To prepare for CES next month, I enlisted the help of fellow Ad Age columnist and tech guru extraordinaire Shelly Palmer. CES "is a very accurate way to understand, at a basic level, what technology will be available in the marketplace 18 to 36 months out," Palmer told me. Adding my own B2B spin, here are seven technology trends with significant implications for just about any business.
Amazon's Alexa platform has simply spoiled consumers, raising expectations that on-demand services will be available everywhere. No doubt this year's show will feature even more product integrations with Alexa (last year "she" showed up in cars, washing machines and robots). From a B2B perspective, look for Alexa and friends to infiltrate the workplace -- changing how products are ordered, doors are locked, phones are answered and office machines are managed. (Imagine telling Alexa to optimize the office's power consumption or reboot the phone system.)
2. Real-time translation
At the moment, Alexa only speaks English. Google Translate, on the other hand, speaks more than 100 languages, which should spawn a world of business opportunities. Earlier this year, Google launched Pixel Buds, Bluetooth earphones that can translate 40 languages in real time. White these earphones will be treats for tourists, lifesavers for first responders and godsends for teachers of immigrants, it isn't hard to imagine them radically reshaping how businesses manage a global workforce or an international customer service operation. We can even dream of Pixel Buds winning a Nobel Prize by breaking down the cultural divides typically created by language.
3. Augmented reality
While Pokémon Go made augmented reality a household word last year, Palmer believes this technology's flexibility gives it plenty of potential to shape both industries and day-to-day life. For example, he envisions "a doctor looking into an incubator and seeing a heads-up display of all of the vital signs of the patient." Similarly, expect to see augmented reality integrated into the repair process for all types of machines, from car engines to wind turbines, chronometers to dishwashers. And, further off, product designers will welcome this technology into their development process, perhaps realizing the holographic computations of the Tony Stark character in "Iron Man."
4. Smart drones
Drones were everywhere at CES 2017, but most were manually controlled. "A bunch of companies are creating machines that not only fly themselves but also have hi-definition or infrared cameras that enable material processing in the air," according to Palmer, adding that Travelers Insurance, for example, is using drones to assess exterior damage. This let's them "understand what happened to your roof and process your claim without having someone go out to your house," Palmer says. Smart drones will impact a wide swath of life, including agriculture, road repair, security, delivery and much more.
5. Autonomous transportation
With Elon Musk's recent announcement of semi-autonomous Tesla trucks, it is easy to anticipate a world of self-driving vehicles large and small. CES 2018 will be chock-a-block with prototypes that could transform not just how people get from place to place but also how goods are moved. Personally, I'm holding out for the "Jetsons"-like VTOLs, or vertical takeoff and landing vehicles. These products are in development around the world (see five of them in this video), and in combination with smart cameras, they'll have business applications for a wide range of industries.
6. Connected health
It's hard to imagine an industry that will be more affected by emerging electronics trends than healthcare. Many of the advancements in mobile phones have direct applications for physicians, from instant diagnoses and patient record retrieval, to vital-signs monitoring and drug dosage control. Palmer envisions remote interactions between a doctor, a patient and a family member, which will increase compliance with prescribed drugs, diet and exercise regimens. Smart monitoring devices could also lead to advancements in prevention, early diagnosis and treatment as health data is aggregated (after being anonymized for privacy, of course).
7. Make your own mash-ups
The ultimate reason for B2B marketers to attend CES is to imagine their own new products or services springing from the technology on display or the people they run across. "CES is about putting together industries that ordinarily wouldn't get together, and today that's really happening everywhere," Palmer explains. As an example, he cites an oncologist who met a sensor manufacturer at a past CES, which led to the conception of a toilet with artificial intelligence that can monitor health through waste analysis. "If you approach CES the right way, it can unlock all kinds of mysteries," Palmer says.