Consumer Tech Headed to an Enterprise Near You
Here's a look at some of the technologies I saw at CES 2016 that could very well wind up in your communications and collaboration environments.
I once again ventured into the Nevada desert (wet this year) to peruse CES for consumer-oriented technology that has the potential, or probability, of wending its way into the enterprise and impacting our communications and collaboration space.
Oftentimes technologies start in the enterprise and are transformed in the crucible of the consumer marketplace. In a 2016 trends presentation at CES, Shawn DuBravac, chief economist and senior director of research of the Consumer Technology Association (formerly the Consumer Electronics Association), shared an interesting example of this: speech-to-text technology, which has undergone a rapid evolution over the last two years. In 2005, the probability of an error in a typical speech-to-text translation was 100%, DeBravac said. By 2013, that had dropped to 23%, and today it is 5%.
While I might point to the errors in my typical Google Voice voicemail translations as an indicator that we still have a way to go, this does serve as a great example of how the consumer space transforms technologies. Prior to about 2011-2012, speech to text was an enterprise technology with enterprise volumes. In 2011-2012, speech recognition began to take off with Google Voice, Siri, and other applications of speech to text in widespread use among consumers. The resulting volumes are 10 to 100 times enterprise volumes.
As technologies like speech recognition are dependent on usage and learning parameters, we can clearly attribute the 75% reduction in the error rate of the last two years (versus 75% in the proceeding eight years) to the consumer volume. As a result, speech recognition is now much more accurate and may find many enterprise uses that were not possible at a 23% error rate.
Game Changers in the Making
Similarly, when enterprise volumes impact a product area, prices drop. For example, the Chinese company Opcom showed a range of low-cost cameras and devices for video conferencing. While developed for Skype, these products can easily extend to other communications platforms (especially Skype for Business).
For example, Opcom showed a full high-definition document camera for $199 retail, $399 including a room camera. The company also displayed a $299 panoramic room camera that shows all participants sitting around a conference table. Clearly, these products, along with the new products from companies like Tely, are driving video into the 93% of conference rooms that are not equipped.
The Touchjet Wave is another potential game changer. For $199 retail, the company claims this product is able to turn any flat-screen TV into a huge Android tablet with on-screen touch capability. With most of collaboration applications available in Android versions, this could be an interesting room system as well.
Wireless power also featured heavily at CES. While most wireless power simply involves placing a device directly on a base and using the proximity for power transmission, I saw signs at CES that real wireless power is possible -- and coming. Ossia, for example, showed its system for delivering wireless power over distance. The company claims it can deliver up to one watt at 10 meters, and a higher power level when the device is closer to the base. The system uses beam shaping, as well as the use of bounced waves, to tune and optimize the delivery of the wireless power signal to the devices.
While 1 W at 10 meters is not sufficient to rapidly charge a mobile phone, it is actually a typical mobile device's level of power consumption. This could be a game changer for a range of enterprises that have integrated mobile devices into their operations. For example, a hospital can allow workers to share a single device without having to charge it between shifts. This technology, which also integrates with smaller-cell WiFi for higher-bandwidth density, bears watching.
The Internet of Things was definitely a huge topic at CES. Samsung showed a smart refrigerator as the hub of the home (a 17" display in the door, cameras to take pictures of the inside for access when you are in the grocery store), but even more interesting were displays related to how these devices can provide data on spaces. For example, location analytics company Beco showed a sensor that clips to a fluorescent light tube to capture data on the environment. The device, which is self-powering from the tube, is useful for wireless tracking and other data. This type of technology opens the door to a new range of services based on location data, and has the potential of integration with our communications platforms in interesting ways.
Another company, Netatmo, showed a range of cameras for home security. For $499 it offers a front door camera that includes facial recognition to let you know who is at the door. Similar technologies could be employed in room video systems or even in offices to identify individuals. The company also showed a new $300 outdoor system that can distinguish between humans and animals. While this may not have direct applications today in the enterprise, the rapid reduction in cost of visual recognition will surely drive it into our systems soon.
While these products are parallel to the enterprise communications and collaboration market, others are directly in the space. Here are a few examples:
- Klaxoon showed a collaboration platform based on a simple in-room device and apps for content sharing. While it does not include a real-time component, it provides much of the rich content sharing needed in a collaboration setting, at a very low price.
- MUV Interactive offers a fingertip device, called the Bird, that allows the use of touch type motions to interact and control your PC, smartphone, or tablet from anywhere in the room. This could be an interesting component of future collaborative spaces.
- Boxcast, a streaming technology company, claims that its product is television broadcasting (on the 'Net) in a box. While the company was not clear on standards, the concept of a simple way to stream content is something that we continue to need as video becomes more of our communications environment.
- Skipstone is delivering video content indexing and search as a platform. This will appeal to a number of companies that have generated video for support and other uses as a way to enable users to get to the right content quickly.
- Alpha showed its Skybuds, a small set of in-ear buds that can charge quickly and last for about four hours. As many of you may know, for some time I have been talking about a truly connected individual future in the enterprise. In the coming world, we will be connected to our enterprise personal assistant all the time. Audio is the ideal technology for task interactions, so makes great sense for this use. The key to this is having all of my voice sent to my assistant. While LTE and WiFi are making this technically possible on the network, it requires a simple audio receiver that's wearable all day. While the Skybuds are not yet to the point allowing all-day use,they do show a clear indication that headphones are moving to be continuous. (And, speaking of headphones, the Plantronics Voyager Focus UC headset was recognized as a 2016 CES Innovation Awards Honoree. Congratulations to Plantronics for the award and being an enterprise product among the consumer hordes.)
- BrainCo showed exactly what you would expect from its name -- a brainwave-driven user interaction device. The device looks like a simple headband, but it reads your alpha and beta waves and translates the waves into actionable commands. While the technology is nascent, it is possible to train your brain waves and the interface to turn a light on, for example, or to control a device. The potential for direct interaction from our brains to our computers and devices is staggering.
If you've never been to CES, I would encourage you to go at least once -- it will help you understand the power of the consumer economy on enterprise communications and collaboration. It is not just about BYOD, it is more often BYOT (technology).