The CES Experience: Science, Smart Trinkets, and Moral Ambiguity


Welcome to the second article of The CES Experience, where I give a rawer, more blog-like view of how large scale conventions play out in my mind. I managed to take a second round at CES, with today’s target being located at the Sands Expo hall at The Venetian in Las Vegas. Having not been to Vegas since I was a middling teenager, this experience definitely rekindled a lot of memories — memories of family, the occasional summer getaway and hanging around the Excalibur arcades and winning loads of prizes, the chaos. The chaos is the biggest part of CES, because not only is it located in Vegas, where there’s already tons of people present, it’s also a hugely successful show that’s taking place, with well over 100,000 in attendance.


With my journey running at Sands Hall on Thursday, I had plenty of time to take in the sights. With the consumer technology show room opening up at 9 AM, in contrast to E3’s 10 AM, this only means one thing, more time to run around! CES itself is just crazy. I never expected to find a larger hall than Tech East. The Venetian made Tech East feel like a joke. Multiple levels, each floor with its own technologies. While the top level had more of a fitness and wearable technologies focus, the ground floor had a much heavier focus on scientific technologies and medical applications, something that personally intrigued me as I practice chemistry at the university level.


With the wearables booths, I got to see quite a number of interesting technologies, with FitBit announcing their newest foray into smart watch technology. Their competitor to the Apple Watch is called the FitBit Blaze, which will be arriving this March at a retail price of $199. After playing with it, I actually enjoyed it and am definitely excited to see more of it in action. While I own a FitBit Charge, it still has this cheapness and kind of strange bulkiness that makes it seem more like a children’s toy rather than an actual device I’d be wearing on a daily basis. The Blaze changes all of that with different bands that range from silicone to leather, all the way to the more traditional and classy stainless steel strap. Hands-on time left me feeling positive about it and its ability to keep a five-day charge with its beautiful LED display. I managed to also pick up my prearranged review unit of the Aftershokz Gamez gaming headset, which avoids going directly into the ear canals and pushes audio through bone conduction. I’ll have to ask you to stay on the lookout for the review, though.


Elsewhere around the hall, there were a ton of random “smart” gadgets. Anything from a smart shoe that ties itself for $450 to a smart water bottle that measures water intake. These all felt so gimmicky, and it just did not feel like anything really innovating. These easily categorized as wants rather than essentials. Of course, there were also booths that had smart sleeping tools, to aid in better sleep by tracking and creating means for a more restful sleep. I actually heard stories of people falling asleep at these booths, which is quite funny given how loud the show floor can be. This level of the Venetian was pretty huge, and definitely took a few hours of my day to explore. On the plus side, since being press is fun, what better way to celebrate than with some great lunch and refreshments? Completing that trek of the expo, it was time to find my way to the lower level, which prominently featured science and medical technologies.

So, as you guys may know, I’m a scientist at heart. I’ve been involved with chemistry and atmospheric chemistry studies, using gas chromatography and mass spectometry to qualitatively examine bitumen, or tar, in urban air. The lower level of the Venetian Sands Expo at CES was crazy and full of ideas from a diverse cast of scientists and medical professionals. A lot of these tools were displayed to usher in a new future of technologies with a lot of crazy modules that took air samples or contained fuel cells no larger than the length of my pinky. When I took a look at a lot of fuel cells, it was really intriguing to be able to go up against these scientists and gauge, fairly accurately, the science behind their modules. Imagine their bemused expressions when they look at my badge and see a gamer, who knows about fuel cell electronics, how a sodium source is used to catalyze the reactions of hydrogen being converted to water vapor. It definitely took them by surprise, and at the end of it all we had a fairly lengthy and informative conversation where I found some inspiration to apply into my own research.


This lower level, while informative, also had a lot of silly trinkets and cable adapters for all sorts of devices. With most of these booths manned by people from manufacturing zones of Asia, it thrusts the question of moral ambiguity onto this show. CES accepts vendors from all over the world, knowing full well that these people are all competing against each other in a pricing market to do the same thing. The strange thing is that, having been to E3, where it was only the best of the best in the gaming industry who met high qualification standards, CES has a lower standard that basically allows any exhibitor access to the show floor if they can pay the price. There are definitely many vendors who make derivative products of other larger scale vendors. So much so that the day saw a raid from federal marshals, where a booth was shut down for infringing on a copyright violation, to a crowd of stunned onlookers. In this incident, a Guangzhou-based group brought out a hoverboard, which really looked more like a one-wheeled skateboard. This violated the copyrights of Onewheel, which led to the shutdown and packing up of this exhibit, citing fury over competitors seeking to take advantage of expensive research time from proprietors in order to launch a low-price product.

This time, the experience on the show floor was about seeing what consumer technology had to offer in 2016. Based on my observations, 2016 is going to be a middling year that sees a lot of technologies burst onto the scene, with a better and, more accurately, fuller sense of development coming after two or three more years. A lot of this stuff has the potential to kick off into something absolutely fantastic, like the 18 inch LG display that can roll up like a newspaper. While I felt unprepared for the vastness of this expo, I definitely learned a lot and will be able to properly manage the show with ease come 2017. This is definitely tough to run with only one person. I’ll definitely miss this high-roller press lifestyle, where I’m treated as a VIP and escorted around the convention venues in limousines and having meals paid for by vendors for meeting them. It only means that I need to get to more of these in future so I can reap the rewards I’ve earned after almost eight years of writing. I hope you guys enjoyed a rawer look at technology’s biggest expo — see you next year!