CES 2022 was not a failure. It was weird, slightly dissociating (like your head was floating a few inches from your body) but not unpleasant (like your head was floating above your body).
We’ve all been there and, while only a fraction of the normal number of attendees and exhibitors were in person, the event was always filled with crazy new products, silly and awesome ideas, and even star power. .
And there was the Metaverse.
In my unscientific estimate, “The Metavers” was mentioned 2,000 times during the slightly abbreviated four-day event.
This is how robots will be our digital twins.
This is how we are going to exercise.
This is how we will stay healthy.
This is how we are going to pay.
This is how we are going to immerse ourselves in other worlds.
To be fair, the story of Metaverse at CES wasn’t even that compelling – but the urge to make that unreality a reality in our consumer electronics lives was pervasive.
Metaverse competed for the most talked-about tech pole position with NFTs, but unlike that elusive crypto craze, the Metaverse is an old idea that many companies at CES have been playing with for years – but not by that name.
Sony made its own compelling argument for the Metaverse without ever saying the words. Its upcoming PlayStation VR 2 and PSVR 2 Sense controllers with eye tracking could lead to one of the most immersive Metaverse experiences out there.
Hyundai (and Microsoft Azure) Digital twin concept might have offered the most compelling metaverse vision of all of CES 2022. Instead of engaging with others in a virtual world, you use Microsoft’s Azure Cloud and its knowledge of connected systems and a robot from Boston Dynamics ( now owned by Hyundai) to be the physical you in space. Maybe the robot is working on inventory or helping you fix a system remotely, or, maybe, it’s “you” on the real floor at the next CES.
CES and its parent company (the nonprofit CTA) were not immune to their controversial decision to host a big in-person event in Las Vegas, Nevada, during a pandemic. Personally, I felt for them. So much planning and care went into this year’s event. They thought they had all the right health protocols, but couldn’t prepare (really, none of us) for the Omicron push.
Along with countless other people, I chose to stay home, but suffered from severe FOMO from the gadgets, experiments, and robots that I couldn’t see in person.
Now imagine if I had been able to connect to a remote Boston Dynamics Spot robot, a robot with knowledge of the layout of the showroom and equipped with a high-resolution camera, microphones and speakers. I could walk remotely into the living room. And because Spot is a robot with a certain autonomy, he can avoid others, obstacles and move on when there is no one to talk to or nothing to see. He could, basically, take the tour and let me know when there’s something cool to check out.
This is a phase 1 of the metaverse that I could follow.
Still, the success of this partially digital CES proves a point I made a few weeks ago: CES doesn’t need to be in person at all. The streaming opening speeches were interesting and engaging. I don’t know if I would have been more excited for Sony to bring out Spider-Man star Tom Holland if I had been there in person.
The conference sessions I attended virtually were interesting (Pete Buttigieg made a compelling case for a future of transportation driven by technology and common sense). What was lacking in part of the virtual engagement was a connection with other participants.
CES has a decent mobile app that tries to encourage virtual and in-person engagement, but it mostly seemed like a failure this year.
The Metaverse could help by putting the keynotes streaming on the digital stage and us, the participants wearing VR headsets, virtually moving through the audience.
Granted, this won’t be possible (or advisable for sessions that last longer than 15 minutes) until we get a much lighter headset and more immersive body clothes that can help us feel the whole experience of the THOSE.
The Metaverse isn’t happening right away – or really anytime soon – but it’s the core of an idea that could save CES for generations to come.