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Prepare for the AI-pocalypse: Robots take over CES 2019

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2019 is well underway in Las Vegas, and this year has seen AI and ‘smart’ tech completely take over the stage.

Here are some of the highlights of the show so far.

Voice assistants in your phones, homes and cars

Image: Reuters.

Tech companies are scrambling to push voice assistants in everything from phones to kitchens to toilets.

“Alexa, lift the toilet seat up.”

Yeah, not necessarily something you imagined ever hearing.

But that’s how prevalent (or should we say pervasive) voice assistants could become.

“To say that Amazon Alexa is everywhere at CES in Las Vegas would be an understatement,” a CBS attendee told the BBC.

Other implementations of voice assistants make sense, though, such as Kitchen Aid’s Smart Display, a voice activated, touch-enabled display that helps you prepare meals by repeating recipes to you or reminding you of the proper measurements of ingredients. It’s waterproof too, and can be washed in the sink.

Google has been all about its voice assistant at this year’s event, pushing it in all kinds of gadgets and devices. Most likely Google’s greatest voice-related innovation this year among all the miscellaneous implementations, however, is it its new interpreter mode, which allows its assistant to serve as a conversation intermediary between two speakers of different languages, a lot like the Japanese ‘ili’ translator from 2017 (though that device only translated one-way).

This could be a truegame-changerr for tourists and a major tipping point for Google’s Voice Assistant versus Amazon’s Alexa. There are plans to implement it at hotel desks.

As for Alexa, it’s similarly being implemented on a global scale. According to the BBC, Amazon has made it hassle-free to add Alexa to products, by offering the assistant on a single chip – the Alexa Connect Kit.

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The robopocalypse is coming

An LG CLOi model. Image: Reuters.

If the idea of an AI-powered intelligent computer personality your life is not scary enough for you, then remember that CES 2019 has also been dominated by a horde of robots from the biggest manufacturers and developers.

Forget Sophia and her world-domination plans (she dropped in for a spell of attitude). The new robots on the scene are cutesy and friendly, with a lot of focus on utility. This means that not all of them are humanoid, such as Temi, a tablet-robot hybrid that looks a lot like an old-fashioned vacuum cleaner.

Delivery robots also made a big splash this year, such as Segway’s Loomo robot. Many of these can operate on streets and indoors alike.

“The technology to build the do-it-all robot of our dreams just isn’t available and likely won’t be for a while,” the Verge reminds. So, robots are becoming the most useful when they’re specialized. “For a robot to succeed, it has to be useful or, failing that, lovable. Robots that are neither won’t get far.”

Indeed, the lovable humanoid robots are the ones that steal the show every year.

Samsung, for one, is pushing strongly on this front with 4 separate robots, mixing utility with lovability in an Eve-esque design: Bot Air for air purification, Bot Care for health monitoring, Bot Retail for restaurants and shops, and a final anomaly: a pseudo robot-exo suit hybrid GEMS (Gait Enhancing and Motivating System) to help with mobility issues.

LG is pushing their CLOi line of robots as well, with different models that cover a myriad of specializations.

Pepper, friendly as ever.

As with every year, you will be certain to spot convention staple Pepper, the cute Japanese robot developed by SoftBank. Pepper is already utilized across the world in public spaces such as banks and airports, CNET explains.

Like Pepper, a slew of other adorable robots are on show this year. Lovot Groove X, a furry robot companion, debuted this year. It was created by none other than Kaname Hayashi, the ex-Softbank employee that created Pepper. Unlike other robots, it doesn’t want to keep your air clean, fold your laundry or deliver your coffee. All it wants is to give you companionship. Hayashi told CNET he wanted the robot to help cure the epidemic of loneliness that’s a particular problem in his home country of Japan.

But Lovot wasn’t the only companionship robot on the scene. It was joined by Yukai Bocco Emo, Pillar Learning Codi, and AI pet Zoetic Kiki.

The Pillar Learning Codi robot aimed at children. Image: Reuters

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Phones, TVs, and the usual

The 98-inch, QLED 8K smart television. Image: Reuters

To remind the robots that we are as advanced and tech-savvy as they are, tech companies didn’t snooze the alarm, putting on show a wide array of old but improved and new tech.

Foldable phones are seriously gaining traction, and Samsung has been reported to have shown their foldable device Samsung X behind closed doors. While we won’t likely be seeing the device this year, tech news site t3 explained that “Samsung traditionally announces its Galaxy S flagship smartphones at MWC in Barcelona each spring.”

Chinese maker Royole is one of the first companies with a fully bendable AMOLED smartphone, Wired reported, called the FlexPai.

As for wearables, they’ve been par for the course, with some notable oddities such as a smart bracelet that tracks pregnancies.

5G has been a major buzzword so far, and manufacturers are estimating 5G-capable devices will be available for a 2019 release.

As for TVs, Samsung unveiled its largest 8K screen yet, a 98-inch QLED behemoth. Yet, Statista is saying that this is merely a marketing stunt – 8K is nowhere near universal adoption. The site said: “According to a December 2018 forecast by Strategy Analytics, 8K-ready devices will account for just 3% of active UHD TVs by 2023. By that time, global 8K sales are expected to amount to 11 million units a year, up from just 400,000 in 2019.”

CES 2019 is still ongoing, and will close on Saturday 11 January.

READ: Gartner: 66% of organizations intend to deploy 5G by 2020