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Playing CE Powerball at CES

Lately it seems like International CES is like a Powerball lottery, where you’ve got to be in it to win it, but in reality there are very few jackpots.

Lately it seems like International CES is like a Powerball lottery, where you’ve got to be in it to win it, but in reality there are very few jackpots.

Last year, I think we were all surprised by the sudden influx of Internet of Things startups, particularly in show’s new Eureka Park “crowdfunded” area at the Sands Expo convention center. This year, the bigger mass-media story was autonomous vehicles.

While the idea of self-driving cars is certainly cool, that reality is still a good five to 10 years away. The car of the near future had more to do with new electric and connected vehicles, and self-steering/breaking (autonomous) safety features. Even Control4 dipped a toe in the water with a proof-of-concept created from an open-source software designed to integrate internet functionality into vehicles.

Control4’s modest demo united smart home functionality with connected cars by demonstrating one-touch integration using an Android phone and a Toyota vehicle heads-up display unit. If the concept becomes a reality, the Control4 App would sync with the vehicle to enable Control4 users to access and control their smart home devices, such as thermostats, lights, locks, and garage doors from the dashboard.

Touch “Away,” and in addition to closing the garage door, the lights will turn off, security system will arm, doors will lock, and the temperature will switch to energy-saving mode. Touch “Arrive” before you turn into the driveway and your smart home will automatically turn on the lights, queue up the music, and get the heat going to welcome you home. Does it change the world? Certainly not, but it does market the connected home through the newest hot category, and it potentially elevates the Control4 brand further into the mass market.

But cars were really just the shiny new thing at CES. IoT continued to be the real driving force of the show, with many major appliance companies showcasing soon-to-ship connected products and hundreds of janky start-ups in the dark Sands Expo basement area showing products that may never see the light of day.

For years I’ve heard unconvincing PR pitches about connected kitchen appliances. Whether it’s scanning bar codes on every item entering or leaving the refrigerator or recipe-downloading ovens, none of them really seemed useful. This year, however, Bosch and others showed a technology that photographs the inside of the fridge when it opens, keeping an informal inventory of its contents for shopping purposes. It was a simple concept with clear limitations, but that appliance, and an in-wall coffee maker that seems about as close to a barista robot as I’ve ever seen, represent products from well-established and respected brands.

I realize we can’t discount the start-ups completely, but so few of them seemed to have the legs to make a return trip to CES next year. The lower barrier to entry for these companies opens the market to innovation, but I’m assuming most of these concepts won’t result in big payoffs.