Our Man in the Metaverse: A Report From CES 2022 in Las Vegas
I have seen the future ... and it has lots of places to sit
The present unfortunately holds the Omicron variant of COVID-19, with 1 million cases a day reported as the conference began, and exhibitors dropping out like flies. I and my fellow attendees needed to prove vaccination as we registered upon landing at the airport, and were handed two free home tests from conference sponsor Abbott.
Still, while much is taken, much abides. The 40,000 physical audience this year was down from a peak of 170,000 in a normal year. But thousands of others joined virtually and — despite some big name pullouts — total exhibits were UP, to more than 2,200 companies from 119 countries, all spread over 11 giant venues.
First day, I headed to the Las Vegas Convention Center, perhaps the size of 10 shopping malls spread over multiple buildings. Happily, cabs in LV still exist, unlike Manhattan, where they appear to have been ravaged by Uber.
Electric cars and transportation were much in force. A spaceship was parked in the parking lot — the Dreamchaser from Sierra Nevada Corp. — reportedly in line to start flying to a Jeff Bezos planned space station, the Orbital Reef, in a few years time, then back to an airport near you. It was sleek and 30 feet long, appearing much like Will Smith’s rig in Independence Day.
Inside the building, General Motors Corp. announced that EVs are here to stay, with a planned all electric 400-mile range version of the Chevy Silverado pickup starting at $39,000. Sony demo’d its own electric car, and Qualcomm a digital chassis, proving that the transistor radio has grown up and sprouted wheels. There were self-driving cars, self-driving boats, self-driving tractors from John Deere that are entering the market now and will do 10 hours of farm work each day without the farmer (and can use AI to spray herbicide only on weeds, and not crops, for the environmental health of us all). There was a race among self-driving Formula One style cars staged at the Las Vegas Speedway. There were self-driving trucks, such as tuSimple’s freight trucks, which have been on the roads for 160,000 miles since 2019 in partnership with UPS, and now are establishing an autonomous freight loop from Ontario, California to Raleigh, to Orlando, Houston, Tucson and back to California again. There were self-driving delivery wagons ready to roll pizza or other goodies, R2-D2 style, down the streets and halls near you.
There were” flying cars”, two of which I sat in … both with a helicopter-style rotor on each of the four corners, and a shiny plastic-style body in the middle. There was the car cabin of the future, where, with no need to steer, the passenger lounged on a sofa far back, like an 1880s railroad tycoon in a private, wood-paneled car. There were drones hovering in place like hummingbirds, or set to speed-hawk-like for surveillance, or the one that rose vertically, turned horizontally and was designed to carry 100-pound packages.
Nearby on the exhibition floor were virtual reality games and equipment. I pulled on a pair of gloves and could see the “bones” in my hands floating before my goggles as I picked up or flipped over lifelike virtual boxes from a lifelike virtual table. There was the $28,000-a-piece VR arcade game, where I blasted away with both hands at robots descending from the sky and from mountaintops in a lifelike virtual world. There was the haptic vest, looking much like a black wetsuit top or bullet proof vest, that used precise electric point shocks to duplicate 30 specific video game sensations … a small hole on your front body as the bullet entered and a larger hole on your back as it exited, all tied into the video game itself.
There were exhibits from medical device makers such as Abbott (the first med-tech company to keynote at CES), which demo’d its ability to sense glucose levels, ketone and lactate levels real time, and a new sensor for brain trauma and concussion detection. Exhibits from robotics makers, from hydrogen power makers, from those who use infrared beams or other waves to power electricity through the air.
Dinner the first night was at Golden Steer, a classic free-standing steak house from the Rat Pack days. Pictures of Frank, Dean, Marilyn looked down at us from the walls as we sat in the John Wayne booth and watched the waiter turn a tableside Caesar salad preparation into a culinary work of art. Next, a perfectly prepared 12-ounce filet mignon, baked potato, mushrooms, chocolate cake, choice booze. The 1960s live on … and live well!
Next day, it was hundreds of more exhibits, at the Venetian Hotel‘s conference center on Sands Road, almost as large as the LVCC. Here, the show was more organized by geography: the Korean Hall, the European Hall, the Great Britain companies, the companies that traveled in together from North Carolina et al.
