Five consumer technology challenges will decide who owns the future

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Vegas cocktail

The innovation capital of Earth is Las Vegas for the coming week, as hundreds of thousands of technology makers and breakers, and buyers and sellers converge on the event formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show. Most of what’s on display is as boringly mainstream as clock radios and console televisions were at the first CES in 1967.

But there will be a handful of technologies and prototypes amidst the chaos that will offer clues to what our world will be in 2067, and that’s what I’ll be looking for…

  • New smartphone form factors – It’s an accident of history that networked, pocket-sized super computers are called phones. Advances in materials science and chipmaking will enable a breakout from the rigid rectangle that’s restrained the design of these truly personal computers since the introduction of the iPhone. Flexible screens are only the first step.

  • Handsfree interfaces – As the shape of mobile technology changes, so will the way data goes back and forth between people and machines. Voice recognition is good, but a faster, more discreet input method – just think? – is necessary. So is an alternative to transferring visual information via a flat, handheld screen. Forget about the demise of Moore’s law and fears of artificial intelligence. The human body is technology’s most intractable constraint.

  • Ingestibles and Implantables – The inner world of the human body is next level in general interface development and, specifically, personal health monitoring and maintenance. Getting there requires more discipline and regulatory aptitude than we’re used to seeing in the tech world, but the first glimmer of bio-adapted products are starting to appear. Real time, full body monitoring and analysis will be wonderfully disruptive to the medical industry. The big prize is faster and truer links between the biological and digital realms.

  • Personal transportation – From electric scooters to self driving cars to Elon Musk’s tunnels and hyperloops, a once-in-a-century transportation revolution is slowly coming to a boil. Part technology, part business model and part policy, this revolution will make snapshots of jammed streets and highways as quaint as horse and buggy daguerreotypes. Most of the pieces are already on the table. We’re just waiting for someone to put the puzzle together.

  • Power – The ultimate energy storage and charging solutions have yet to appear. A couple of wireless charging gizmos have been touted in the run up to CES, but so far there hasn’t been any movement toward an industry standard. Once we have the wireless equivalent of USB charging and power cells with the energy density of a tank of gas, for both low and high voltage devices, the market for wearables and Internet of things/home automation products will explode, and the adoption rate of electric vehicles, of all kinds, will hit escape velocity.

There are two more items on the list and always present at CES: the unknown and the unexpected. The challenge is to know it when you see it. Wish me luck.