VP of manufacturing, technology and innovation at Jabil. Over 20 years of experience helping global teams deploy cutting-edge manufacturing.
This year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was unlike any other — for obvious reasons. In keeping with its reputation as the preeminent showcase for global innovation, however, CES 2021 didn’t disappoint. For me and many of my engineering colleagues, what stood out most were major advancements in multi-core processors, quantum computing, foldable displays and materials science. Also noted was the continued emphasis on data security as well as the increasing impact of regulatory and sustainability efforts on product development.
There also were many lessons in terms of content and delivery. While no one missed all the time spent walking and then waiting in lines all around Vegas, we longed for spontaneous interactions spurred by interesting sessions and far-fetched ideas. Those serendipitous moments often led to further explorations as well as engineering and manufacturing breakthroughs for our customers.
This year, we traded foot fatigue for click fatigue but still racked up five major takeaways that will influence our thinking going forward:
1. Technology Advancement Is Outpacing Consumer Trust
For several years, technology has outpaced regulations. Now, it also appears to be outpacing consumer trust. A prime example: lingering range anxiety associated with electric vehicles (EVs). Many consumers lack confidence in charging infrastructure and battery technology, which is delaying EV sales despite aggressive growth projections.
Building trust through personalized subscription models can reduce adoption barriers across every technology sector. Giving consumers the option to try out only the features they want is a great way to overcome market obstacles.
The ability to add functionality on-demand is feasible, as a major portion of the cars of the future will be software-defined. Automakers can empower consumers to personalize their driving experience by selecting features in a pay-on-demand model based on preferences and comfort levels.
2. Personalization And Customization Accelerate Adoption
The rise in ethnographic and biometric research is taking personalization to the next level. The ability to track and analyze unique biological characteristics can tailor and tune specific user experiences. Both areas are creating a groundswell of interest in our digital-first, pandemic-impacted world.
An abundance of thin, light, low-cost sensors embedded in all kinds of devices can generate countless amounts of data required for personalization. On one hand, these data insights can optimize user experiences across every sector — from autonomous cars to monitoring health and well-being or interacting with smart-home appliances.
On the other hand, growing concerns over appliances getting hacked and data being hijacked have exacerbated concerns over data security and privacy. Demand for new methods of data encryption on smart devices will intensify, along with heightened regulatory and government efforts to better safeguard consumer data.
3. Edge Computing Gains Popularity Amid Mounting Security Concerns
As security breaches continue to dominate headlines, sending data to the cloud for processing has become less attractive to many consumers. Anticipating this trend, CES featured a handful of home-automation product demonstrations illustrating how data processing could be handled on a standalone device as an extra measure of privacy and data protection.
For product designers and developers, the question is how best to balance the needs for processing power with personal data security. It’s worth noting that specialized devices with massive, multi-core processors can handle a lot of processing, so opportunities are plentiful to keep everything on the device.
It likely will come down to giving consumers opt-in/opt-out choices over whether data is sent to the cloud or processed locally based on connectivity, performance and security preferences.
4. Touchless, No-Contact Human-Machine Interfaces On The Rise
It came as no surprise that CES 2021 featured a plethora of pathogen mitigation solutions from smart masks to digital air filtration systems and disinfecting robots. We fully expected an uptick in no-contact human-machine interfaces (HMI) on everything, from touchscreens to payment methods. Significant advances in holographic projections, facial recognition and voice control are offering major leaps forward.
Solutions for avoiding physical contact or even close proximity with shared keyboards or touchscreens are quickly becoming pervasive. Some smaller companies with unique technologies are overwhelmed with demand and experiencing challenges on the delivery side. It’s critical to keep a close watch on this as the pace of innovation continues to accelerate.
We expect greater opportunities to pair machine learning and artificial intelligence with HMI innovations, enabling different appliances — such as your fridge and oven — to communicate with each other. In the not-too-distant future, coffee machines could brew your favorite cup of Joe simply by recognizing your face or voice command.
Sustainability was front and center again this year, but what was most interesting is how environmental discussions extended across the entire product lifecycle. As the trend toward recyclability of electronic components and printed circuit boards continues to grow, product design conversations now must start with an understanding of which materials best support a product’s end-of-life needs.
There also was a lot of discussion about recovering valuable materials from plastics as part of end-of-life strategies. This trend will impact the development of consumer goods, especially as environmental regulations increasingly influence material choices.
The Importance Of Immersive Virtual Experiences
One of the biggest takeaways from CES is the ever-increasing need for fully immersive virtual experiences. The ability to virtually attend more CES sessions — and for the entire duration — was a plus. The exhibition, however, felt a bit flat. It was difficult to engage in meaningful dialogues about new products and technologies to appreciate the required manufacturing innovations for scalable production. The experience was too passive, with only minimal opportunities for interaction.
Luckily, evolving AR/VR and hologram technologies can dramatically enrich virtual experiences while elevating participation and engagement. As we look ahead, it will be critical to embrace the latest virtual experiences and best technologies showcased at CES to continually innovate and enhance how leading products are designed, manufactured and delivered to customers around the world.
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