The Koreans were most impressive for heavy industry, Japan the most idiosyncratic. While the Koreans featured robotic arms packing apples and futuristic hydro and sail-driven cargo ships, the Japanese booth had a doll that sucks your finger for comfort and a mirror that tells you your stress level from work that day. Another Japanese booth exhibited a battery-powered motorcycle that’s carried in a knapsack, inflated like a swimming pool raft and then ready to ride away — all in bright primary colors and with oversized wheels, like a cross between nursery school and Batman.
Alongside were 3D-printing companies, high-tech home exercise equipment, infrared rifle scopes and more. And a seemingly endless set of massage chair makers, all with identical egg shaped designs that revolved straight back on their axes for “Zero G” comfort. The chairs cuffed your legs, arms and back while stretching and rubbing every muscle group at once … all a welcome respite, so long as the chair never breaks, or turns on you, in HAL of 2001: Space Odyssey style.
And speaking of robots — or at least of robots that speak to you — there was Ameca, the life-sized “female” humanoid, with a metal body and a grey, bald but exceptionally lifelike and expressive head and face. As she speaks (presumably a voice actress on microphone), the eyebrows raise, the mouth moves, the eyes turn … all with exceptional veracity. Or as Elon Musk reportedly said after his viewing, “Yikes!”
And along with the tech breakthroughs, were some seeming non-breakthroughs, or shoulder shrugging “who needs that?” types of ideas. My favorite: the proud inventor of an advanced laser-style device that spots where a mosquito has landed, so you can then chase it with a fly swatter. Or an advanced jump rope that counts your jumps. Or the “smart home” feature by the shower faucet company that basically means you can wave your hands instead of turning the faucet directly, and then tracks water around your home on detailed computerized charts for reasons I still don’t understand.
When the conference ended, we headed off on our own, about a half hour south into the desert, to the race course, for Speedvegas and its fleet of supercars. The race track offers driving experiences in rally cars, monster trucks and off-road expeditions. Their fleet of exotics includes Lamborghinis, Ferraris, McLarens, Porsches and more.
After a brief talk session, I was in a driver helmet and out on the track with an expert instructor beside me, all of it filmed for later viewing. For my first set of laps, I chose a night-blue Lamborghini Huracán with 610 horsepower, a 202-mph top speed and a market price of $238,000. For the second set of laps, a red Ferrari 488 Pista with white and black racing stripes, 710 horsepower, a 211-mph top speed and a market price of … if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.
The track is an elongated oval, 1.4 miles long, folded with various gentle or sharp turns. The key is the “accelerate, ease off, brake, accelerate” timing, with paddle shifters on the back of the steering wheel: one pull inward with the right fingers to shift up, one pull inward with the left fingers to shift down, plus automatic transmission available for those so inclined. The longest straightaway — about .6 miles — is closest to the clubhouse, but the whole 1.4-mile circuit takes the best drivers less than a minute, so a .6-mile straight means you are shifting down for the turn in 20 or so seconds. Even a novice like me, however, had the joy of pressing the accelerator down full force, and shifting up as the power built … roughly 0 to 105 mph in a few breaths, hurtling straight into the setting Vegas sun, until the next turn, and the need to gain traction and survive regained preeminence. Great fun for anyone.
Dinner that night was at Best Friend at the MGM Park, the creation of LA chef Roy Choi. It features Koreatown-style “Kogi-to-Commissary” dishes, as DJs spin tunes amid Day-Glo-style wall paintings (or as Choi writes, “Hip hop-to-bibimbap. Kimchi-to-spaghetti. BBQ and late-night food”). A happy mood, and the mango cheesecake (in the shape of a mango, alongside a scoop of orange sherbet and a scoop of whip cream) was among the best desserts I’ve ever tasted.
From there, back to the Cosmopolitan, where the two-room suites have balconies looking north to the Bellagio lake fountains, the Paris’s Eiffel Tower and Caesar’s Palace. The feel of the Cosmo is sleek, young and new, and its swimming pools, workout facilities, spa and tennis courts are first rate. IH readers with great social lives can head to the famed Marquee club on premises. IH writers with deadlines to meet can get to work!
Want to register to attend CES 2023? Head here.
Book a stay at the Cosmopolitan? Go here.
Reserve a table at the Golden Steer? This way.
Ditto Best Friend at the MGM? Try this one.
Pilot your own supercar around the circuit at Speedvegas? Right here.
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