Tomorrow’s Tech Toys Today

For those of you who would prefer to listen:

Las Vegas was abuzz this week and it had nothing to do with football. The Raiders season is done and the Super Bowl will be held there for the first time in February. (Side note, the Raiders belong in Oakland). This week was all about tech toys and innovative gadgets as the annual Consumer Electronics Show, now referred to simply as “CES,” took over Sin City.
 
CES is the Tech industry’s largest annual event in the United States. It is a massive, 4-day experience with conference center halls filled with new gadgets, eager startups, and moonshot-style ideas. For CES 2024, it’s the year of AI in everything. 
 
The first CES was held in 1967 in New York City. There were just 14 exhibitors in total. Among them were the likes of LG, Philips and Motorola. Televisions dominated the scene. Back then, TVs were still relatively new. In 1969, the breakout device was Panasonic’s 1.5-inch screened TV, which weighed just 2 pounds.

The show moved to Chicago in 1971, where it remained for most of the decade. The headliner that year was a Sony Video Cassette Recorder. It launched the age of the VCR. 8-Track tapes and blank recordable tapes also debuted that year. The first laserdisc player made its American debut at CES in 1974. Did you realize that the origin of CDs has been around that long? The laser disc wasn’t commercially available until 1978. And who could ever forget Pong, the most basic of video games, which debuted at CES in 1975.
 
The Consumer Electronics Show moved to Las Vegas in 1978. 50,000 people attended with over 700 exhibitors. Atari stole the show in the late 1970s. The compact disc and camcorders rocked the 1982 event. Nintendo launched its landmark home gaming console in 1985. Video games around the globe were never the same.
 
CES 2024 had over 130,000 attendees. This marked the largest event since Covid. This year’s event was said to feel back to normal. The buzz was all about Artificial Intelligence (AI), which shows no signs of slowing down. Funding for generative AI projects exploded last year. Nearly $24 Billion was spent, up 5-fold from 2022.
 
TVs were a big theme again this year. Both LG and Samsung showed off fully transparent televisions. They have 77-inch wireless screens. Billed as the world’s first 4K, wireless, transparent OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) TV, the LG Signature OLED-T is built to stand in the middle of a room and look like a clear pane of glass when it isn’t in use. It’s a pretty remarkable thing to see. This novel high-tech television will be available sometime this year. The price wasn’t disclosed. Know this: It won’t be cheap.
 
Apparently, there was a steady buzz around Apple’s Vision Pro mixed-reality headset. It’s expected to launch next month. Disney+ will be a launch partner with multiple 3D-immersive films and shows, exclusively on the new Apple device. According to Disney, Star Wars and Marvel films will create an experience for the viewer to be watching from a landspeeder on Tatooine or within the Marvel Avengers Tower; you’re in that make-believe world. Star Wars and Marvel diehards seem to be pretty excited about this. Virtual, augmented and mixed-reality is here.
 
Many companies, both big and small, showed off how using AI in cars is making them smoother and safer. They’re re-tooling and further digitizing the in-vehicle virtual assistants and cabin monitors. Israel-based Cipia unveiled a system that monitors signs of distraction and drowsiness in drivers. That sure would make roads safer.

Amazon announced a generative AI partnership with BMW at the show. Amazon wants to throw away that big paper owner’s manual and replace it with Alexa, who will tell us precisely why the check engine light is on. Amazon is working to get Alexa to tell us our tires are low and remind us they need to be filled to 34 PSI. That would certainly be valuable. 

The large US automakers weren’t in Vegas this week. For those hoping to see updates from the Detroit 3 about their innovative visions, you’ll have to wait for the next big thing. They took CES 2024 off this year, after facing increased costs and complications from last year’s labor Union strikes. They’ll be back. Artificial Intelligence can help car manufacturers save money by speeding up vehicle development and ensuring better quality checks during manufacturing. It’s just getting started.

Microsoft is providing PC manufacturers a new AI button, called Copilot. It’s found on the new Windows keyboard. With the push of a button, people can launch Microsoft’s generative AI tool, which is designed to help do everything from search and shop to plan a trip or write a paper. Your voice replaces your fingers. The Copilot AI key is the biggest change to Windows keyboards in 3 decades.

