This was an important year for the Consumer Electronics Show. According to tech guru and Rackspace futurist Robert Scoble, we're now at the start of a new technology cycle, with a bunch of revolutionary new applications starting to make their way out of laboratories and into the hands of consumers.
CES really did reveal what the future looks like this time ... and it's awesome.
I had a chat with Scoble about what he thought of CES. He identified three trends at the show that are about to change the way we live.
1. Virtual Reality Has Landed
Remember the holodeck in Star Trek: The Next Generation? It looked so futuristic. It's here.
A number of new high-end headsets demoed at CES this year: the HTC Vive, Sony's PlayStation VR, and of course, Mark Zuckerberg's $2 billion Oculus Rift. Scoble was lucky enough to give them a try, including taking a stroll through a virtual aquarium. He told me that he was blown away. "It's a really amazing technology and experience," he said. "You can really feel as though you're walking around in a fish tank and interacting with the fish. The quality of the image is just stunning."
Prices may be starting to approach consumer level, but they still have some way to go. The Oculus Rift sells for $600, but by the time you've added on the high-end computer and tossed in a couple of games, a complete VR kit is going to approach around $3,000.
At that price, says Scoble, early adoption won't be powered by schoolteachers. While Disney is said to be using VR to design theme parks and Ford is using it to design cars, early consumer adoption will come from dedicated gamers.
Hey, if it was good enough for Picard ...
2. Driverless Cars
Few technologies have been more discussed or more anticipated than driverless cars. Google has been sending its little buggies around California for a while now, but CES this year was the first time that Scoble got a ride in the new Mercedes E-Class, which is packed with driverless features.
The current state of the art, he explained, is the ability to follow the car in front and stay in lane on a straight freeway. A Tesla can switch lanes and does a better job of following the curve of the road.
The new Mercedes goes further. It can stop at traffic lights, slow down when the speed limit changes, and handle a tighter curve. "We took it through the mountains," Scoble said, "and it drove full time without touching the steering wheel or the controls."
The new Mercedes will be available in March, and Scoble believes that within three years we'll be able to drive through traffic and down the interstate without driver interference. The car company, though, told him that a fully autonomous vehicle is a decade or even 15 years away.
"Part of that is legislation," Scoble explained. "You're not allowed to use them in California or anywhere in the world yet. You have to have a driver in the car, and you have to test the steering wheel every 30 seconds."
The technology isn't entirely there, either. If the road markings disappear or it starts to snow, you still need to take control. "It's not perfect," Scoble said.
But it's certainly getting there. Nokia announced a new map for driverless cars at the show. The map contains more detail so that cars can better prepare for sharp turns. The new Mercedes also comes with two cameras that can create a real-time depth map of the road ahead. During Scoble's 90-minute drive, the car ran over a tumbleweed. "It didn't try to slow down," said Scoble. "But if a child had run out into the road, it would have emergency stopped automatically. It can figure it out in real time."
3. Augmented Reality
While virtual reality displays a world of pixels, augmented reality places pixels over the world. CES displayed a number of new glasses that promised to deliver more than Google Glass managed to achieve, with higher quality and higher resolutions.
In time, explained Scoble, you'll be able to put on the glasses, look at your coffee table, and conjure up a virtual chess game on the surface. Microsoft's HoloLens is already playing out some of these scenarios, he said. Today, they're largely being used by companies to see data in new ways or show tractor mechanics the parts of an engine.
But at $3,000, they're still too expensive for consumers. The computers are too heavy, and there are no consumer applications available. Prices will need to drop to less than $500, says Scoble, which is probably about three to five years away.
When that happens, though, the glasses will offer huge new opportunities for businesses looking for new ways to interact with the world.
It might even pull us out of our virtual reality.
CES this year showed the start of a technology revolution. We're about see the world differently, enter entirely new worlds, and completely change the way we travel through the world. It's started.