EP14 - Drew reports on CES 2024: AI-powered interfaces, grid independence, and calm technology

For over a decade now, the Consumer Electronics Show has also been one of the most significant automotive shows in the world.

In January 2024, after the year in which generative AI changed everything, Drew’s hopes were high for a few radical new takes on what the car might become when fused with artificial intelligence.

What he found was lipstick on a pig.

Join Joe and Drew as they take a look at the lowlights from the world’s largest trade show, and, yes, find some cause for joy.

That’s it for this episode! Thanks for listening.

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Click Read more’ for the transcript


Note: This transcript is machine-generated and may contain some errors.


[00:00:00] Drew Smith: Because what we’re seeing a lot of at the moment, and I’ve said this in an article that I’ve written for Car Design News is tinsel on a tree, right? They’re just throwing shit at the car in the hope that a bulked-up spec sheet will attract new customers. In the long term, it won’t. And I think as we talked about right at the beginning of the show, the inflated expectations that are created by the PR guff around a lot of this technology ultimately leads to disappointment and disaffection with brands.


[00:00:34] Drew Smith:

[00:00:35] Hello, I’m Drew Smith.

[00:00:37] Joe Simpson: And I’m Joe Simpson.

[00:00:38] Drew Smith: And welcome to Looking Out The Podcast, auditory sidekick to the newsletter, in which we connect the dots across mobility, design, and culture.

[00:00:47] Joe Simpson: And coming up in this show, episode 14, and our first of 2024, Drew, we’re both in America,

[00:00:56] Drew Smith: Yeah! America! Fuck yeah!

[00:01:00] Joe Simpson: It’s the new year, so that can only mean one thing. It’s CES, or at least it is for you. I’m on the East Coast, you’re currently on the West Coast, and you have been to CES, right?

[00:01:11] Drew Smith: That’s right, and for people who have been living under a rock Probably for the past five or six, maybe 10 years, Consumer Electronic Show held in Vegas every January, largest trade show in the world has become an increasingly important show for the automotive industry to the extent that up until this year, I would say it felt like the most significant show

[00:01:40] Joe Simpson: I was going to say, I think CES has become an auto show de facto.

[00:01:47] And I think we should call out Drew, you were there with your, as part of your other podcast, so The Next Billion Cars.

[00:01:54] I want to do a shout out to anyone who hasn’t listened. Drew, together with Mark Pesce and Sally Dominguez do a show called The Next Billion Cars.

[00:02:03] and you should go and have a listen to their take on CES and what was there this year. I think it’s fair to say laughing out loud as I listened as I drove to work the other morning.

[00:02:15] but Drew, we wanted to do a bit more of a deeper dive into what you saw at CES this year, both from an auto perspective and auto technology perspective, and then more widely, what CES tells us about where things are going in the industry and technology.

[00:02:31] But I think, you hinted at a second ago, this year, did it feel like as much of a car show as it has in recent years, or had things dialed back a bit?

[00:02:43] Drew Smith: Such a good question because this is, in truth, my first ever CES and given sort of the rave reviews of folk within the automotive industry of the past few years about this show, I turned up in Vegas, and I was like, where is everything? I expected to see a number of new concept cars. I expected to see a much stronger presence from established OEMs.

[00:03:15] And yeah, I came away both feeling a little bit empty handed.

Underwhelming AI

[00:03:22] Joe Simpson: But also somewhat underwhelmed. And I think part of that is because, having one foot in the artificial intelligence world and one foot in the automotive world 2023 felt like the year that, generative AI changed everything.

[00:03:43] Yeah.

[00:03:43] Drew Smith: And. We certainly saw over the last six months, especially, of 2023, organizations in the technology space, the consumer technology space and the business to business technology space, really pushing very, very hard at trying to find new and interesting applications for this technology.

[00:04:05] And so it’s fair to say that I came to CES with the expectation that we’d start to see the automotive brands doing some interesting stuff in this space because when you think about the potential offered by this technology, it really is transformative.

[00:04:20] What we saw from the major OEMs at CES left an awful lot to be desired.

[00:04:27] Joe Simpson: And I was gonna say, what stood out from the, let’s start with the OEM side, good and bad. from what I was reading online, There’s perhaps what I’d call a rather obvious application of, the large language models, chat GPT, into the car.

[00:04:47] Drew, did anybody do that well and in a meaningful way, which sort of, added value or better experience for the customer in your view? Right.

[00:05:04] Drew Smith: sort of major applications of large language models, were demonstrated by Volkswagen in collaboration with Cerence. and then BMW, also had a, what they called a custom model that they developed in collaboration with Amazon. and. Neither of them really succeeded in fulfilling the potential of what this technology could do.

