Ross Gillard covers the latest trends and insights from CES in Las Vegas, including the coming age of 5G; virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality; computer vision and artificial intelligence; and the latest gadgets like the Insta360 Titan, the HTC Vive Pro and robots!
An interview with Ross Gillard, Head of Immersive Content Operations
1. What brands stood out at CES 2018? Why?
The Insta360 Pro Titan. This 10K resolution camera looks to be the camera system a lot of us in the industry have been waiting for. Details are still tight lipped, but we know that it boasts two kilometres wireless range, micro four third sensors and has 75-degree overlap on the lens. In general, the price point of Insta360’s products have been in line with where the industry’s sweet spot is right now. It’s good to see a roadmap for the quality of product offerings is increasing quickly. Also, it was exciting to see companies likes Intel promoting the coming age of 5G through virtual reality (VR). It’s a promising sign that all of the big companies are beginning to treat VR like the future form of content. For me, it was less about brands and more about the widespread adoption of cutting-edge technologies like VR, augmented reality (AR), 5G and connected smart devices.
2. Were there any big reveals?
The HTC Vive Pro was something I was anticipating, but being able to get a hands-on demonstration of it was something I wasn’t expecting for a few more months yet. Getting the chance to put it on, walk around and witness the quality jump with my own eyes – that felt like a big reveal to me. Seeing how much interest there is from big companies around 5G integration into everyday devices – from the future of smart cities right down to consumer products – this all seems to be happening surprisingly fast, which is very exciting.
3. What were the coolest gadgets you saw?
The Sports Pavilion was implementing a lot of innovation from other industries, applying technology to things that you might not have imagined coming for a while yet. For example, there were GPS and accelerometers the size of my thumbnail embedded into equipment like tennis rackets, so athletes could measure when things like when their hands are rotating and what the velocity of the impact was. It’s exciting to imagine this future for athletics and sport, and how this can inform training and allow someone to examine their own swing after the fact in ways that only athletes competing at a professional level might have had access to previously.
I played a few rounds of mixed reality (MR) golf where I actually felt like I was on the course. Having to deal with my horrible hook in various grass lengths… I’ve seen golf simulators before but I had never really seen them as an alternative to anything other than the driving range. This felt pretty close to the full sport, less the wind and the sunburn.
It’s interesting to see the cross-pollination of industries and their respective developments, how this can expedite technology’s ability to enhance our day-to-day lives. For example. there’s a computer vision based device for people with vision loss. The device clips onto your glasses and when you point at an object, the speaker attached to the glasses describes what you’re looking at. It can read a menu out loud and recognize basic objects, etc. Computer vision and artificial intelligence (AI) are going to be incredibly empowering for people that aren’t able to experience the world in the same way as you and I can.
4. What were some trends?
5G was the one global theme of the trade show. The throughput of data that we’re going to be able to exchange is going to create a vehicle for us to do so many new things. 5G will bring a lot of power to over-the-top methods of content distribution, and it will be the backbone for communication between massive networks of connected devices, such as vehicles and homes. To me, it represents a step towards efficiency. I’ve seen that in my own life with products like Nest, Sonos, Philips Hue and Waze. It’s exciting to imagine how a whole city of these types of apps could be connected and communicating with each other to increase efficiency across the board.
5. What were the best new products?
The Samsung QLED television won “Best-In-Show”. The breadth of television and display technology was pretty impressive. I’m happy to see 3D televisions that don’t require glasses to experience 3D. Coming from a person who is on film sets often, seeing quality-made confidence monitors coming down in pricing is exciting. The display technology in general has been rapidly advancing since its invention and unlike a lot of other industries, it never seems to plateau.
6. There were a lot of robots at this year’s conference, is this a growing tech trend?
It’s definitely a growing tech trend, however I haven’t seen a lot of application for how they’re going to change people’s lives for the better, at least not in the home. Right now they’re perceived as companions that can put a smile on your face or help clean your house, like the Roomba. I think we’re a few years out from robots truly aiding and bettering the quality of human life.
