CES is always full of interesting moments that kick off the year in technology, and CES 2024 was no different. I’ve already talked about my favorite products of the big tech trade show in Las Vegas last week, and now here’s a few moments that were interesting as well.
Of course, the scale of the show is hard to fathom until you get there. Usually, there are perhaps 5,000 members of the press from around the world, and we started getting there on Sunday.
I got into the line a bit late to see the CES trends session on January 7, hosted by Brian Comiskey and Jessica Boothe of the CTA’s research division.
Here’s my 10 best moments at the show, from the start to the end. I would add my night at The Sphere, but I wrote about that already in my post on the best of CES. I spent tons of time at the Showstoppers and Pepcom Digital Experience parties.
And I really enjoyed the keynote speeches from the non-tech or barely tech companies like Walmart, Siemens, L’Oreal and others this year. But this post focuses on some smaller-scale things that were wonderful ways to spend my week in Vegas.
The opening moments
It’s always a bit of a shock to see how many press colleagues can fit into the same room. I squeezed in and listened to the predictions. But I marveled at the size of the crowd and took some selfies to show how packed like sardines we were, all hoping to be the ones to tell the best stories about CES. Sometimes it’s not the products you see that are telling. It’s more like what you go through to tell them. Like the line for really mediocre food for lunch.
Still, I can be awestruck just like the greenest reporter in the midst of big crowds.
There are many who are skeptical there is anything valuable to be gleaned from CES in terms of unique insights. But I feel like the process of seeing a lot of things and narrowing them down to the most memorable is worth it. Of course, the older I get, the tougher the show becomes to attend. It’s always a bit of a chore to move from the press events leading up to the Samsung event at the Mandalay Bay to the Sony press conference inside the Central Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. I managed to do so by skipping some press events, and I felt bad for not heading to the Venetian for the Intel event.
Still, despite the hassles, I recognize that it’s a privilege to be a part of the fourth estate and translate the tech to the masses who can never make it to the show in person. It’s moments like the ones that follow that make me feel like going to CES in person is the best way to experience it.
Netflix’s The Three Body Problem
I get to decide what to do with my time at CES, and one of my personal indulgences this year was to focus on some entertainment news. Netflix invited me to check out its mysterious booth where it was highlighting just one show, the upcoming series The Three Body Problem.
Based on the novels by Cixin Liu, the science fiction books are one of the most amazing hard science trilogies I have ever read. I put it right up there with the world building of Frank Herbert’s Dune and Andy Weir’s The Martian and more.
The Three Body Problem chronicles Earth’s contact with an alien civilization that comes from a solar system of a very different sort. In physics, the three body problem refers to the motion of three-point mass particles under their gravitational effects. It’s like the gravitational pull of the sun, the Earth and the moon happening all at once.
The Three Body Problem is immensely hard to grasp, and yet it is rooted in science and physics in a way that most novels never bother to delve into the details. Back in 2020, Netflix announced that Game of Thrones streaming show writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss would adapt the trilogy into a sci-fi TV drama — making it the rare non-English book adapted by the streaming service.
I waited in line just as the show floor opened and made my way to the booth, which had an odd logo on it symbolizing three bodies in motion. I waited with other media to get into the experience, which featured a silver VR headset. I watched a new teaser for the show and came out to see Benioff, Weiss and show producer Alexander Woo. I had a chance to ask them just one question. (There has been controversy around Liu’s political comments, but I had no time to ask it).
I had read the books — including the unofficial fourth book, The Redemption of Time, written by fan Baoshu. The book carried on the story in the same universe, and it was good enough to be blessed by Liu and published in English using the same translator, Ken Liu. Knowing that the ending of Game of Thrones was controversial in the final eighth season, I wanted to know what Benioff and Weiss felt about the ending presented by Liu, as well as the extension of the books by Baoshu.
I asked them, “Can you give me a clue how you feel about the ending of book three, and also whether you would think The Redemption of Time, book four, is really part of this story?”
Benioff told me he finished the third book on a flight from Tokyo. Weiss was on the same flight and he came over to his seat and said he had just finished reading it. Benioff replied that he had also just finished.
“I said, ‘We have to do this,’” Benioff said.
Benioff added, “To me, these books are more ambitious than any novels I’ve really ever read. The fact that Ci Liu was able to bring it all around in a really emotional way and kind of perfect — without spoiling it. For people who have read it, that perfect final tempo was astounding and I hope that we get a chance to get to the end of the series so that we can end it in a brilliant way.”
As for the fan fiction, Benioff said that was a separate issue.
“I think we’re doing the adaptation to the trilogy shows it makes sense that maybe someone else will do that and we’re concentrating on the three books,” Benioff said.
Riding the Vegas Loop underground between convention halls
The Vegas Loop at Las Vegas Convention Center can get you between the West Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Central Hall in less than two minutes. Normally, it takes up to 25 minutes to do the walk.
