CES 2017 – MEMS and Sensors front and center!

by Karen Lightman, MEMS & Sensors Industry Group

CES turned 50 this year and it’s definitely not your father’s (or mother’s) CES. While I must admit that I didn’t walk all 12+ miles of the exhibit area, I did get a nuanced, if not slightly different vibe from this year’s CES vs. CES a few years ago. For me, CES 2017 was different because a lot of what I heard and what I saw was related to virtual reality and artificial intelligence for real world applications.

At the MEMS & Sensors Industry Group (MSIG) conference track at CES, we heard about some amazing progression in Heads Up Displays (HUD) from Kent Novak, Senior VP and General Manager, DLP Products at Texas Instruments. The DLP HUD and its ability to augment reality, is the first step in autonomous driving with technology to limit driver distraction.  He also spoke of using the DLP technology for improved headlights as well as for food quality detection; I was impressed by the “real world” applicability of many of the use cases and products.

CES also had lots to offer in terms of both augmented and virtual reality. During the aforementioned MSIG conference, we hosted one of the early inventors of virtual reality (VR) style gaming, Jack McCauley, who designed the guitar and drums for GuitarHero video game series. While VR is not new to CES, what Jack presented was a new wave of VR, sans motion sickness.  By utilizing MEMS micromirrors along with gyroscopes he’s looking to new audio applications within VR to enhance the user experience. I am sure this improvement will be welcome news to many; especially the nearly 30% of us who apparently experience some motion sickness while using VR!  This year, for the Intel keynote, the CES organizers the handed out barf bags “just in case” people got sick. Clearly there’s room for improvement here if we’re going to use VR in the real world.

Thankfully, I experienced no nausea while donning the Augmented Reality (AR) headsets at the Bosch exhibit, part of the Microsoft Holosense experience.

This was a great “I can actually use this” example of using technology to improve efficiency and productivity. The demo I sampled enabled me to get instructions and information on the parts inside of a motorcycle, as though I was a mechanic who was trying to fix the bike. I’ve been trying on VR headsets since the 1990s while I was a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University; what I liked about this Augmented Reality (AR) is that it was natural, seamless and smart – enabled by the many MEMS and sensors inside.

I was also impressed by the MSIG conference presentation from Cleopatra Cabuz, VP Engineering, Honeywell Industrial Safety. Cleo shared several case studies, including the one between Honeywell and Intel.  These two industry leaders collaboratively created a personal connected safety solution for industrial workers and first responders that would reduce workplace injury and improve productivity through “intelligence at the edge.” If I were to choose a spot where VR should be used in the real world; first responders are definitely at the top of my list. Kudos to these industrial leaders for their work to make workplaces safer.

I also was invited to check out the ROHM suite, which showcased MEMS and sensors (including those under the Kionix brand). They built a mini-waste water treatment facility to showcase their Wi-SUN and EnOcean MEMS and sensors (see photo); to show how the technology can be utilized to self-adjust and monitor in industrial (i.e. real world) applications.

Artificial intelligence (AI) was also much more present at CES this year. At the MSIG conference, several speakers shared their visions for how AI will revolutionize our world. Jeff Gehlhaar, VP Technlogy at Qualcomm, spoke about cognitive technologies to enable machines to think like humans. He spoke of on-device intelligence and the need for computing at the edge; as well as not always relying on the cloud. This issue is a big deal, as we get more and more connected devices, we need to have more on-device intelligence – this is important for power management as well as security issues. Jeff showed some cool videos of Qualcomm AI in autonomous driving – using computer vision applications to distinguish objects on a road in real-time. Jeff spoke of how this technology can be transferred from the street/car to the home as well; again, more examples of how MEMS and sensors are improving quality of life in the soon-to-be real world.

The “gee whiz” factor is alive and well and MEMS and sensors are front and center in most of it at CES.  There’s clearly a trend towards AI and VR for industrial, automotive and other “real world” applications and MEMS and sensors will continue to enable this evolution. It’s definitely a future that I look forward to seeing.

Link to our photos from CES

Link to my opening presentation at MSIG conference at CES