I found it fascinating to watch a ping-pong match between an individual and a robot. If children grow up with access to technology like that, I can only imagine the level of dexterity, precision and hand-eye motor skills that can be developed from an earlier age. There has been a lot of stigma around technology and children being exposed to it at an early age. I think that as we get closer to technology mimicking the real world, the relationship between us and machines will change. Within sports, hopefully we find their place as our own personalized assistants, a sparring partner, a way to focus training. Beyond athleticism, if we can develop a machine to execute the nuanced motor skills of sport, then we’re even closer towards precise actions in things like surgery. Things that can drastically affect the quality of human life and reduce error.
7. What are some challenges you have faced in building and creating immersive music experiences artificially?
For me, it’s incredible to see see which problems start-up companies have tried to solve with a product, perhaps it was only to solve a problem for themselves or for everyone.
For whatever reason, they may not understand where some of these similar pain points exist in other industries. To be able to walk these conference floors and see the problems that other people have, the solutions that they have created, you start to understand where the commonality in all of it is. Sometimes you see solutions that people have created for their industry that are entirely applicable to yours.
CES is very important because it keeps your finger on the pulse of technology and up to date on the problems people are trying to solve via product. I truly believe that a lot of technology is created to solve a problem.
If you’re in your own world and you’re only looking at your own problems, then you’re probably overlooking solutions that other people have come up with that could be a part of your solution. Not everything needs to be built internally. More often than not, I think it’s best to embrace the hive.
8. What was the biggest difference between last year’s conference and this year’s conference?
VR, AR and MR were prevalent in so many booths. Large companies are embracing the technology and bringing it into their product ecosystems. At the beginning of last year, it felt as if VR needed to have a new platform in order for it to exist. Today if feels like we are close to a point where it coexist within the same platform. Imagining apps like Netflix having all types of content within one app. I’m not saying that’s happening yet with Netflix specifically, but seeing how serious brands and services are treating VR and AR is a really promising sign that it is here to stay and it’s only going to continue to develop and improve.
9. What learnings did you take away from CES?
We’re all looking for tangible results from attending a conference like this. “How does this increase my revenue?” “How does this networking affect us?” What these conferences are really good at is bringing innovators into one place. You end up having conversations and start talking about your pain points and then you realize that they have similar ones or that they’ve solve the same problems. If you strip that part away from CES and you limited it to the vendor booths and the tangible products, then you’re overlooking the power of all of these great minds coming together and having dialogue with one another. I think a lot of time we go back to our labs and production facilities and we don’t talk to each other until the next conference. Having everyone together in a social atmosphere creates an empowering community where you’re learning a lot more from those conversations then from reading a pamphlet or a website.
In addition, seeing where the consumer products are going is really affirming the path that we’re on when it comes to developing. Feeling that confidence that we’ve got solutions that the world wants and solving problems that other people haven’t had yet to solve is very exciting and empowering. It’s great to see that we’re not just trying to solve problems that we have internally, these are large-scale solutions for a lot of people.
10. Where are things heading in immersive technology?
There’s a lot of interest in connectivity. With 5G and smart cities being a theme, the idea that all of this technology is no longer in isolation and that it’s now communicating with each other brings efficiency. Immersive technology is expanding into many industries. It’s not being treated as an isolated medium, it’s pervasive into every type of industry and every walk of life.
People are craving more from experiences and technology. I think we have a voracious appetite to use technology to free up more of our time in our day. There is a very reasonable argument to be made about how AI is potentially dangerous, but ultimately, I believe it’s going to serve people individually rather than disrupt in the world negatively. It’s going to be used to empower to take more on, focus on the things that the brain excels at instead of redundancy. We need to spend more time tapping into our individuality rather than doing mundane, everyday tasks.
There’s been a lot of talk in previous years about presence and empathy. If you look at the political landscape right now, bringing people together seems to be of the utmost importance. Being able to put yourself in other people’s shoes, or put yourself in shoes that you’re not necessarily comfortable in, is really powerful. I’m equal parts terrified and awe-struck by the ocean. I’m never going to go to the bottom of the ocean, but I might be able to do that in VR and know what it feels like. Maybe the next time I swim in the ocean, I’ll be better informed and a little less afraid…