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Missed CES this year? We’ve got you covered
Jan 10, 2022

Missed CES this year? We’ve got you covered

Some of the highlights from the Consumer Electronics Show include new electric vehicles and flexible solar tiles.

The Consumer Electronics Show just wrapped in Las Vegas. This year, it was a hybrid conference due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. Some attended in-person exhibits and talks, while others tuned in remotely.

Last year, the pandemic forced the conference fully online.

One of the remote attendees this year was Brian Cooley, an editor at large for CNET. We checked in with him to talk about what new tech is getting all the buzz, and what it’s like attending the biggest tech show on Earth from home. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Brian Cooley: You know, it ends up teaching you that a show in this day and age, a conference, is largely about the information it puts out. And that levels it pretty well in terms of covering it from wherever you are. What you miss is the things that you can’t plan on — the products you didn’t think were going to be there or be interesting, and then you see them in person. It’s like, “Oh, wait a minute, this is actually pretty well done.” And that’s hard to get across in a press release, but this is the time we live in.

Brian Cooley (courtesy Cooley)

Kimberly Adams: So what general themes have you seen from this year’s conference?

Cooley: The biggest one certainly was electrification of vehicles. We kind of knew that going in because the biggest, you know, unkept secret around was that the electric Chevy Silverado pickup truck was going to be formally unveiled. Sony announced they’re going to make an electric crossover. I mean, it’s one of those moments where it’s almost a froth at this point. But that was a big storyline because it shows that this is the moment — 2022 — that we’re going to be gutter to gutter with electric car offerings from real companies, and not in the niche era anymore, where it’s a “new idea.” I think it’s now fully taken route as of 2022. I think we’ll look back and say this was the year that EV’s started to go mainstream.

Adams: Here on the show, we’ve been talking a lot about health and medical tech. What technology in those spaces did you see spotlighted this year?

Cooley: This year, we saw a new health ring. It’s for monitoring stairs, steps, sleep, respiration, heart rate and maybe blood glucose and blood pressure in a future iteration. That’s a massive amount of sensing. And I also saw an LG television that now has, among its many apps, which TVs all have, one of them is a telehealth portal. So for people that just feel like a phone isn’t real health care, too small, too weird, too casual, they can sit down in front of their big TV, see a doctor pretty much in life size.

Adams: What product has excited you the most that you’ve seen so far?

Cooley: I saw a new kind of solar roof from GAF Energy. They’re the largest maker of those kind of asphalt roof tiles that almost every house has. They have a new kind now of solar roof that is basically like those flexible asphalt tiles, but it is made of solar cells.

Adams: Wow.

Cooley: The difference means you can have this installed by the same people who install your roof, those same crews are up there with those pneumatic nail guns, they just nail this down, as opposed to having to go to this whole rigmarole of a completely different solar company that puts this big metal frame on your roof and these hard panels that, frankly, don’t look very good. Now it’s just one-stop shopping in the future. Call a roofer, “I need a roof. And while you’re at it, make it solar.” So that’s a really interesting product to me. I think that’s really got some real potential.

Adams: Whatever happened to Elon Musk’s solar roofing tiles?

Cooley: That’s one of the main reasons this company, GAF, came out with what they came out with is because Tesla’s solar roof tiles, as I understand it, I know they were very expensive, multiple of what a traditional solar system cost. Now, they look a lot better, granted. But at the same time, they had a lot of teething problems that I think went beyond just a teething period. So that was clearly something that didn’t take on the mainstream market, as I think some expected. So when I see something like this, from a company that makes such a huge amount of just everyday tiles that are not super sexy, they’re just the, to be honest, they’re the value version, they’re just cheap. But this is going to be a way to reach the masses at a time when we have to get more critical mass around solar roofs, and it can’t be this elite thing anymore.

Adams: Something that caught my attention was the autonomous John Deere tractor. Were you watching that debut?

Cooley: I didn’t watch it. But I’ve been following the autonomous agriculture sector, and we follow it at CNET, even though it’s not a consumer product, clearly. But the idea that there’s a radical transformation of those vehicles makes a lot of sense. It follows in a theme that autonomy, as opposed to leading to fully self-driving cars in our driveway, which was the early idea — who’s gonna be OK with that, and all that. The focus has shifted a lot now to institutional, industrial and enterprise or commercial applications, like big machines that go over fields, or buses and transports and shuttles, or those little robots at Amazon warehouses. That’s where autonomy has gone.

And the reason is because it’s much easier to achieve and manage autonomy safely and effectively in a place where you’ve got a very predictable route. Here’s what the vehicle has to do, and here’s exactly where it has to do it, as opposed to the personal car, which is this chaotic Wild West. You have no idea what that person wants from their car day to day, hour to hour. But when you get to buses, shuttles, delivery vans, and you get to things like agricultural vehicles, half the job is done. You know what it has to do, now you’ve just got to get it to do it. That may sound oversimplifying, but it’s a huge advantage.

Adams: How has this conference being hybrid this year and fully remote last year changed who shows up?

Cooley: Well, you know, it reminds me of the old Yogi Berra joke: “No one goes to that restaurant anymore. It’s too crowded.” CES has no lack of attention, whether that attention is in physical attendees or hybridized attendees. Once you get to a certain level of an event, you become this thing that is self-sustaining. It’s like the sun — it just has its own internal energy. And so CES, for all of its incredibly overwrought size, or right now, troubled split between its two locations, if you will, this year, it continues to function as this time when we stop and we all look at one subject area at once, whether we’re technology people, media people, investors or people in the other form of media, entertainment and such. And so I think that has not flagged at all. I’ve been as busy, as tired as I am slept on the floor in Vegas, except now my feet aren’t tired. Every other part of me is instead, but at least I haven’t been walking the floor.

Adams: What do you think is missing from CES this year that you wish you would see?

Cooley: Personally, I miss the bumblebee effect, where we all cross-pollinate each other. “Hey, I saw something, I want to go tell so and so.” Or I’ll just be talking about something, and I have no idea that someone’s ears are perking up saying, “Oh, that’s interesting.” We’re doing fine patching it together the last year or two, but overall, we do need to get those moments, because technology has yet to create that kind of inadvertent presence where we are dropping pollen on each other.

Related Links: More insight from Kimberly Adams

We have a link to some of Cooley’s highlights from CES, including a video going into all the cars and autonomous vehicles that caught his attention this year — like one that can change colors.

And those solar roofing tiles Cooley was talking about, we have a link about that from CNBC. It does look pretty cool.

And my colleague Savannah Maher covered that new John Deere autonomous tractor. She reports the push to automate agriculture is a response to the shortage of agricultural workers, but that many farmers are still a bit skeptical of this kind of tech. Especially since, even without the latest technology, John Deere’s tractors can easily run about half a million dollars.

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