CES 2017: voice, automation and emotion

Toyota: unveils Concept-i at CES
Toyota: unveils Concept-i at CES

DigitasLBi's chief innovation officer gives us his key takeaways from the annual expo in Las Vegas.

This year’s 50th-anniversary Consumer Electronics Show was the biggest yet, and reprised some familiar themes.

TVs were thinner and bigger. Cars were digital platforms and autonomous driving was almost here. Virtual reality was more realistic, with flying rigs and haptic shoes. Sustainability had some prominent examples, from food recycling in the kitchen to slashing the environmental impact of making vehicles with 3D printing and local assembly.

There was a connected/artificially intelligent everything – toothbrush, hairbrush, wearable breast pump, walking cane, bath tub, cot, bicycle, pillow and desk lamp, to name a few.

Voice was big news

Amazon’s Alexa was prominent even though Amazon stayed away from the show floor. It turned up integrated with Whirlpool’s domestic appliances, with Ford and Volkswagen cars, in the Nucleus intercom and in Martian watches.

Although Amazon dominated (adding Alexa to your product is really easy), other vendors appropriated Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana, or built their own, like Mattel’s "Echo for children", Aristotle.

Home automation was also bigger than ever

This was, in part, driven by the availability of reliable voice control. Professional lighting vendor Lutron showed a customer-installable domestic product (controllable by Alexa, naturally).

As well as voice control, Digital Strom showed clever use of cameras. For example, a camera linked to Microsoft’s cloud services for image recognition allows the sink to see your hands and give you water at a pleasant hand-washing temperature, or see a cup and fill it with cold water, stopping when it’s full.

Domestic robots continue to mature. Vacuum cleaners are well established, laundry aids like Laundroid and Foldimate are yet to prove themselves, appliances like Whirlpool’s washing machines use Amazon Dash Replenishment to re-order their own consumables, silently and unobtrusively.

Voice and automation create a new environment at home

The interaction is ambient. We may check our phones 150 times a day but an ambient voice removes the barrier of taking out the phone. The more successful interactions we have, the bigger a habit it becomes. Last year Google revealed 20% of mobile searches are through voice.

Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google’s senior vice-president of ads said: "One thing that we are all clear about is the days of three top text ads followed by ten organic results is a thing of the past in the voice first world."


Riding on the back of these two, the biggest new wave at CES was emotion. The same research that has allowed companies like Affectiva to give marketers real-time analysis of people’s gut responses to their content is in a raft of companion robots (like Buddy, Yumii, Tapia, Woobo) whose main function is to be present in relationships with people.

Honda’s Hana and, even more, Toyota’s Concept-i showed visions of deep, long-term relationships – Toyota’s car becomes part of the family.

The traditional creative craft of emotional storytelling in a short space and time has remained at the core of digital marketing, even as channels have proliferated and targeting improved. A world where machines are long-term individual actors in people’s social lives creates a genuinely new canvas.

Lorenzo Wood is chief innovation officer at DigitasLBi.

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