[00:05:30] Volkswagen’s model essentially was about supercharging IDA, which is their in car digital assistant. And the demo was probably one of the most cringe- worthy tech demos I’ve ever seen. Uh,

[00:05:46] Joe Simpson: I heard of a session or a part of the press event where at the end there was a lot of getting down and diggity and oh isn’t this cool and by the way, Ida, who’s the best car company in the world and

[00:06:00] Drew Smith: Volkswagen was not among the list.

[00:06:02] Joe Simpson: talk about facepalm.

[00:06:05] Drew Smith: Yeah, it really was. and we saw both during the demonstration and in my interaction with IDA, when we were allowed up on the stage afterwards, IDA repeatedly failed to correctly interpret the requests from the user, there were situations where, for example, the, during the demo, the user asked or said to IDA, look, I’ve lost my phone charger.

[00:06:33] Now, the correct response would have been to provide the user with a list of, yeah, like, where can you get a new phone charger?

[00:06:43] Instead, IDA provided a list of commercial distributors of electronics. located in, warehouse parks on the outskirts of Las Vegas.

[00:06:52] Adding insult to injury was the fact that IDA did not present those verbally and then ask for the user to then select the one to which they wanted to drive. The user still had to look across at the screen, select their preference from a list, tap it with their finger in order to set the navigation to go.

[00:07:13] So it fails on multiple levels.

[00:07:16] But the biggest failure that was common to both BMWs model and Volkswagen’s model was that they rely entirely on or almost entirely on a cellular connection to work.

[00:07:28] once this technology is in a, is in a customer’s car, they’ve bought it from Volkswagen or they’re leasing it from Volkswagen for over one third of the journey between Los Angeles and Las Vegas you would not be able to use IDA, with her ChatGPT capabilities because she simply could not connect to a cellular network in order to send the request out to ChatGPT and get something back. Okay? So to that point, one of the demonstration questions was, My child’s bored, tell them a story about dinosaurs. Now, if you’re driving between Sydney and Melbourne, you’re driving between, I don’t know, San Francisco and L. A. or L. A. and Las Vegas. it’s not certain that you’re actually going to get the response that you require.

[00:08:14] And here’s the thing, like, when you introduce new technologies like this, if they fail once, then you’re immediately going to be on edge as to whether this is a reliable piece of technology that you can use. If they fail twice, very quickly you’re going to decide to give up on it.

[00:08:33] Joe Simpson: Just to round on this. My use of ChatGPT, one of the things that has come up in time is that what we’re using is essentially a kind of historical model, which when it’s talking about things that are absolutely bang up to date, become challenging because, in previous generations of ChatGPT, we’ve actually been cut off at like 2021 and I imagine in the context of a moving car, we’ve where things around it are changing dynamically, be that roadscapes, be that, businesses and shops and things that are open. How useful is it to have a model which is basically relying on historical data and isn’t as up to date as even, say, the data that maybe Google is pulling from a shop’s opening times? Do you think that, that presents a bit of a challenge? if users start to use this as an alternative to, say, Siri or Google or, Maps?

[00:09:28] Drew Smith: I think this is where the question becomes interesting because how do you effectively fuse different data sets within the vehicle to both correctly interpret the user’s request, and then draw from the most appropriate data source, to, to fulfill that request.

[00:09:45] We saw Bosch, make an announcement, with Amazon that they were enabling a connection between their ADAS sensor suite and Amazon’s large language model, to enable some really fricking asinine use cases, right? One of which was you could be driving along, you could look at a restaurant and then you could ask Alexa while you were looking at the restaurant to give you the reviews and the opening times while you’re looking at the restaurant while driving. it’s just,

[00:10:25] Joe Simpson: All the while the ADAS driver monitoring system is probably telling you to look at the road ahead because it’s detected that your eyes are off the road.

[00:10:33] Drew Smith: Right. Or, or for example, connecting, the driver drowsiness detection to your espresso machine at home. So that if the driver drowsiness detection system, detects that you are indeed feeling tired, you can have a nice steaming cup of joe ready for you when you get back to your house. Now, I’m assuming if it’s late at night and you’re drowsy, the last thing you’re gonna want when you get home is a frickin cup of coffee.

[00:11:02] So, uh, look, I think if we take a step back, of this feels to me like the results of the very earliest brainstorming sessions where you’re queefing out as many ideas as possible. None of them are particularly good. None of them are particularly solid and they’re being turned into demos

[00:11:33] Joe Simpson: Yeah.

[00:11:34] Drew Smith: to bring to CES and look, I’m all for experimentation, but once you start exposing this stuff to the public.

[00:11:42] Once you start exposing this stuff to,the tech journalism news cycle, very quickly, expectations can be misset.

[00:11:50] the last thing the automotive industry needs right now is misset expectations around the adoption of new technology.

