CES 2023 is a proof that we are longing for physical meetings
For those of us that worked their way through the pandemic with Zoom and Teams meetings it might be a bit of a contradiction, that this event focusing on digital advancements drives thousands of visitors from all around the world into the desert, physically. The CES 2023 follows last year's less frequented Consumer and Electronics Show 2022 as a live and buzzing event, claiming itself to be the most influential tech event in the world. CES is owned and produced by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) featuring every aspect of the tech sector. This year with more than 3,000 exhibitors from more than 170 countries. Topics ranging from digital health to AI and augmented reality, from sustainability to travel & tourism, from smart cities to space technology. For me, the underlying common in most of the halls and scheduled panels and events are the advances in mobility and transport. So here are my main findings, a very subjective selection I must say for those that feel disappointed of not being mentioned in this post.
BMW CEO Oliver Zipse delivers a spectacular keynote speech
At CES 2022 BMW had a real success presenting a car that changes body colour at the touch of a button. This year in his keynote in the Pearl Theatre of the Palms Casino Resort BMW’s CEO Oliver Zipse sketched a vision of the electric car as a digital companion that could change colour. With the full colour E Ink tech in the presented BMW i Vision Dee, drivers can put on a magical display with an almost infinite variety of patterns. As shown in the i Vision Dee prototype, BMW plans to turn the entire windscreen of its vehicles into a wide-screen display. The speedometer, navigation and all other information will be shown on the windscreen via head-up display. An anticipation of the next generation of vehicles as from 2025, this innovation will be available in new class models.
Zipse had a lot to offer to make his keynote speech memorable: In addition to Arnold Schwarzenegger with him on stage, we experienced ex-„Knight Rider" star David Hasselhoff, his cult car K.I.T. and the beetle car „Herbie“ from the film series of the same name play a role; there was also an ironic short film about the freedom of the 80s and the climate protection of today. The keynote on the eve of the first public day really is important, as it is regarded as an indicator of the innovative power emanating from the Show. And Zipse’s keynote didn't disappoint as it was attracting worldwide attention, and it was funny too, for a German that is. Seeing how the car becomes a fashionable accessory that adapts its appearance to the spontaneous whims of the user was really impressive and went down well with the audience in Las Vegas. And it convinced me too, as I have been critical about the Bavarian car manufacturers' lack of passion for electric cars for a few years. There is a breath of fresh air.
Mercedes-Benz announces to build a global High-Power-Charging Network
During the Mercedes-Benz Tech Talks at CES 2023, Chief Technology Officer and Board Member Markus Schäfer revealed far-reaching plans for the establishment of a global Mercedes-Benz high-power charging network. It is to be launched in North America before the end of this year, with the establishment of the network in Europe, China and other core markets to follow. By 2027, the network will cover the North American continent with a total of more than 400 charging parks and over 2,500 high-power chargers (HPCs).
“Our 24-hour, safe and secure charging stations will be conveniently and visibly located close to motorways, major intersections and metropolitan areas, and available to every brand of EV. Customers can easily identify locations while driving and enjoy access to restrooms and nearby dining while they quickly recharge. What’s more, Mercedes-Benz customers gain the exclusive benefit of reserving a charging point via the Mercedes me app or the MBUX head unit, so they won’t have to wait”
This is interesting news, as its former CEO Dieter Zetsche confidently stated a few years back, that he did not want to build a charging infrastructure at all. He saw this as the task of the petrol station operators. But times can change. With Tesla leading the way with its own Supercharger Network and companies such as Audi (Charging Hubs), Porsche and Stellantis following suit, Mercedes-Benz now plans on delivering a charging infrastructure fully fit-for-purpose. The company is the next shareholder of European fast charging network IONITY going its own way and I myself am welcoming such a new player in the fast-charging scene, as we cannot have too many of those catering for the rising number of electric vehicles.
Other mobility innovation here at CES in Vegas
Volkswagen announced the ID.7 - an electric limousine with approximately 700 km reach and gave a first glimpse of the still camouflaged car at the CES. In keeping with the presentation location, the camouflage filming appeared particularly striking: it is multi-layered, self-illuminating and dynamically controllable.
Japanese Electronic Company Sony is now planning to move into electric cars. Unlike its first announcements in 2020, Sony is serious now. Teaming up with Honda, they presented a new brand called Afeela. Its logo appears on a narrow screen, or "media bar," on the vehicle's front bumper. This can also interact with people outside the vehicle and share information such as the weather or the car's state of charge. Afeela is announced to hit the roads in North America in 2026, no news on pricing or when European and Asian markets will follow.
A slick vessel called Candela C8 EV hydrofoil boat caught my attention. The vessel glides along the water like a flying carpet and it helps electric vehicles to gain attention. Set your specific course and the C8 drives or flies autonomously, “mostly more reliable than a Tesla” most people here in Vegas commented. The boat is entirely made of carbon fibre, including the seats, and comes at a price tag of approximately €370,000.
Huge attention was received by German Bionic, bringing its “Apogee Exosuit” to the show in Vegas. An exosuit is a so-called “ergonomic wearable” supporting a factory worker's lower back and providing a boost of power as they lift heavy objects or unload trucks.
You want to hear some crazy stuff - here we go
CES 2023 was all about digital innovation, some of the following products and services surprised me to such an extent that I couldn’t resist bringing them here. I found intelligent battery powered portable fridges that last more than 24 hours. Lots of smartwatches boosting your own productivity, a so-called “Mutalk” - a Bluetooth microphone built for the metaverse. It is actually a microphone that straps to your face and provides peace for others in the same room, or home, or train, or plane … while you are interacting with others in VR sessions. I must remember this when I speak to Deutsche Bahn headquarters next as it would help noise levels come down in their trains substantially.
My take-away from this years CES in Vegas
It was absolute fun experiencing these digital innovations in Vegas this year. Will we see the BMW i Vision Dee on our European streets in the coming years - no. Will I ever convince Deutsche Bahn to make the Mutalk mandatory in their trains - no. But hey - this is Vegas for you. The place was buzzing and exhibitors and visitors alike were happy to greet each other in person again. The mood was surprisingly good given the extraordinary circumstances with a war in Europe and most countries around the world potentially heading into a recession this year.
But this is what CES stands for: giving hope for a better tomorrow - not necessarily all digital and for sure not insisting that all products shown will be brought to life. A little bit like the many gamblers that enter the shiny gambling halls and hope for the big win. May the world accept some of the hope and positive attitudes I experienced in Vegas and may we all work on a smarter mobility - each one - as smart mobility starts with you. Wherever you are.
Photos courtesy of Michael Brecht, Mercedes-Benz, Volkwagen & BMW.