It’s not just Tech at CES. Walmart unveiled 2 new AI-powered tools designed to help shoppers quickly search for products and automate the process of re-ordering frequently purchased items. The large retailer is partnering with Microsoft on this. The project combines Microsoft’s AI models with Walmart’s shopper data to enable shoppers to search for products using specific use cases in addition to the traditional method by brand or the actual items.

Here’s the example they used: Shoppers will be able to search using terms such as “a football watch party” or “help me plan a unicorn-themed party for my daughter,” and receive a curated list of products, instead of individually searching for chips, wings, beverages and balloons. Just like Tech and car companies, retailers are in a race to find consumer uses for Artificial Intelligence to remain competitive and provide for customer growing wants and needs. 
 
Once you have the ingredients at home, AI can now prepare them. Introduced this week was the world’s first AI-powered grill. You tell it what you want and provide the ingredients, it will allegedly do the rest. There’s also a robotic bartender and a no-clean ice cream maker, whatever that means.
 
Face computing is here too. Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, teamed with Ray-Ban to make sunglasses that enable you to ask AI questions through an embedded microphone in the frames and get answers back from conversation AI. That sounds pretty cool. There are also smart binoculars from a company called Swarovski, which identifies birds while you’re viewing. That could be a winner for bird-watchers the world over. It will be fascinating to see what else those binoculars can identify…

Magic Mirror on the wall? The Anura MagicMirror, designed by innovative health company NuraLogix, debuted this week. The digital mirror apparently analyzes the blood flow in your face to check vitals like blood pressure and estimate your risk of heart disease. It also can guess your age based on your skin, as well as how stressed you might be. Wow.

This would have been so useful to me 16 years ago: A baby translator. A company called Capella says its phone app can “translate” your baby’s cries and tell you whether they’re hungry, uncomfortable, tired or in need of a diaper change. The app uses AI and machine learning to decipher a child’s needs. Capella claims its technology is about 95% accurate. Apparently, we mortals who try to guess our babies’ needs have an accuracy of just 30%. I recall that our nose was 100% accurate.

And here’s something you just couldn’t make up: A MouthPad. Soon you can use your tongue as a mouse for your laptop, tablet or phone. The MouthPad is clearly a spin on the word “mousepad.” It is basically like a retainer with a touchpad, battery and Bluetooth radio built-in. Augmental, the startup that created the device, calls the mouthpad a tongue-operated touchpad that “sits at the roof of your mouth” and can be connected to your devices just like a standard Bluetooth mouse. You know, I just don’t see myself using that thing.
 
Innovation continued well beyond Las Vegas this week. Walmart is set to launch the largest drone delivery expansion by an American retailer. The expansion will include stores across the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. The deliveries will be powered by drone startup Zipline and Alphabet’s unit Wing. They’re both FAA-approved to fly drones beyond visual line of sight. Walmart has a store within 10 miles of 90% of the US population, on the ground. It’s safe to say America really does shop at Walmart. Now Walmart is trying to send items through the sky.
 
Space text is next. The SpaceX Starlink team successfully delivered and received text messages via T-Mobile’s network through one of its newly launched direct-to-cell satellites. SpaceX is planning to launch a constellation of satellites to enable text service this year. It won’t stop there. Voice, data, and IoT services are targeted for 2025. Elon Musk has a goal of eliminating so-called “dead zones.” From Musk: “We will no longer read about these tragedies that happened where people got lost and if only they could have called for help they’d be okay”.

Innovation has fueled the American way since its inception. President Kennedy rightfully pointed out that core to our greatness has been that we do things, not because they’re easy, but because they’re hard. It’s that constant pursuit of greatness that drives us. Dr. Martin Luther King, a genius with words, stated clearly: “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

American ingenuity is timeless. It’s a constant. It’s been the driving force of our nation’s success story. And it’s all very investable.

Have a nice weekend. The Market will be closed on Monday, in honor of Dr. King. Our office will be too. We’ll be back, dark and early on Tuesday.

Mike

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