory – the TV remote control.
Samsung introduced a new TV remote control, which has a tiny antennae with the ability to harvest radio frequency signals emitted by a home wi-fi router. It is able to garner the energy from the wi-fi waves from a distance of up to 40m.
It seems as if Samsung is adamant to kill the AAA battery market. Last year, it showcased a remote with a solar panel on the back, allowing it to be charged while lying on the table or the arm of a chair.
Now the remote can be charged independently from light. According to Samsung, the device will soon be included with new TVs and other home appliances.
It certainly appears as if the regular and annoying changing of remote batteries is something of the past.
A colour-changing car
Apparently, we will soon be able to change the colour of our car like we change the colour of our clothing depending on our mood or the occasion. German carmaker BMW demonstrated the world’s first “colour-changing” car.
This was achieved by carefully wrapping a material like electronic paper around the body of the car.
When charged with a small electric current, controlled by a smartphone app, the material brought different pigments to the surface and, within seconds, the exterior of the car changed colour or created a pattern to form a different shade, design or racing stripes.
The BMW iX Flow electric SUV uses technology very similar to the electronic ink technology used in the wellknown e-book readers and covers the car in millions of tiny microcapsules.
The project is in its early stages, and the subtle colour changes can alternate between only black, grey, and white.
However, BMW stated that the technology would be expanded to cover a whole spectrum of a colour palette. Changing to a light colour in hot weather to reflect sunlight, or a dark colour in cooler weather to absorb heat, could reduce the interior cooling and heating requirements and the eventual operating costs of the car. The technology is very energy efficient and no energy is needed to maintain the selected colour.
But the technology has some way to go since it is sensitive to extreme high or low temperatures.
However, except from having difficulty in finding your own car at the shopping centre if you forgot your last colour of choice, colour-changing cars would certainly pose a huge security risk in South Africa and many other countries.
It could create the opportunity for criminals to escape the police in a chase and fool image recognising CCTV cameras by just changing the colour of the car.
The colour of the car could also be changed after a hit-and-run accident, hijacking, theft or abduction. Together with false number plates the colour-changing car could be a criminal’s dream come true.
Many of the robots on display this year had an interesting and welcome change from the (often ridiculous) humanoid or human-looking robots of previous years.
Although some humanoids were displayed, more practical robots were introduced – robots with shelves rather than human-like faces.
The aptly named Labrador Systems had a Retriever robot that was the flavour of the show and fetched a variety of things for its owner.
The wheeled assistive robot is basically a sleek version of the autonomous mobile robots found in logistics centres and in manufacturing.
It guides itself through a room or house by using several sensors and a proprietary navigation system that fuses algorithms from Augmented Reality with robotics to create 3D maps of its environment.
The robot can be controlled via a screen, smartphone app, or via voice control. It is able to carry up to 11kg and has two shelves that can move up or down to reach different heights depending on the position of the owner.
Like a personal assistant the robot can respond to pre-programmed reminders, such as delivering certain objects at a specific time.
I have the feeling the retriever robots will soon become extremely popular with some people who are glued to their comfortable TV chairs and need regular replenishment of their refreshments.
However, on a more serious note, the robots could be of great service to people with health issues or other problems that limit their mobility.
Apart from fetching certain objects, it could also retrieve and ensure that important medicine is taken on time.
According to Labrador Systems, the robot is being tested in collaboration with health providers, senior living communities and home health providers. Their aim is to begin production in 2023.
Similarly, Bear Robotics, the maker of front-of-house food robots, introduced its Servi hospitality robot that is intended to take the place of restaurant runners and even waiters.
At CES, the robot moved swiftly and served burgers, sushi and other snacks on trays to guests.
It can handle several tasks such as food running, bussing and serving. The units are customisable for each restaurant and have a patrol mode that uses Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) and cameras to avoid running into any objects.
The waiter-type robots have become popular during Covid-19 and have replaced human waiters in several restaurants all over the world.
They also help restauranteurs that, due to a variety of reasons, experience chronic staff shortages.
Restaurants using robot waiters indicated that their operating costs, reliability and consistency were much better than that of humans.
Like in all other industries, automation in restaurants would certainly increase in the years to come.
But it would certainly have an effect on South Africa’s high unemployment rate, especially amongst the unskilled and often unemployable population.
Professor Louis CH Fourie, Extraordinary Professor, University of the Western Cape
*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites.
BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE