Six Tech Trends To Watch At CES 2018

LAS VEGAS (CNN) — One of the largest tech conventions in the world kicks off Sunday (Jan. 7) in Las Vegas.

The International Consumer Electronics Show — CES to its friends — is a sprawling and overwhelming blur of booths, press events, demos and gadgets.

Now in its 51st year, parts of the show seem like a throwback to a different era when televisions were considered the cutting edge of tech innovation. The marquee names remain companies like Panasonic and Sony because many of today’s leading technology players like Apple, Facebook and Amazon prefer to keep a low profile at the show.

But with more than 3,900 exhibitors, CES is still a place where you can find the latest technology trends. Here are some things we expect to see at CES this year.

1. The voice assistants are everywhere

Voice assistants made a big impact at CES last year, but next week they will be all but inescapable on the show floor. They’re moving on from smart speakers and will show up in everything from cars to microwaves. Companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google will take a break from promoting their own devices to strike up partnerships with third-parties. Licensing and the promise of signing people up for services like Amazon Prime or YouTube Red are a huge potential revenue stream for these companies. Will your next shower head be an Alexa, Bixby or Google Assistant?

“Coming out of CES, we’re going to clearly have established that voice is going to be the go-to user interface,” said Steve Koenig, senior director of market research for the Consumer Technology Association. “Wherever we go or whatever we’re doing, we’re going to have some form of digital assistant at our side ready to help us.”

2. Cities are planning for the future

The UN estimates that 60% of the world’s population will live in urban ares by 2030. For the first time, CES is dedicating an area to smart city technology. It is expected to be one of the more internationally focused areas, with representatives from cities around the world searching for ways to sustain their growing populations.

While the United States is focused on transportation (specifically self-driving cars, less so public transit) countries in Europe are more concerned with things like energy conservation, says Koenig. There will be air quality tech, electric bikes, home automation gadgets, and even a connected hive monitor for beekeepers.

3. Sports tech goes pro

The sports zone will bring together trends that have appeared at CES over the years: wearables, augmented reality, sensors and apps for quantifying physical activity. Now companies are pushing software and hardware for professional sports. They could be used the aid performance, help injury recovery or to give real-time updates on an athlete’s performance during a big game. eSports will also have a presence in the sports section.

4. Robots that are (almost) useful

Robots have long been a mainstay on the CES show floor, but they’re usually more of a novelty than a real product. This year, thanks to AI, voice interfaces and advanced sensors, robots are inching closer to becoming useful. One category to watch is mobile service robots, which can handle deliveries and other simple tasks.

Companion robots are also on the rise, though perhaps a few years behind. As smart assistants flesh out their personalities and get better at conversing and anticipating needs, they could be a natural fit for robots.

“Its not really that much of a stretch for them to be in a companion robot,” said Koenig. “At what point do these conversations turn into relationships?”

5. More cars, fewer drivers

CES is not a car show, but many big name auto manufacturers will have flashy displays and events this year. That’s because the focus has shifted from the latest car design and how they drive, to the technology inside. Self-driving features are the biggest draw, but this year there will also be a focus on how 5G networks will impact driving, says Koenig. That will include things like low-latency mobile broadband in your car.

6. Bad ideas

Genuinely innovative gadgets that are destined for mass adoption are the exception, not the rule at CES. Many of the products will be quickly forgotten — like last year’s wi-fi connected trash can with voice controls. That’s OK. One of the most enjoyable parts of the show is finding goofy and odd hardware. But there’s also the chance of stumbling on the next big thing in some dim corner of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

We’ll report back with the best, the worst, and the most dumfounding from Las Vegas throughout the week.