The Earth has just about completed another orbit around the sun, so you know what that means: it's time yet again for CES. The international Consumer Electronics Show, held annually in Las Vegas in January for the past 18 years (and held in various locations before that since it began in New York City in 1967) gathers together tech companies, reporters, advertisers and analysts for one giant sprawling series of events dedicated to showing off thousands of new gadgets. CES 2016 officially runs from Monday, January 4th to Saturday, January 9th.
Aside from transforming Sin City into basically the nerdiest place on Earth for a few days, CES typically offers a mix of cutting-edge tech products that range from exciting and potentially world-changing to completely ridiculous. Sometimes, you see both of these extremes co-existing in the same products. But even in the most fallow of years, CES offers an excellent window at the big new trends in consumer technology that companies hope will be successful in the coming year. Some, like 3D TV or ultrabook laptops, have fallen completely flat. But others, like virtual reality and 4K TV, are steadily making inroads into the real world.
In the case of CES 2016, here's the big tech trends we here at Popular Science are expecting to see at the show.
For decades, virtual reality has been lauded by scientific researchers and cutting edge technologists. Now, it looks like 2016 will finally be the year that consumers will be able to get their hands on powerful VR headsets.
Experts anticipate that major players in VR like Facebook-owned Oculus and Sony-owned Playstation VR will drum up pre-launch buzz at each of their CES booths by demoing some of the most advanced headsets on the planet.
Last year, companies like Oculus and Razer held VR demonstrations in a limited capacity. Oculus was demonstrating one of its developer kits, Crescent Bay, showing off some of the technological breakthroughs like 3D audio. This year, the attention has shifted to the HTC Vive, a headset developed as a co-production between HTC and Valve.
In December, HTC announced that the HTC Vive would not be released to consumers until April 2016, more than four months after it was originally promised. HTC CEO Cher Wang explained the delay by saying that her team had made “a very, very big technological breakthrough.” Most experts expect the company to discuss the breakthrough at CES 2016.
Augmented reality promises to change our lives by overlaying digital images onto the real world, blending reality with computer graphics. But there are a number of barriers to making that vision come true. Advance AR headsets require powerful processors, displays, sensors, and input devices. They also need to display information on translucent glass, so that the operator can see digital imaging in addition to seeing the surrounding environment. It’s a lot to get right.
Although we may not see any monumental breakthroughs for consumers, CES 2016 is expected to have previews of the next steps in augmented reality. Brands like Sony, Infinity AR, Matter and Form, Voke VR and more will be displaying their latest headsets and proprietary technology ahead of any major releases.
For most experts, CES 2016 will be an opportunity to take a look at how AR has advanced since the unveiling of Google Glass in 2012: Considerations like the size of a headset, battery life, clarity of display graphics, latency when moving, 3D mapping technology, and more will be scoured over by experts.
There’s a slim chance that we’ll see anything that regular people will be able to get their hands on anytime soon, but for those that are interested in the bleeding-edge of technology, CES 2016 will definitely provide that peak into the future.
Driverless cars and electric cars
What would a glimpse into the future be without autonomous vehicles? Now that 2015 is winding down, driverless cars are set to come onto the scene in a big way in the new year. Most notably, many are looking to Faraday Future for a big unveiling. The secretive startup company's automobiles are expected to be fully-electric and, of course, ship with auto-pilot capabilities. But as for what else they could bring, we’ll have to wait until January 4 at 8pm.
Though don’t count out the car companies you grew up with. Appearances from Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Hyundai, Mercedes, Toyota and more could bring some interesting features to the car industry in their own right. Chevy and Volkswagen are expected to unveil new electric automobiles. And Ford might be looking to unveil its Google-powered self-driving cars. We’ll know for sure once the Consumer Electronics Show officially starts.
The jury is in: People love drones. In 2014, there were only four exhibitors at CES that were offering drones. This year, there will be 27 different exhibitors, with a massive marketplace taking up a large percentage of the showroom floor.
This year, the novelty of the quadcopter has finally worn off: It’s no longer enough to show people an ultra-powerful quadcopter with a 4K camera or one that can take off from the palm of your hand. It’s been done before, and the thrill is gone.
Now, people want drones to have advanced sensor arrays that monitor the environment, keep them from crashing, remain in legal airspace, and make flying them easier.
One of the drone companies everyone will be watching for is Lily Robotics. In 2015, Lily Robotics revealed its simple tracking drone on Kickstarter. The drone can be thrown up into the air, and it follows a user around using a bluetooth signal. The 2.8 pound Lily drone records video, audio, shoots photographs and can take off in midair—unlike many of the other aerial photography drones that require landing gears or feet. But while the concept videos have been very promising, it remains to be seen how functional Lily will be in practice, and hopefully CES 2016 is where we will find out.
We’ve heard it for years: the home of the future will be powered by intelligent devices that communicate with each other and make life a little easier. The problem is that in the last three years, smart home products have largely failed to live up to the hype. Most come with their own apps and must be strung together with other smart home products using weird APIs or IFTTT recipes. We hope this year will be different.
At CES 2016, almost all of the Tech West hall will be covered by new smarthome gadgets. Products that are compatible with Google’s Nest Learning Thermostat, Apple HomeKit, Wink, and Thread are expected to be bountiful. For the most part, all of these smart home platforms are still fragmented and have very few products that can actually work together in a meaningful way. That could change at CES, where many of the major product makers like Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic, even the glass manufacturer Corning, and more will be displaying their latest lineup of home appliances and devices.
The year 2015 was a big one for wearables. The release of the Apple Watch, updated Android Wear OS and new versions of the Pebble Watch made their way to our wrists. In 2016, we could see many of the same themes: fitness tracking, notification serving and always-connectedness will likely play a big role in the new year. And, naturally, see a big presence at CES.
Fitness-fiends looking to track progress can look no further. Companies like Misfit, Fitbit, and more will join smaller names like Slendertone, GymWatch, Vert and others. Needless to say there’s no shortage of options when it comes to tracking progress.
Those on the other end of the spectrum will also have ways to keep up with the uphill battle of handling notifications. While we don’t recommend holding your breath that Apple shows off the Watch 2 during CES 2016, you can be sure that smartwatch makers like Motorola and Huawei will have their latest and greatest on display at the show. Whether they reveal new features for those devices—or new devices themselves—remains to be seen.
And we’ll see some interesting new takes on the wearable. Samsung will demo its rink wearable controller. Those with Gear VR will finally be able to use their hands in virtual reality—similar to what we’ve seen from HTC with the Vive or Sony with its Playstation VR efforts slated for 2016. And the company plans to introduce new technologies to bolster their existing wearables. TipTalk, for example, will enable users to touch their ear to receive better audio quality for calls when outdoors.
Most of the wearable tech present at CES in 2016 will take the shape of small gadgets. But those looking to make a statement have no shortage of options either.