[00:11:57] Joe Simpson: It sounds, and thinking about it, that What you say is very likely to be true because many of these will have been things that have been worked on over the past six to nine months. The lead time was not particularly long. It was only really in 2023 that ChatGPT became a thing which was probably being worked on and experimented in within car companies.

[00:12:23] And then there was someone set a line in the sand saying we need to deliver this at CES. But it sounds to me, again, and this is something that we’ve talked about or talked around in the past, I think, that it’s, the challenge here is to deal with the application of something, a technology which is inherently potentially useful, but without fully considering the context You have a vehicle, which typically someone owns and is theirs, and it’s moving through space and time. And the fusing together, as you say, of those things. So it’s this idea of the car as a kind of giant mobile phone. Yeah, great, but what other things do you get? What benefits could you bring? What value do you actually bring? with the context of that being seated in a car which knows where it is from a GPS perspective which knows its kind of position in space and time and on the earth that fundamentally is going to bring a better experience than the user just stopping and picking up their mobile phone and as you’re describing it I can’t really see any advantage other than yeah maybe you don’t have to stop and pick up your phone but it sounds like the overall experience could end up being really quite frustrating to the user.

[00:13:34] Drew Smith: So picking up on that thread, how can you use the sensor suite in the vehicle to drive some interesting use cases for artificial intelligence?

[00:13:46] Mercedes collaboration with Will. i. am, as far as I’m concerned, is not that. it, it is interesting in as much as it takes, suspension, steering, accelerator, brake. and a few other parameters, I think, and uses those as inputs to a generative music, intelligence. Now, all I can think of when I start to think through how this is going to be used. You don’t really get a baseline until you’ve mashed the accelerator, right? So if you want some, if you want some oomph, you’re going to give your car some oomph. And if you want some melody, melody is linked to steering. So I’m, I’m just thinking about all these EQSs, like weaving and hooning down the interstate because somebody wants to create a new tune with will. i. am. Not the greatest idea in, in, in. in my opinion.

[00:14:37] However, take that data and use it to solve intelligently the problem that BMW and Amazon were trying to solve, which was how do you make an increasingly complex human machine interface in the vehicle more intelligible and understandable to humans?

[00:14:56] Amazon’s approach to doing that was to provide a voice assistant, which, you said, Hey,what was the assistant? I think it might’ve been, Hey, Alexa, tell me about the different driving modes in this car. And then Alexa would come back with these extremely verbose, descriptions of how sport, eco, and what have you it changed the driving characteristics of the vehicle. None of it particularly interesting, clearly written by a PR team.

[00:15:25] Imagine if you took the problem of solving drive modes in the vehicle and the approach that Mercedes had to gathering sensor data and using machine learning to say, okay, typically when the driver approaches this kind of road, how can we preemptively set up the vehicle’s driving modes

[00:15:48] Joe Simpson: Yeah.

[00:15:48] Drew Smith: to make this a more enjoyable experience for them.

[00:15:52] Joe Simpson: And potentially augment it with music.

[00:15:56] Drew Smith: And that, that to me is a far more interesting use case to think through. I’m not saying it’s the end result, but it, what I saw was artificial intelligence being used to create an interface layer. It was yet another way of interfacing with the vehicle, which in itself added complexity, rather than using artificial intelligence and machine learning to take complexity away.

[00:16:24] And that for me is the biggest opportunity that we have. And it’s one that I didn’t really see being explored at CES.

Honda: starting from Zero

[00:16:34] Joe Simpson: It feels as though there is an obsession with being smart. And I think being smart has become a bit of a buzzword, but also a byword for adding. Being smart doesn’t necessarily mean being more intelligent, it just means adding functionality. One of the other things I wanted to ask you about, Drew, was Honda. Because Honda launched these two concepts, and I want to get your view on those, but one of the things that they said was that their concepts and the way they were approaching this was a bit of an antithesis to where we are at the moment. And, correct me if I get this wrong, but I think they said, Right now, things are, bigger, heavier, and smart. And they wanted to do light, thin, and to me, the most interesting word, wise.

[00:17:32] And I thought the idea of being wise as opposed to smart is a very interesting construct. How were Honda demonstrating that they were being wise, or, in these concepts, what were they doing?

[00:17:48] Drew Smith: Not really. It was Vaporware. which was a real shame. because I think anybody who’s taken a look at these cars will agree that they are, they represent a stylistic return to form for Honda. The saloon concept, I think they call it the saloon concept. sedan concept.

[00:18:08] it references, the HPX concept from the 1980s. It references the Kiwami, which for folk of our generation is just like, Oh my God, what an amazing looking thing. And it updates it. So it’s not particularly revolutionary, but it is absolutely beautifully executed.

