Vegas wager ... betting on the future

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

So what, you may ask, is the Next Big Thing?

Some 45 years ago in June 1967, then Motorola chairman Bob Galvin delivered the keynote address at the first ever Consumer Electronics Show in New York City.

Some 17 500 people attended to see products from 100 exhibitors.

Over the years, many products that we've taken for granted debuted at the International CES. See how many you remember or recognise.

The video cassette recorder (VCR) was launched in 1970. The Laserdisc Player was launched in 1974. The camcorder was launched in 1981 along with the Compact Disc (CD) player.

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Over the next decades, we saw: Digital Audio Technology (DAT), 1990; Compact Disc Interactive (CD-I), 1991; Mini Disc, 1993; Radio Data System, (RDS) 1993; Digital Satellite System, 1994; Digital Versatile Disc (DVD), 1996; HDTV, 1998; Hard-disc VCR (PVR), 1999; Digital Audio Radio (DAR), 2000.

The now ubiquitous Microsoft Xbox and its obvious partner the Plasma TV both debuted in 2001. Blu-Ray was launched in 2003 along with the HDTV PVR. Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) TVs were launched in 2008. 3D HDTV came the following year in 2009. Tablets, Netbooks and Android Devices were launched in 2010. And Ford’s Electric Focus and Microsoft Avatar Kinect appeared in 2011.

So that's why I ended up visiting Las Vegas when I would rather be relaxing in the Natal Midlands. CES moved to Las Vegas in 1985 where it has been held every year since in the freezing January winter.

Do you ever stop to think about how some places immediately conjure up particular associations in some people's minds? Most people who heard I was going to be there had reactions along these lines. "Wow!" "You're going to Las Vegas!" "You're so lucky." "Can I ride in your suitcase?" "Don't blow all your money." "Put $10 on 10, 11, and 13 for me." "Are you going for a shotgun wedding?"

Overnight temperatures in Las Vegas last week were around minus three degrees Celsius. And if you're not a gambler (I'm not), getting married (I'm not), going to the theatre (I prefer New York or London for those), there's probably not much in Vegas that one could not find at Suncoast or Sun City.

I work primarily in broadcasting and technology and telecommunications and keeping up to date with those fields is essential if I hope to remain employed.

So returning to our opening question, what is the Next Big Thing?

Apart from the fact that TVs are bigger, phones are thinner, computers are faster, it's not an easy question to answer because new technologies are now adapted into doing things their inventors never considered.

For example, Steve Jobs put a gyroscope into the iPhone 4.

This in turn allowed for development of virtual showhouses for the real estate industry where one can "walk" through a bedroom into a bathroom, look at the ceiling or the floor, and zoom in on particular bits of furniture or fixings.

I use the technology to record 3D panoramas with a free programme from Microsoft called Photosynth.

So what would you do with flexible glass? Corning's Willow Glass is 0,1 mm thick and flexes like plastic laminate. Combine that with Samsung's Youm technology which allows for screens that bend and you could see a flexible mobile phone in the near future. Think of a wristband that doubles as a phone or a TV.

Think of a car dashboard that no longer has physical instruments and can make use of any curved surface.

Microsoft unveiled technology called IllumiRoom which is an Xbox add-on which extends the picture on your TV screen to the room around it. Think of this: you're watching Chelsea getting hammered by Man United and the view of the field suddenly extends into the room around your TV on to the wall unit and the floor and the ceiling. By creating peripheral vision on your TV, it makes you feel as though you are really there.

There were many expectations that a self-drive car would be unveiled at the show. (Google has had such a beast on trial for a while now.) The hype was unfounded.

However, Audi announced that it had been granted a licence by the state of Nevada to begin testing what it calls "Piloted Cars". Their head of electronics development, Ricky Hudi, held up a small laser sensor array which appears to do the same amount of work as one that was the size of a car roof not so long ago.

What is clear is that a car that drives itself is not that far off – less than 10 years, I would say.

Before that, expect to see cars that will park themselves more efficiently in tight parking spaces than a human driver. Or to temporarily take control of a vehicle in circumstances that don't require much decision-making – stop start driving in a traffic jam, for example.

But here's a thought to leave you with: 150 years ago, if you had too much to drink, you could get into your carriage, and your horse would take you home, all by himself.