Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas will be the largest edition of the show yet.
At the gargantuan tech conference, two of the most exciting tech markets this year will be robotics and virtual reality content. However, another fast-growing tech market, that of cannabis startups, will be noticeably absent.
Since even before Star Wars gave us C-3PO and R2-D2, humans have dreamed of robot assistants that serve as machine sidekicks. In 2017, those dreams will become a reality.
With advances in artificial intelligence technology, improvements in the components used to build robots, and decreasing costs, consumer robotics are poised for a break out. That will be on display at CES. An entire marketplace will be dedicated to robotics.
"These are products that do things like helping seniors around, to making drinks, vacuuming rooms," says Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, the organization behind CES. "Robots are coming of age."
This exhibit hall will include companies like FoldiMate, a startup that builds a robotic laundry-folding machine. Another will be the Ozobot, a gumball-size robot that teaches kids about robotics and computer science. Among the most exciting companies will be Mayfield Robotics, a subsidiary of Bosch. For two years, this company has been working in stealth, and at CES it will finally reveal its product--a robot for your home.
Companies are seeking to define what home robots will be, said Chris Matthews, vice president of marketing at Mayfield Robotics. "We want them to be helpful, inspiring and bring a little joy to the home, be a spark of light that makes technology more approachable and more engaging."
Virtual Reality Content
Virtual reality reached vast audiences in 2016 with the consumer releases of notable headsets like the PlayStation VR and the Oculus Rift. Now, it's time for the content to start pouring in, and it'll be in the spotlight at CES.
"We need to be creating engaging VR experiences that people are interested in exploring and are applicable to their daily lives," says Gordon Meyer, director of marketing at YouVisit, a VR company whose tools make it easy for anyone to create and share their own VR experiences. "The VR industry needs to start creating content that excites, inspires, teaches, entertains and even changes us."
Others VR content companies that will be at the show include the likes of ObEN, a startup that lets users create personalized and virtual replicas of themselves for virtual reality. Another is NextVR, the Southern California company that specializes in shooting sporting and music events and then live streaming the action to VR users. In 2016, NextVR entered into a major partnership with the NBA to live stream games every Tuesday to users. The company is hoping to expand on those efforts--offering users a steady menu of pre-scheduled live events--in 2017.
"The more that we can provide advanced notice and communication to our viewers in the ilk of a TV guide, the more we'll see real substantial traction around viewership," says David Cole, co-founder of NextVR. "And we see the early signs of that now."
Where Are the Cannabis Companies?
Venture capital money has begun to pour into the cannabis market as more states begin legalizing the substance for recreational use. In 2016 alone, two of the states whose voters approved recreational cannabis were Nevada, which hosts CES every year, and California, the tech capital of the world.
Despite these victories, the market will not be represented at CES. And that won't be changing anytime soon, CES's Shapiro tells Inc.
"It's consumer technology. Calling a bong consumer tech would be a stretch," Shapiro says, adding that his team has not even discussed the possibility of adding a cannabis-focused marketplace. "If someone wants to make the argument to us that their lighting system to grow pot at home or something like that is technology innovation, I guess we would consider it."
While no doubt having the support of CES would help, the industry's higher priorities lie in getting more states to legalize recreational cannabis and, most important, getting the federal government on board.
CES "would really help to break down the stigma and the barriers," says Shauntel Ludwig, vice president of operations at Organicix, the Las Vegas company behind DaVinci vaporizers. Ludwig said her company attends CES every year to draw inspiration from other tech companies that can be applied to their own products.
Cannabis companies may not be at the 2017 edition of CES, but this would be expected to change if the industry continues to rack up legal victories across the U.S.
"Marijuana is becoming more mainstream by the day, and it is only a matter of time before you see a cannabis exhibitor at CES. It hasn't happened yet because the industry itself is fairly young," says Adam Bierman, CEO of MedMen, a Los Angeles firm that offers management services and capital to the cannabis industry. "But you will see much faster mainstreaming now that major states like Massachusetts, Nevada, and the biggest trendsetter of them all, California, passed recreational marijuana."