[00:18:27] Joe Simpson: and it feels like it really hones in on that thing we’ve talked about before about making the most of the opportunity of electrification in terms of allowing you to play with different form factor typology and fundamentally proportions. And for that, as you say, the Kiwami concept was an obvious reference, but it’s very much a kind of, this is a benefit of EV in a car.

[00:18:52] Yeah, absolutely, but to be honest, beyond that, there was not much meat on the carcass, which was really disappointing because I said in one of our Instagram posts on the subject, this putting thin light and wise in contrast to thick, heavy, and smart is such a beautiful positioning. And very

[00:19:13] Drew Smith: but it’s super Honda, but.

[00:19:15] there was a really telling moment in the, pre recorded presentation before the CEO came out on stage where they talked about Honda’s history of,motorcycles, road vehicles, and power products all built around Honda’s motors.

[00:19:34] Joe Simpson: Yeah.

[00:19:35] Drew Smith: And it’s like, you gotta, you gotta move on.

[00:19:40] You’ve really got to move on and I think for a brand that is as hamstrung by the transition to EV as Honda is, there needed to be so much more from their CES presentation than a couple of beautifully proportioned, very refined models.

[00:19:58] Joe Simpson: Just for people who don’t know,

[00:20:00] Drew Smith: Yep.

[00:20:01] Joe Simpson: these were concepts. I thought before CES, that Honda were going to show us. if not the real thing, then, production previews of cars. But these two, as you say, beautifully executed though they appeared to me from afar, seemed very much to like concept cars and that we were still some ways out from Honda actually having a, clear set of EVs in the market.

[00:20:31] They’ve just taken the, um, the, uh, the small Honda the Honda E Thank you, off sale.

[00:20:38] And I think that the, joint venture with GM has been cancelled and GM seem to have a lot of problems with that platform and the software anyway, separate discussion. So Honda still don’t really have anything of note to offer in the EV segment or the space for a good few years yet.

[00:20:59] Drew Smith: That’s right. Now, Honda is closer to launching the Afeela product, with Sony and they had an updated version of the Afeela sedan at the show. Again, opinion varies on this. There are some folk that say that once you dig into how they’ve designed the user interface. Sony’s expertise in that space comes through and part of me wants to call bullshit on that because Sony’s never been great at user experience.

[00:21:30] I mean, certainly not digital user experience. and You look at, even just simply looking at how the screens are bezelled within the dash,

[00:21:42] it’s a pretty unsophisticated presentation that they had at CES. What’s more worrying is that the vehicle itself looks pretty leaden. it’s a bit of a, it’s a bit of a slab of a thing. It’s quite old already in terms of of how long it’s been sat on show stands and

[00:22:01] Joe Simpson: I was going to say if

[00:22:01] Drew Smith: to market in 2025, I think

[00:22:04] Joe Simpson: Five. I was gonna say, it feels like an old product already.

[00:22:09] and as you say, I guess the worry is that, the elephant in the room here is that there’s no, Honda has not exactly been knocking it out of the park and really being, leading the light in terms of hardware from an EV perspective.

[00:22:25] And Sony doesn’t have a amazing history in terms of the digital user experience from its products. Maybe PlayStation is the best thing, but I think you and I have both had a pair of their top end noise cancelling headphones and I think both of us have ended up fundamentally throwing them in the bin because the user experience part was so bad.

[00:22:44] The hardware was amazing! Yeah, and this, the hardware was incredible. But I literally, nearly threw some out of an aeroplane because trying to switch them between my MacBook Pro and my phone was just such a painful experience.

[00:22:57] Drew Smith: you’re on a 737 MAX 9, I take it. You actually had something to throw them out of.

[00:23:03] Joe Simpson: Oh, yeah. You know there’s a website now for that to allow you to check whether you’re gonna fly on one, which might have a hole in the side. The phrase, if it’s Boeing I’m not going, changed into, if it’s Boeing I’m not going,

Kia’s Platform Beyond Vehicles

[00:23:16] Drew Smith: Look, there’s, there was a set of vehicles at the show that when considered simply as vehicles gave me an enormous amount of hope. and that was

[00:23:26] Joe Simpson: Korean

[00:23:27] Drew Smith: key, yeah, it was, it was Kia’s, PBV vehicles, Platform Beyond Vehicle vehicles. That works neatly, doesn’t it?

[00:23:36] Joe Simpson: I wanted to get your view on these because I think it won’t, for most of our audience who probably sit in the automotive or at least even automotive design space, it is not going to be a surprise to them to hear that Hyundai Motor Group, Hyundai Kia Genesis, They have been knocking it out of the park from a, product and hardware perspective the last few years.

