After being forced to adopt an online-only format due to the COVID-19 crisis, CES 2021 retained its spot as the world’s premier can’t-miss tech bonanza. Though frustratingly hands-off, the event still managed to dazzle with a diverse roster of speakers, tons of virtual sessions, and hundreds of new product announcements. One speaker in particular, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, stood out to us as a pretty apt representative for what we’ve seen from our customers in the ways they’re tackling not just the technological advancements, but the societal changes happening before our eyes. The world’s most recognizable big-box chain isn’t exactly where you’d expect to go for innovation, but Doug’s live Q&A focused on how the retail giant is updating its tech stack with an emphasis on connectivity and data management to provide better customer experiences. His remark that ‘every company is a tech company’ is a great statement going into 2021.
This was a theme this year’s speakers returned to throughout the event - the convergence of technology and social corporate responsibility – and here are some of the key insights from CES 2021 and where Silicon Labs will be making an impact.
Sustainability Through the Smart Application of Technology
Technology has always been part of farming and improving agriculture outcomes, specifically being able to grow food crops more efficiently and sustainably, and it requires an approach to technology adoption that goes beyond traditional equipment updates. John Deer hired its first chief technology officer, Jahmy Hindman, in 2020 and he’s adjusted the company’s aperture from heavy equipment to include a new Intelligent Solutions Group that will focus on hardware and devices, embedded software, connectivity, data platforms, and applications. Jahmy’s session, Feeding the World with Precision Tech, focused on the ways elevating data insights can make agriculture as predictable as possible. Global demand for food is expected to increase by 50 percent over the next 30 years, which will put enormous pressure on agricultural productivity. Bringing just a little more predictability into a notoriously unpredictable industry through data-driven, precision planting can result in smarter farming decisions that deliver larger crop yields. John Deere’s high-capacity X-Series Combine Harvester won a CES 2021 Best of Innovation Award in the Robotics category.
EVs were also heavily featured this year, including a sneak peek at GM’s Cadillac Celestiq and the further-out 2023 Cadillac Lyric electric SUV. And this was just a taste of what’s to come from automobile manufacturers in pursuit of sustainability. GM alone is planning 30 all-electric vehicles by the end of 2025 on the strength of a nearly $30 billion investment. Sono Motors also made a splash with its introduction of the Sion, a mass market solar electric vehicle (SEV). With roughly 250 solar cells integrated into the body of the Sion, the car can be 80 percent charged in a half-hour – and it can share its power to charge other EVs. Making this technology accessible is the last barrier to mainstream adoption and Sono seized its CES moment to make a compelling case for urgent sustainability from the automotive industry.
AI and Machine Learning will Drive IoT Innovation
We’ve recognized AI and machine learning in IoT edge devices as one of the keys to making IoT devices trainable, actionable, and capable of extracting information and learning from the environment. CES 2021 validated this observation with the sheer volume of contextually aware devices being introduced. At Silicon Labs we have a soft spot for developers and Unity MARS, which was recognized as a CES 2021 Innovation Award Honoree and is helping creators build AR experiences more easily. The accessibility of tools like this empowers people to create VR and AR applications who would never have been able to before, opening up the development of all kinds of new IoT products and use cases.
Moving Healthcare Away from the Doctor’s Office and into the Home
Even before CES was moved online by one of the most significant health crises in generations, health and well-being has been an even staple. But this year high-performance computing, coupled withAI, took on more significance. One of our IoT Heroes, Airthings, introduced a new function of its Wave Plus that can actually analyze rooms and determine virus risks. The sensor doesn’t actually detect the virus itself but uses other information to determine the risk of possible transmission. Variables including temperature, humidity, and the number of people present based on CO2 emissions helps score the likelihood of a virus circulating move around the room. A low score triggers a suggestion like increasing airflow or asking some guests to leave.
This aligns with our observation that COVID-19 has compelled the healthcare industry to shift care away from clinical settings and into the home. Once rarely used remote treatment options like telemedicine are going mainstream and more patients routinely use video conferencing on smartphones and tablets to minimize in-person visits to doctors’ offices, clinics, or hospitals by interacting directly with healthcare workers through their connected screens. Physicians are increasingly prescribing smart medical monitoring equipment like pulse oximeters, heart rate monitors, and blood glucose monitors to patients on a more frequent basis. Smart medical device manufacturers are racing to add new connectivity technology like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth into these devices to connect to them to the internet. Through these new connected smart medical devices, doctors can instantly assess their patients’ status and render treatment remotely, helping to ensure valuable hospital beds remain available for those who truly need inpatient care.
Like most of the industry, CES is an important part of Silicon Labs’ calendar. Learning that it would be remote this year was actually one of the true harbingers of just how serious the global pandemic was being treated. We missed being in Vegas and missed seeing our friends and colleagues, and most of all we missed being up close and personal with all of the ways these companies are bringing the power of connectivity to bear on today’s problems. But over the last four days we’ve been encouraged by the resilience of our industry and inspired by how past innovations in connectivity, networking, and access to development tools are making all of these things possible in pretty trying and unprecedented circumstances.
We’re looking forward to seeing you there in person next year!