Every January, surrounded by sands of the Nevada desert, the technology industry descends onto the Las Vegas strip for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), ready to unveil their vision of the future.
Although this year's exhibition began with an unexpected torrential downpour and power outage, the show prevailed against the conditions to successfully showcase the latest innovations and eye-catching consumer products. From the biggest corporations to the latest small start-up ventures, nearly 4,000 companies had exhibits at the show, all competing to be a part of the future technological landscape.
This annual event has become famous for its bright lights and big announcements - some more meaningful and lasting than others. Notable trends in recent years have included virtual reality, smart homes and driverless cars. Although how we use and conserve electricity may at times seem peripheral to the hype surrounding the most discussed exhibits, there were a few highlights from this year’s CES where technology is shaping our future relationship with energy.
How your voice will be used to save time and energy
Voice assistants are by no means new. The ability to talk into a smart phone or a computer to perform tasks has been possible for a while now. The real growth for voice assistants, however, is within the Smart Home, where appliances and services are all connected.
This year’s CES showcased a number of new and updated smart products designed to be controlled through voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa. From the Kohler Verdera mirror to Whirlpool's Smart Front-Control Oven, more and more of the household is set to be ready to receive voice instructions.
In our recent piece about home automation, we explored the Internet of Things (IoT) because of the energy saving functionality it can provide. That same networking ability within home appliances is now expanding to include greater voice integration. The future envisaged at CES is that it will make it even easier to control how our homes function around us, and further increase their efficiency.
Wireless power about to cut the cord
The freedom wireless technology provides has dramatically changed our interactions and habits in the last quarter of century, with the rise of mobile phones and Wi-Fi in the home. The freedom of being online while on the move has only been halted by one key aspect - the need for power.
One solution is to improve battery life and performance. The other is to wirelessly send power over-the-air, and it is this technology that took a major step forward during the CES convention, with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announcing its approval for the first wireless charger, created by Energous Corporation and capable of charging a laptop from up to a metre away.
This technology could be the beginning of the end for cables around the home and the workplace, which will inevitably change our interactions and habits with devices in new ways.
Living in a Smart City
New to CES this year was an area called ‘Smart Cities’, looking at the innovations and initiatives set to change our urban communities. Formed from the concept behind Smart Homes, Smart Cities are also about hyper-connectivity, with the new and developing standard of mobile internet - 5G - playing a key role in integrated communications.
The broad message from companies including Bosch and Deloitte was that any part of a city could be connected - from the water supply to transportation networks, individual street lights to bee hives - all with the intention of making city life healthier, easier and more sustainable.
Autonomous transport in a big part of the Smart City vision, with major developments in artificial intelligence (AI) and electric vehicles likely to change the way we will commute in the future. One striking concept for the future of transportation was unveiled by Toyota; a multipurpose urban cart that could be used as a people carrier, parcel delivery truck, or even become hotel room on wheels, taking you to your destinations when you sleep.
As for energy saving, greater connectivity and automation mean urban spaces can be more responsive to our requirements. Ideas on display at CES included streetlights that adjust brightness when required; smart energy meters that manage power use in public spaces; and instant availability updates for drivers searching for parking spaces. Many of the ideas on show were developed using 'big data' gathered to resolve inefficiencies, and already have trials taking place in cities across the USA and around the world.