[00:23:59] Their EVs are really some of the best in the market. They’re standout. They have gone from, in the space of a few years, a company that was doing maybe nice feel, like nice copies of things, to having their own real design confidence that is leading the way and leaving many of us with open mouths at just how impressive it is. And this felt like a step beyond a step both into the commercial space for them, which is new, into a space which talks about modularity and delivery and autonomy and you know how you can make all that work together. But then it goes much further than that and starts to reimagine an entire system, which is where I think you have some quite strong opinions on on the kind of potential, validity of,

[00:24:50] Drew Smith: look, I think you’re right. there was one step beyond which was Kia into commercial vehicles. Oh, got a thumb.

[00:24:57] Joe Simpson: Oh, you’ve got a thumbs up.

[00:24:59] Drew Smith: There were. Two steps beyond, which was into modularity of construction and a combination of cell based and kind of production line manufacturing, using an interesting system of,cast hollow cast sort of frame components that were then located with plastic joints.

[00:25:24] and then beyond that, the third step was. smart cities and infrastructure and logistics. And that third step actually filtered all the way back through to the design of step number one, which was the commercial vehicles. I think step number one was great. Steps two and three were steps too far.

[00:25:46] and the reason I say that is when I dug a little deeper and I spoke to representatives from Kia, it became obvious that things like cell based manufacturing, the modular sort of chassis design was largely vaporware and it’s certainly not going to be part of the production vehicles, which are launching in 2025.

[00:26:07] I believe, the whole Kia as operator of a smart cities ecosystem, I think, is also a stretch too far because if you look at, The videos that they showed to illustrate the concept, there was a lot of kind of custom infrastructure.

[00:26:30] there was the implication that Kia was going to be essentially writing the operating system for a city.

[00:26:40] And it’s like, I’m, I’m, I’m not sure this is your key area of competence. and what it resulted in was this very sort of monomaniacal view of the world. And as I was walking around, it reminded me very much of Courbusier’s vision for Paris. Where you just knock the fucker down and rebuild the city in your image.

[00:27:09] Now Kia wasn’t going quite that far, but it did get down to the level of saying, okay, we’re going to determine what? Loading. Loading. Sorry.

[00:27:18] Joe Simpson: things like that. They’re going to redetermine what a euro pallet size and things like that, which is a very standardized system, which everyone is working towards and, euro pallets, containers, things like that. It’s a very, it’s a system that’s very well established in which the entire world of logistics ships and works on.

[00:27:36] Drew Smith: And infrastructure is slow, right? and culture change to allow for the introduction of new infrastructure is really slow. And it requires, I think, a different set of core competencies than car companies have typically had, who have been quite happy to offload the externalities to third parties.

[00:27:56] And you see the trouble that has caused, for example, with trying to establish charging networks in the United States and why Tesla has managed to accrue such a massive advantage, because they refused to treat refueling, in effect, the car as an externality. they brought that in house.

[00:28:11] Now, if we think about the vehicles themselves, exterior design wise, very logical progression of and translation of Kia’s design language into the commercial vehicle space. The thing that absolutely delighted me were the interiors. because there was so much, they felt so thoughtful, they felt so considerate. And in that respect, the antithesis of the grey, dark, macho ness that typically defines commercial vehicle interiors. They were Dare I say it, actually, no, not dare I say it, these were feminine and quite proudly feminine, bouclé upholstery, soft pink accent lighting, terrazzo like finishes.

[00:28:53] Yeah,

[00:28:54] Joe Simpson: a way at least from afar, that didn’t feel effeminate. But it felt, considered, and like a different take on how this world could be, and it felt to me, and this in an entirely positive way, they had looked at and learned from the startups that I guess have I think Canoo are still there, thereabouts, but ultimately not having perhaps the impact they, they would have hoped to have.

[00:29:20] Canoo, really considering, or, Arrival, really considering the person who was doing the driving or the delivering and what do actually they need, what do you need to put around them to make them, better at their job, happier, not get injured, et cetera, et cetera. And it felt like this had this level of consideration, which I think is very applaudable.

Kia’s naive approach to infrastructure

[00:29:44] Joe Simpson: And I’m conscious that we’re sat here criticizing slightly their sort of bigger picture system. It’s interesting. I reflect that we always criticize the lack of push into, infrastructure and, here’s a brand trying to do it and re imagine the world and pushing into that and we’re we’re saying it’s a bit naive and I guess ultimately I think it is a bit naive.

[00:30:04] It shows you the kind of the challenges that exist with very well established infrastructure.

[00:30:10] Drew Smith: Look, I think to push into infrastructure, effectively, to my mind, requires partnership, and it requires collaboration. if Kia had presented this vision in collaboration with somebody like an ARUP

[00:30:27] there’d be a lot more intellectual heft to thinking through, okay, what are the real world implications of trying to insert a Kia system into a, an already built environment?

[00:30:43] It’s the same, it’s the same criticism that I leveled at the Renault EZgo many years ago in, in, Geneva.

