January 05, 2017      

This week’s Consumer Electronics Show is huge, in terms of exhibitors (more than 3,000), attendance (a projected 170,000), and tech media coverage. Robotics businesses shouldn’t be deterred by the hype and consumer focus, though; some robotics and AI trends emerging here will apply across industries in the coming year.

Since nobody can see everything at once at CES 2017, here’s a quick guide on some things to watch for, whether you’re walking through the conference halls, attending sessions and related events, or sifting through news articles.

1. Social robots are finally coming

Last year, we saw many robots being positioned for home use, but how many people have conversations with their fridge or thermostat? Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home have been the most prominent voice-controlled virtual assistants so far, but expect to see many competitors such as Avatar Controls’ Eywa E1 in the Robotics Marketplace and elsewhere on the floor of CES 2017.

AI trends at CES 2017 include more social robots.

More humanoid and social robots are coming to CES 2017.

Some are intended for educational use, and others, such as SoftBank Robotics’ Pepper, are more likely to be found in stores and other public sites.

Speaking of the humanoid Pepper, there are more models with a face and arms this year, and many such as Mayfield Robotics’ Kuri can move around, unlike Alexa — see the mobility item below.

2. AI is everywhere

Yes, “artificial intelligence” and the “Internet of Things” have been overused (and we’re just as guilty of this as others). However, the levels of autonomy and connectedness of this year’s robots are impressive. Some such as Vobot Inc.’s Vobot Clock incorporate Alexa’s capabilities.

From elements enabling the smart home to the “factory of the future” and smart cities, it’s clear that AI trends include incorporating improving sensors, relying on data collection and analytics, and offloading some processing to the cloud.

3. Mobile autonomy is in

Of course, CES 2017 is the place to see cool gadgets, but note that many of the products on display are still in the prototype phase and depend on preprogrammed demonstrations or remote control to operate in the crowded and Wi-Fi-challenged venues.

That said, today’s and tomorrow’s robots are less likely to run you over, and in combination with machine learning and affordable manipulators such as those of Ewaybot Technologies’ MoRo, the dream of having a robotic butler get you something from the kitchen is finally coming closer to realization.

Robots such as Five Elements Robotics’ 5e Nannybot offer autonomous movement and telepresence capabilities to busy households, and PowerVision’s PowerRay could help fishermen snag that next big catch.

AI trends at CES 2017 include connected vehicles.

Toyota unveiled this new concept car at CES 2017.

Although the consumer drone market has leveled off and self-driving cars are still years away, the level of interest among early attendees and exhibitors around these robotics and AI trends remains high. The transportation and logistics industries have recognized the potential value of fleets of autonomous vehicles.

Even though they’re not always sure about the safety and market implications of self-driving cars, the big automakers are clearly investing millions in that race. Toyota’s James Kuffner even went so far as to say that that we’re “not even close” to fully autonomous vehicles anytime soon.

However, supplier companies such as Karamba Security and FEV are happy to step in with components such as security for self-driving cars.

4. It’s anybody’s game

The U.S. is still the leader in robotics innovation, but applications of robotics and AI are coming from around the world. The sheer number of exhibiting companies with “Shenzhen” in their name indicates that China is deadly serious about taking the lead of the consumer electronics industry.

But South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, France, Israel, and a host of other countries are just as eagerly working to find their own niches in AI, robotics, and related technologies.

We’ll have more coverage of international developments soon, as we visit the Eureka Park startup zone and meet with delegations from around the world.

Robotics and AI trends at CES 2017 include big players such as LG.

LG unveiled its Hub robot at CES 2017.

5. Big players are muscling in

In addition to the aforementioned automakers, it’s no surprise that chip makers Qualcomm and Intel or electronics companies like LG Electronics and Samsung have taken a strong interest in robotics and AI trends.

Consumers and analysts are interested in anything robotic, even if some exhibitors are beginning to take pains in distinguishing between new hardware (which could be commoditized) and software (which is vendor- or application-specific).

The healthcare, consumer, and manufacturing industries are too big as potential users of robots and AI for the rest of the tech world to ignore, so expect to see even more robotics partnerships and mergers and acquisitions in the coming year.

More About Consumer Robotics, AI Trends, and CES:

The show has just begun!

And there’s even more to follow from CES 2017 — 3D printing, education, wearables, security, augmented and virtual reality, and of course, more robots. Keep an eye on Robotics Business Review and our sister site Robotics Trends this week and next for more observations and analysis from the world’s biggest convention of its kind.

In addition, tomorrow’s Robotics Conference within CES will feature panels on delivery robots, improving human-machine interactions with AI, and a showcase of robots for the real world. We’ll share what experts have to say about what’s new in these exciting areas.

What are you interested in learning about from CES 2017? Let us know on LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, or Twitter.