Operational since 2021, the system can transport more than 4,400 convention goers per hour. I used it a few times during CES, riding shotgun in a Tesla through a tunnel that is big enough for one lane. Elon Musk’s Boring Company built it from 2019 to 2021, and now it’s fully operational and it has opened a new loop to the Resorts World passenger station.
About three or four people can ride at once now at around 35 miles per hour, with future vehicles able to hold up to 12 people. This is an example of something that works and works well.
Back to Area15
XR podcasters Charlie Fink and Ted Schilowitz threw a nice event at The Beast restaurant at Area15, the futuristic experiential event and entertainment district in a big warehouse located just off the Strip in Las Vegas.
It was fun to catch up with friends in the XR community like Angelo Del Priore at HP Tech Ventures and Anna Belova of Devar.
Area15 offers themed entertainment experiences and ever-changing art and retail experiences for locals and visitors of all ages. The experiences include live events like concerts or raves, immersive activations, art installations, cool design elements, unique retail, fancy technology, bars and eateries, and more.
I took a tour of it last year and it was amazing to see the strobe-light rooms, axe-throwing place, a free-roaming VR space, the VR bird flight sim, a simulated golf range and more. And it’s next door to the Illuminarium, a cool cinematic immersive experience.
And while doing the activity below, I learned that the roof of Area15 has a secret message on top of it. From above, you can see it says, “Does not exist.” It is, after all, a twist on Nevada’s famous Area 51 of UFO fame and secret Air Force programs like the U-2 spy plane.
Riding the Goodyear Blimp
Sooner or later, even our tires on our cars had to get smart. Goodyear jumped into CES for the first time to say it has built tire intelligence into its tires with the help of tech-focused partners.
Tire intelligence means getting data on the actual state of wear of a tire and making predictions about how long that tire will last or how it will perform in emergency conditions.
Goodyear has been around for 126 years, but it hasn’t had a booth at CES until this year. I drove the company’s simulators where it showed me the stopping distance that I would have if the car used knowledge of the state of the tires along with other information coming from the car’s sensors.
To execute on this vision for safer tires and safer driving, Goodyear teamed up with partners TNO, ZF, TDK and Gatik.
The first time I went driving in the rain in the simulator, I found I couldn’t stop fast enough at a stop sign and I ran right into a deer. Fortunately, that part wasn’t animated. Later, I was able to stop well ahead of the stop sign.
I was also able to do demos that showed the tire handling while driving between cones. And I was able to experience what hydroplaning was like — spinning out on a wet onramp — without fearing for my life.
The company started talking about Goodyear Sightline and tire intelligence back in 2020. Now the company has integrated it with the ZF technology to detect hydroplaning and do something about it.
Through rigorous collaborative research and testing on a test vehicle, Goodyear and TNO successfully exhibited that an improved ABS, empowered with tire-specific information like tire type and wear state, could potentially elevate system efficiency and curtail braking distance by 5.75 feet.
Goodyear’s new collaboration with TDK Corporation, an electronic components company, aims to accelerate adoption of integrated intelligent hardware and software into tires and vehicle ecosystems.
What I enjoyed about the interview with Goodyear CTO Chris Helsel is that it reminded me about how tech is fading into the woodwork and becoming part of every product and company, even the ones that you think of as non-tech companies.
My favorite CES talk about tech from non-tech companies was a few years ago, when Arnold Donald — the CEO of the world’s largest cruise company, Carnival Cruises — unveiled the Ocean Medallion wearable. That was interesting because it was an example of how technology was infiltrating a non-tech business, where the technology faded into the woodwork and the woodwork itself got smart. Carnival is now outfitting its 100-plus cruise ships with the technology.
This year, non-tech companies like Walmart and L’Oreal gave keynote talks. Helsel said that Goodyear did not have a lot of software programmers or AI experts on hand when it started the journey. At its core, the company is a materials company, and it has a lot of those experts.
Helsel joined the company 25 years ago to bring those tech skills into the company. The company partners to get some of that expertise, but it has also learned a lot itself and it has an office of 50 people in San Francisco, the heart of the tech industry.
“The way I think about it, tech is everywhere,” Helsel said.
Up, up and away
Now some of the tech ideas are getting to market in some upcoming tire models. The work isn’t just in prototype form any more. And it’s why Goodyear brought its world-famous Goodyear Blimp to the show. I was lucky enough to get a ride in it. The day before, all the flights were canceled because of wind.
Our pilots’ names were Joe and Taylor. They had a lot of experience flying the blimp and other aviation experience. This version of the blimp can carry six or eight people.
The blimps have been flying for nearly 100 years. They started out using hydrogen, but the Hindenburg disaster put an end to that. Now the blimps use helium.
She said there are probably less than 10 blimps in the world now. What was great about the experience was that it was like floating in a boat more than it was like flying a plane. You get to focus on the experience of flying and being a tourist from the air, rather than flying to some destination.