[00:30:49] Joe Simpson: Geneva, yeah.

[00:30:50] Drew Smith: Renault did put some thinking into infrastructure in as much as they created like a mock up street scene.

[00:30:59] Joe Simpson: Yeah.

[00:31:00] Drew Smith: within the Geneva Show Hall. But as soon as you thought through, Okay, how does that translate into the real world? It all started to fall apart.

Of pods, caravans, and autonomy

[00:31:09] Drew Smith: And I, just on the subject of what these are, being, commercial, being in the realms of, pods that could do delivery or people, I felt like there was maybe a theme of the show around that. You had the Kias. Hyundai also showed quite an interesting autonomous pod, and the one I really wanted to get your take on, LG, showed a kind of, I think it was almost like a kind of pop up mobile home, and it felt like there was a push from, LG as a sort of consumer electronics brand, into let’s call it Towards a Mobility Space, which is perhaps one of the most interesting we’ve seen yet from a consumer electronics brand.

[00:31:56] I’m gonna separate the pods out a little bit. Because I think the pods are one thing and we’ve seen automakers, in particular, presenting pods as the future for quite some time. I think the LG is actually representative of a dare I say it, far more interesting and far more immediately applicable theme or trend that emerged for me at the show.

[00:32:26] And that is a theme of resilience and autonomy. And I’m not talking about autonomy as in autonomous drive.

[00:32:31] Joe Simpson: yeah.

[00:32:32] Drew Smith: I’m talking about autonomy as in what happens when shit goes wrong.

[00:32:36] And how can a vehicle provide a sense of psychological and physical safety in a world in which, the climate crisis, or political, crises threaten the infrastructure on which we depend?

[00:32:52] So whether it was the LG, which was a very neat pulling together of a lot of LG domestic technology into, a really lovely van, the Lightship caravan, which I saw at South by Southwest in March of 2023, the Pebble caravan, which was also at CES, um, the Jackery, roof mounted, like car roof mounted tent, which also has one kilowatt of solar built into it, through to Anker’s,

[00:33:25] battery packs, which can power a whole home, or recharge a car in an emergency. There’s this very definite thread emerging of products which are targeted towards helping people feel safe, I would argue, in an increasingly unsafe world. And if we think about both, Lightship and Pebble, they both have essentially vehicle grade, lithium ion battery packs and, drive assist systems built into them.

[00:33:53] So if you happen to be driving an EV, Uh, the caravan can actually help propel itself, reducing the drain on, on your car’s battery.

[00:34:02] Joe Simpson: so I guess I was gonna say this is a very interesting solution in that it solves one of the main issues of EVs.

[00:34:11] Many people tow, many people want to tow a caravan or a boat or a trailer with something on it and adding that weight and that extra wind resistance behind your EV really hammers the range.

[00:34:28] And when we’re in a world where people already have, if you like, range anxiety from EVs, this is the kind of real solution. And I know in some of the kind of other things I’ve listened to, they’ve talked about it on the Autonocast and other podcasts like that, this actually feels like a kind of a really smart, real world solution, which will solve a problem for a lot of people.

[00:34:47] But also, gives, I suppose the manufacturers or the brands which are trying to bring things like these kind of future homes or caravans and things actually a place into the future, whereas actually the world of electrified vehicles starts to cause and call into question the way that, those vehicles have been moved around historically.

[00:35:07] Drew Smith: it, it does, but I think what it gives consumers, I think the word anxiety is an apt one. Because it’s not just range anxiety that we’re talking about. it’s the general anxiety of existing in the world. and Although these products, the LG is a concept, but things like Lightship and Pebble are very much kind of 1 percent camping products.

[00:35:30] they, the fact that they have such, huge autonomy from the grid built into them by virtue of the fact that they have these automotive grade battery systems, means that you can stay off grid with one of these things for I think it’s 14 days?

[00:35:46] Joe Simpson: right.

[00:35:47] Drew Smith: and I think that’s just interesting if we think about the broader political climate and an environmental climate that we exist in, particularly here in the United States.

[00:35:59] Joe Simpson: It feels to some extent like the, I suppose to people like us, the smart and acceptable other side of the coin to what we were talking about in the last podcast with the Cybertruck.

[00:36:10] It, you know, the Cybertruck is a way of people some people feeling safe in a dangerous world.

[00:36:15] You know, I’m bigger, I will, you know, if there’s a fight, I’m gonna win.

[00:36:19] Um, Which is fascinating. And the idea of psychological safety and how you can create that through, a combination of mobility and tech, I think is a fascinating trend.

[00:36:29] But, Drew, I’m conscious that time is getting on in this podcast. We’ve talked a lot about the automotive OEM brands. Any other general show trends that stood out for you or things you want to call out here or that you think people,should, is worthy of them going to have a deeper look at online?

