CES 2013: The Future of Consumer Electronics

The 2013 CES put on by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) will be followed by a partner event, the IEEE International Conference on Consumer Electronics, ICCE, organized by the IEEE Consumer Electronics Society. The latter will be two orders of magnitude smaller than the former in terms of attendance, but in some ways, the smaller conference may be a good predictor for the future iterations of the larger one, in several key areas.

Home 3-D Printing:  The 2013 CES features several companies showing gear that creates objects layer by layer in a compact, fabrications machine. These devices offer similar features to the full-scale 3-D prototyping equipment used in design and some field repairs.  Home fabricators could play a role like today’s printers, except that what’s printed is things, not documents.  Makerbot is showing a 2-material printer. Other companies are showing services that allow designs to be sent out for fabrication with metals and ceramics, in addition to the plastics normally used on consumer products.  The growth of design libraries such as the Thingaverse, as well as web-based production outsourcing to companies like  Alibaba , who can make small manufactured lots from these designs, could fundamentally change the face of manufacturing in the next 10 years.

Home and Personal Cloud:  The rapid adoption of smart mobile tablets and phones is largely due to apps that rely on services obtained through “the cloud.”  These services—navigation assistance, social networking and content sharing, voice recognition and data searches—are often provided by large data centers that have large numbers of servers and storage.  However, some consumers and small businesses don’t want to put all their content in remote data centers but still want this content available to them via local and remote network connections.  For them, new network storage products being shown here at CES may allow Internet-accessible content using home, small office, or home office Network Attached Storage (NAS) products.  There are also products from companies such as Kingston, Seagate, as well as a reference design on display using a WD drive in the Marvell booth, showing personal battery powered W-iFi accessible storage devices that for a personal cloud storage solution that you can slip into a pocket.

My Car, My Way: Within a couple of years collision avoidance and automatic parking of automobiles will become standard on many cars, key steps along the way toward mass adoption of fully autonomous vehicles.  In a real sense automobiles are becoming mobile computers and as these cars become connected to the Internet and cellular networks, either directly or through mobile devices used in the vehicles, we can expect not just enhancements in navigation and entertainment, but new applications that will allow us to tune the car’s performance and ride.  Social networking and inter-car communication (made possible, in part, by the new IEEE 802.11p standard) may allow new ways to interact with fellow drives.  It’s no longer a choice between“my way, or the highway”!

Tricorders:  Connected diagnostic and monitoring devices and applications are bringing the benefits of good data to home health. Older people will live independent lives for longer than they might otherwise, and healthy people will stay healthy longer. At last year’s CES show, Qualcomm announced an X-Prize award for creating a working Tricorder.  At this year’s ICCE conference which directly follows CES, there will be a special session on Tricorders (named after the StarTrek medical diagnostic device from the 1960’s TV show) in which several speakers will explore the concept, implementation, and implications of wireless home diagnostic devices. 

At CES, manufacturers proudly show products that have just come onto the market or are about to. The 2013 IEEE ICCE conference features technologies that will become real products in 3-5 years time.  Leading edge technologies are moving from the laboratory to real consumer products at a faster pace than ever in the history of electronics. Consumer applications rapidly ramp the production volume of these technologies, lowing their manufacturing costs and making their use even more attractive to product designers.

Consumer electronics has assumed enormous importance in modern economies, increasing the competitiveness in consumer product production.  Needless to say, much wealth is created with the introduction of new consumer devices.

Tom Coughlin is the founder of Coughlin Associates. He has over 30 years of magnetic recording engineering and engineering management experience at such companies as Polaroid, Seagate Technology, Maxtor, Micropolis, Nashua Computer Products, Ampex and SyQuest. He’s an IEEE Senior Member.

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