The blimp can fly 1,000 miles, but it takes maybe six or eight hours to do that. I spent the half hour or so in the blimp shooting pictures and videos out the window. I was deathly afraid I was going to drop my iPhone out the window while doing that. But fortunately it didn’t happen.
Walking into the Kohler booth
Every year, Kohler comes out with something special for CES. This year, it had smart bidets, targeted showerheads, and an infinity bathtub. I walked into the booth and it felt like I was going into a spa.
I heard the rain of water coming from Kohler’s shower heads and saw the Stillness Bath and the Sok drop-in infinity bathtub.
These might seem like luxuries for lazy people. But Kohler has a pitch like a soft warm shower. These are products for people with time challenges and they can give those people back time in their day for self-care. The booth was a nice respite from the rest of the show.
In general, this 150-year-old company is good at making itself stand out through designs where the tech is there but fades into the woodwork.
I was surprised to see how much tech was in the SpaViva shower head. Offering a blend of unique spray technology and in-shower self-care, this handshower pairs Kohler’s signature Katalyst spray with a Microbubble spray for a deeper clean. It includes a built-in cleansing device with a range of attachments for a multifunctional experience.
This donut-shaped nozzle has a heat-retaining spray that infuses air into water droplets and makes the water drops feel larger. A secondary spray is “Microbubbled” to 100 microns or smaller and penetrates and flushes out the pores.
Sony Afeela electric car driven onstage with a game controller
Sony announced new details about the Sony Honda Mobility car, which will be called the Afeela electric sedan. It will use technology from Honda, Epic Games and Qualcomm. And it will give you access to play PlayStation games in the back seat.
But what I liked about the moment was that it came to the stage on style. Izumi Kawanishi, president and COO of Sony Honda Mobility, used a PS5 DualSense controller to drive the Afeela electric car on stage, making everyone laugh with the funny stunt.
Sony will open preorders for the car in the first half of 2025 and it will start deliveries in early 2026. The car looks beautiful and it will clearly have the Sony design touch.
Shift Robotics’ Moonwalker X robotic shoes
Shift Robotics unveiled Moonwalkers X as the latest version of its robotic shoes. The Austin, Texas-based company made the announcement ahead of CES 2024. I tried them out at the Showstoppers party.
The Moonwalkers X is an enhanced iteration of the original Moonwalkers model, with improvements in weight, agility, and safety. The company aims to change the landscape of workplace mobility with these Robocop shoes.
I tried was concerned I was going to wipe out and land flat on my back. But they were easy to walk with and I felt like I could have gone a lot faster. They were a lot easier to use than roller skates.
The execs said they’re ideal for commercial applications where employees engage in extensive walking, such as distribution, logistics, and warehouse settings, involving as many as 30,000 steps per day. If you put this together with the exoskeletons that were at the show, it could make life easier for those workers.
The Brunswick self-docking boat demo
Brunswick showed up with a cool demo of a self-docking boat. It didn’t actually have a boat in a harbor at the Las Vegas Convention Center. But it did have a nice simulation of how it works. The company has outfitted its 40-feet Boston Whaler boat with the docking tech, sensors and cameras to enable it to dock itself, which is always one of the most challenging tasks for new boat owners.
The demo itself was cool as I could see the simulation running on a curved screen outside the boat platform. But when I stepped on the platform, I thought the boat itself was rocking. But that was an effect that was all in my head as the movement was actually on the screen, not on the floor of the booth.
Brunswick CEO David Foulkes walked me around the booth and showed how the company was creating innovative boating gear like electric-powered outboard motors that could be used with bigger boats and get them to travel at speeds of 10 knots to 15 knots.
He said the company released its first three-knot and five-knot electric motors last year and is now adding them across the bigger boats and motors in its product line. Regulations in places like the Netherlands are forcing these changes for the sake of cleaner waters.
He also showed off the eFoil surfboard, which has a motor on it. It allows a surfer to glide above the water while the motor does its work underwater. And he noted the company has started its Freedom Boat Club, where it’s like a timeshare for a boat except you don’t own it. You pay a subscription fee annually and use a boat in a port city where one is available. Brunswick has 400 of these clubs around the world with around 5,000 boats available.
Panel on AI and the democratization of game development
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the panel on “AI and the democratization of game design” that I moderated on Wednesday in the West Hall.
Our panelists included Jani Penttinen, CEO, of Bitmagic; Latoya Peterson, CXO at Glow Up Games; Jonathan Stringfield, Vice President, Global Business Research and Marketing, Activision Blizzard; and Ike Nnoli, Senior PMM, Graphics & Simulation at Nvidia. It was a good session. We dwelled on what the impact would be on jobs, and Penttinen offered the reassuring notion that everything is changing fast and so there’s no real way to fall behind if you haven’t paid a lot of attention to it yet.
I’ll take that. But by no means is that a reason to ignore the impact of AI, which will be felt both in the ranks of professional game development as well as among the creators of user-generated content.
GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it. Discover our Briefings.