[00:36:47] And

What happens after the app?

[00:36:52] Drew Smith: One of the questions that generative AI poses is what happens to the app. And in a world of, it’s one step beyond generative AI and we start thinking about autonomous agents. So these are tools that you can say, you can say to an autonomous agent,book me a restaurant for dinner tonight.

[00:37:17] Now the auton

[00:37:18] Joe Simpson: OpenTable or various other apps to,

[00:37:21] Drew Smith: So it, it can integrate with third party systems, to take a goal that the user wants to achieve, breaks that down into a set of tasks, and then recursively goes out and back to third party systems to complete that, those tasks.

[00:37:40] Joe Simpson: say to it, Hey, I need to get back to Gothenburg tomorrow. Find me

[00:37:46] Drew Smith: No.

[00:37:47] Joe Simpson: the best, quickest flight.

[00:37:49] Drew Smith: you could just say, Hey, I need to get back to Gothenburg tomorrow, right? and it will intelligently determine, okay, there are a number of different ways you could do it. Here are your options. Which one do you want to go for? You say, I want to go for the cheapest and it will then go and make that happen.

[00:38:05] And the next thing you know, you’ve got boarding passes sat in your email.

[00:38:08] Joe Simpson: where, for a lot of people, AI could actually start to make a real world difference to their lives. Because you can see how it saves you both time, but also a lot of, perhaps more importantly, stress and hassle.

[00:38:23] Drew Smith: and this will be one of the next steps in, the revolution that’s being driven by generative AI.

[00:38:31] What this actually means though, is the death of the app as an interface. So how do we? interface with these digital tools.

[00:38:43] If we don’t need to have a flow of screens that we work through, then all of a sudden we don’t need, like a we don’t need an iPhone. We don’t need an iPad. We don’t need a laptop. So what does the interface then start to look like? So there are a couple of companies at CES that were doing really interesting things.

[00:39:01] None of them are the answer, I don’t believe. But they do approach this question in interesting ways. One is the Rabbit R1, which was developed in collaboration

[00:39:11] Joe Simpson: the one that people I’m talking to seem quite excited about. I know a few people who’ve actually already put a pre order in for that. It seemed to be, rabbit It’s just this small box, essentially, that

[00:39:23] Drew Smith: Yeah, developed with Teenage Engineering. it has a camera built into it. it has some hardware controls and a small touch screen. I think where this falls down and when Samsung launches the new Galaxies, I think next week, the rabbit will probably be rendered obsolete immediately. because it’s, it’s a thing that needs to be attached to your phone, which then needs to communicate with the servers, right? So anything where you’re required to add another interface on top of the one that you’ve already got is, it has to be a very compelling product for that to work

[00:39:59] Joe Simpson: So is Samsung gonna bring something which kind of basically curates and collates all the apps on your phone or you just work with your phone direct?

[00:40:07] Drew Smith: Essentially, yeah, that’s the belief. That’s what we believe is coming with the next Galaxy phones. but then we also saw things like, this ring, from a company called Whisper. And it is an ultra sensitive proximity based microphone, which means that you can talk into your finger very discreetly.

[00:40:26] And it isolates your voice from the surrounding environment. Now, assuming that you’re wearing, earpods or airpods or something like it at the time. again, it changes the nature of the interaction. And it’s a, it’s an interaction which is more suited to discrete, voice commands.

[00:40:44] Than say, when I say, Hey Siri, while I’m using these. Which everybody can hear. And. everybody, might then turn to me to hear what kind of

[00:40:54] Joe Simpson: What you’re gonna ask her. Yeah.

[00:40:55] Drew Smith: Yeah, exactly. So I think that these two things for me fall into a category of explorations of new interface typologies.

[00:41:07] There was also this really interesting mask. I mean, extremely ugly. but the point of this mask was essentially to isolate your conversations, whether that was with another human or an intelligent assistant from the outside world. Again, not the answer, but what I look for it shows like CES is what are the signals of the questions that are emerging from these new technologies that companies are trying to answer?

A beautiful, useful application of technology

[00:41:37] Joe Simpson: Anything else just to wrap us up from CES? I guess I have, my main question for you, Drew. I feel like you generally have a slightly underwhelmed, take on the show. But any standout that really excites you? From CS. Or gives you hope.

[00:42:01] Drew Smith: Yes. On a stand that was run by, and forgive me, I’m going to forget the name of the organization. Essentially it’s an, it’s an organization that advocates for people aging. there was a young woman who had developed a product that through the combination of painting light on the ground, From a walking frame and providing auditory cues restored mobility to people suffering from Parkinson’s.

