CES 2017 – At home with artificial intelligence

By Mélody Sue Myette & Patrick Mainville, February 2nd, 2017

It’s been three weeks since we returned from CES 2017 in Las Vegas. Now that we’ve had a chance to relax and process the information overload, here are four major trends relating to the Internet of Things (IoT) from a designer’s point of view.

They’re white, bright, and high gloss, and they stand alone with slightly rounded edges. They’re all so anonymous they might have been designed by the same firm. And while it may be only a matter of time before they become extinct and are replaced by a genuine integrated hub, smart objects for the home continue to multiply – though an object’s identity is usually more about how it interacts than how it looks. Barely two years ago, smart objects allowed us to set temperatures in rooms at home from our smartphones, or adjust the lighting, or detect an open door. Now we can say hello to “Alexa,” and she’ll tell us about all these things. What’s more, she can adapt our day’s schedule to accommodate traffic conditions or the weather. She can even do the shopping. A major player has entered the smarthome war of protocols and a large majority of manufacturers have already lined up behind her. Artificial intelligence is no longer at our doorstep. She’s entered our lives and made herself right at home.


AI is not only in our homes, it’s also in our cars. Toyota, Volkswagen, Chrysler, Panasonic, Bosch, Leeco, and BMW are all offering concept cars that are smart and a little bit far-out, with self-driving capability, safety, entertainment, and even mood management features. For those who actually enjoy driving, there are still attractive technological breakthroughs to try. Many are in the form of haptic interfaces that use ultrasound to reproduce sensations of touch or texture, like making a control dial appear that doesn’t really exist but your hand can feel it in space. A dial that lets you adjust the car’s interior temperature without taking your eyes off the road, since the virtual dial appears right where your hand happens to be.


Tactile haptic feedback
We’re only just beginning to understand the full potential of this technology that will soon be coming to a smartphone near you. Imagine that you could feel the texture of a piece of clothing bought online by touching your fingers to a screen, or if a child could appreciate the difference between the coat of a lion and a giraffe’s. There’s no form of interaction more profound in human beings than what passes through touching, and especially what appeals to muscular sensation and emotions. It’s a welcome innovation compared to the emotion-free tactility of conventional touchscreens.

Wearable objects are still in demand. Watches, jewellery, clothes, glasses – manufacturers are exploring all possible formats to conceal sensors that can read our vital signs, tell us about our health, and help us achieve the best possible well-being. As long as the interface on smartwatches is restricted to their tiny screen, their popularity will be on the tiny side, too. Extension of the interactive zone beyond the casing, as proposed by the Montreal-based startup Proximity HCI, is a highly promising development on this front.


AR and VR eyewear is still too weird and conspicuous, but it’s continuing to make progress and could become the ultimate wearable once miniaturization is brought on board, as predicted by Jack Cutts in a talk he gave at CES 2015.

In the meantime, firms like BioMindR can monitor your blood readings more accurately than ever before. This represents an incredible breakthrough in the control of diabetes and our ability to foresee health issues. Someday, Alexa may be able to tell you that the ambulance is on its way even before you feel any symptoms.


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