CES 2016 Diary: Rolling with the Girl's Lounge

The worldwide director of J. Walter Thompson's Innovation Group rides along with powerful women in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS — The annual Consumer Electronics show here is full of surreal moments but one of the biggest ones yesterday was finding myself at the front of the Girls Lounge tour bus, en route to the Convention Center, with US CTO Megan Smith to my left, and a full house senior women in technology marketing and advertising behind.

It got more surreal when it turned out Smith would personally guide the group on a tour of the center along with Joanna Pena-Bickley, Chief Creative Officer at IBM Interactive Experience, and Shelley Zalis, the indomitable Girls Lounge founder.

Was the Convention Center ready for a sprawling group of women in pink-and-grey branded headphones and matching shoes? Perhaps not, but we certainly caused a spectacle.

And Las Vegas is all about spectacle, after all.

(I’ve since decided that the only way to cover trade shows is to have the President’s CTO as your tour guide. )

The convention center was bursting at the seams most of the day — little wonder that the iconic-but-ailing historic Riviera Hotel is being torn down soon to allow for extension of the conference building.

The biggest footprint by far was Samsung’s stand. To use the term "booth" is somewhat absurd. Among other features, it included a full-scale theme park ride for attendees to try out the Samsung Gear VR experience. (Needless to say, the lines were out the door by the end of the day.)

Cars continue to claim a growing share of the show — confirmation that the Internet of Things is transforming cars into moving, living, breathing computers. Twenty-five percent more floor space was given to automotive products this year than last. Autonomous self-driving cars appeared at all stands. (Even Kia has announced one.) More fun this year was Mercedes’ F015 Luxury in Motion Concept car — a self-driving car that lets you convert the front, rear and sides of the car into a full-scale 360 digital entertainment screen, powered by gesture and eye control.

Sensors are another big theme. LG’s new clever fridge has a proximity sensor that can automatically open the door when you approach. There are weather sensors … Mirrors that become illuminated when you’re near … You name it.

Virtual reality, naturally, is everywhere. I met with Chick Foxgrover of the American Association of Advertising Agencies while trawling the floors, and he was excited about the opportunity for content creators in VR, which he believes is an underdeveloped discipline.

No longer a novelty, wearable tech continues to be a huge theme at CES 2016. The most interesting additions this year were in the newly launched Baby and Beauty tech forum. There were smart pregnancy self-monitors; tailored nutrition systems for babies; gluten sensors for food; baby safety devices; and nausea-battling health bands. In Beauty, there were at-home ultrasound devices and vibrating facial devices, designed to stimulate tissues or make skincare application more effective. Beauty Tech is a growing space outside of CES. We’re seeing more sophisticated devices allowing for self diagnosis, at-home treatments and personalization.

The baby and fertility tech part was also interesting to me, and part of a growing trend in feminine care and health technology — which is expanding in to every facet of femininity. In our recent Future 100 report we featured Elvie, a connected Kegel device, and the Loon Cup, a connected menstrual cup, for example.

My day rounded out back at the Girl’s Lounge space. Here, in a giant duplex suite at the Encore, Smith led a panel of inspiring women, including Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of the Girl Scouts; Robin Hauser Reynolds, director of Code: Debugging the Gender Gap; a lead engineer from Pixar; and a group of US Girl Scouts in the audience. The discussion centered on how to make tech more diverse, empower more people of all incomes and ethnicities to get into tech, and identify more role models for young girls considering STEM careers. "These girls aren’t looking to the future to solve problems, they’re doing things now," said Chavez. Of role models, Zalis said, "You need to see it to be it."

The session ended with pitch segment where female-led startups beamed in from Portugal, New York, and the UK remotely on Skype, were invited to showcase concepts they’d developed for solving world problems, from tree planting drones, to floating piers and pop up labs in the Amazon. In a final flourish, Smith even stepped in to help with tech support when technical glitches went down.

Lucie Greene is worldwide director of J. Walter Thompson's Innovation Group.

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