[00:42:32] So typically one of two things happens to people who are suffering from advanced Parkinson’s. They either kind of, uh, lock and, and can’t move or they shuffle. And what the combination of this light bar painted on the ground and the auditory cues do is bypass the defective brain circuit and restores a good level of mobility to these people who would either be shuffling or afraid that they were going to lock up when they tried to walk anywhere.

[00:43:04] And it was such a superficially simple intervention and yet absolutely life changing in terms of its impact on end users. and that for me is kind of what the good application of technology is all about.

[00:43:24] Joe Simpson: I was just gonna say as you were speaking that I was reflecting that so often we bemoan the approach of, I can so I will and I think we often say especially when it comes to the automotive space, you know Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

[00:43:40] But where technology, I think, is at its best is where it impacts people’s lives or transforms their lives for the better, and I think as more people in the world age and fundamentally will be living with some form of disability, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, some kind of mobility or some kind of degeneration, I think it will be interesting to see where technology can be applied to Help people live a higher quality life for longer.

[00:44:08] So much, I feel, of technology’s effort is applied to the, if you like, cool, younger, easy to market end of things. But so much of the potential exists in the problem solving space that is more, often happening at people’s ends of lives, or towards the end of lives.

Technology as tinsel on a tree, or a turd…

[00:44:28] Drew Smith: and to that point, and I think the point that I want to wrap up on is, you and I, for many years have advocated for an approach to technology that says, let’s identify the use case, right? let’s develop a value proposition that would benefit our brand, would benefit our customers.

[00:44:47] And then let’s work out how we corral technology to deliver that in. in a delightful way, and I know you and I have been banging on about this for years. It was really heartening to sit in a, a seminar run by EY, my old employers, and to hear, to hear them banging on on stage. about how this is how the automotive industry needs to be thinking about the application of technology.

[00:45:17] Because what we’re seeing a lot of at the moment, and I’ve said this in an article that I’ve written for Car Design News is tinsel on a tree, right? They’re just throwing shit at the car in the hope that a bulked-up spec sheet will attract new customers. In the long term, it won’t. And I think as we talked about right at the beginning of the show, the inflated expectations that are created by the PR guff around a lot of this technology ultimately leads to disappointment and disaffection with brands. so I think I can’t advocate more strongly for taking the opposite approach, which is to say, let’s identify the use case, let’s identify the value proposition and then work out what technology we’re going to use to solve it.

[00:46:06] Joe Simpson: right, I think this is the thing, it’s not just applying things on top, it’s complex, it’s nuanced, and it’s deep understanding, and I think a move from, tinsel on a turd to genuine problem solving. It is something we can all advocate for.


[00:46:26] Joe Simpson: on that note, I think that brings us to a close of, of this episode of Looking Out. it’s been a pleasure to have you with us.

[00:46:38] Coming up in our next show, and as a kind of rather neat technological transition from this show about CES and the application of technology in the automotive industry, we are going to be comparing notes on our recent experiences of GMs Super Cruise, Hyundai’s, what is it called, Blue Cruise, and of course, Tesla Autopilot. So, look out for that coming up a couple of weeks after this show.


[00:47:08] Drew Smith: And before, before we go, if you’d like a deeper level of insight into the topics that we’ve discussed on the show and even more, I’m actually going to be pulling together a trend report. from CES 2024.

[00:47:24] So if you want to get in touch with us, we’ll provide a link in the show notes. you can register your interest and, then I’d be very happy to talk you through in greater detail, everything that I saw

[00:47:36] Joe Simpson: Meanwhile, if you liked this show, please leave us a review. And if you know someone who you think might like it too, please go on and share it with them. For more about the topics in this show, please visit our website at lookingout. io where you can also sign up for our Looking Out newsletter.

[00:48:00] Looking out the podcast was written and presented by me, Joe Simpson.

[00:48:04] Drew Smith: and me, Drew Smith.

[00:48:05] Joe Simpson: This is Joe Simpson, and thanks for listening.

End note

[00:48:09] Joe Simpson: Oh, good, good. we’re talking

[00:48:11] about things. Excellent. Ha Ha

[00:48:15] Drew Smith: about things and stuff, yep. Well when we add into the fact that you’re probably suffering from quite severe jet lag.

[00:48:27] Joe Simpson: Quite bad jet lag. And I’ve had three beers.

[00:48:32] Drew Smith: I’ve, I’ve been made this extremely potent drink by Sal’s husband,

[00:48:37] Joe Simpson: Oh my god.

[00:48:39] Drew Smith: juice mezcal and a diet tonic, um, for which I have a beer chaser too.

[00:48:48] Joe Simpson: So this is gonna be fun then?

[00:48:52] Drew Smith: Fucking hell.

[00:48:53] Joe Simpson: Even more gobshite than normal.

[00:48:55] Drew Smith: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Um, all right ​

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February 15, 2024