I’m writing this post from the comfort of my hotel room in Las Vegas, where I am attending my very first CES. I’ve been in the tech industry for a long time, both as an engineer and in business development, which probably makes it more surprising that this is my first time here—especially since every other person in the industry (or country) seems to attend. My in-laws have even been to CES, not because they’re in the tech industry, but because they thought it would be fun to see what all the fuss is about. Let me tell you, there is indeed a fuss.
The first thing that you notice about being here is that it is completely overwhelming. Being on the floor at CES takes drinking from the proverbial fire hose to another level; it’s more like drinking from a tsunami. In addition, CES itself takes place in several different, huge venues around town, not to mention the speakers and events hosted by various companies are happening at almost every casino. It can take two hours just to get from one place to another. Our CEO often says that he learns more about what happened at CES by reading the tech blogs and news sites after the fact than he does by actually being at CES. It’s a lot to take in.
The second thing you might notice about this particular weekend in Vegas is that you’re tired and your feet hurt. No comfortable shoe is a match for the miles of walking, the hours of waiting in line, and the evenings spent standing at networking events. So, if everyone at CES is suffering from sore feet, overstimulation, and fatigue, not to mention scheduling anxiety—all for a show that we can read about on Monday—why are we here? Is it just FOMO?
This question takes me to a thought I had yesterday. I arrived at CES with the expectation that this would be the year of virtual reality, and I wasn’t wrong. The advancements made in VR the past few years have taken it from a cool gaming tool to being able to do some really amazing things that help our world. Virtual reality applications are now used to treat anxiety and PTSD, to train medical students, and to create business conferencing options that vastly reduce the need for travel. There are even VR programs that allow paraplegics to have the experience of playing soccer that have been proven to increase leg and nerve function. Virtual reality has become very real and very important.
Given this, it’s no surprise that so many of the booths I encountered on the show floor have to do with different areas of VR. In fact, there’s an entire floor at one venue dedicated to VR, and I headed there anticipating seeing some really cool stuff, which I did… but. Then I proceeded to see the same cool stuff over and over and over again; the entire floor was full of the same few applications. My FOMO was at it again, and I felt like I’d so much rather be seeing something else, like the baby monitors that work in-utero or the fitness tracker that says it can detect your nutritional intake metabolically. Hell, I even kind of wanted to see that home camera that throws treats at your dog. It would take me over an hour to find where all that stuff was, though, and another hour to get there. It occurred to me, if I could get my hands on the right VR application, I could use it to see the other things I wanted to see at CES—right from the VR demo hall. In fact, even better, I could stay right here in my hotel room and tour everything I wanted to see at CES without even putting on shoes. Or, why fly to Vegas at all when we could attend CES from the comfort of our own homes? I was pretty sure I was on to something, and this is how I pictured it working:
I would pay to rent a company-sponsored drone that would attend CES on my behalf. I would maneuver it around town to record any demos that I felt pertinent, interface in real time via VR headset with any people I wanted to talk to, and attend any keynotes I felt I couldn’t miss. In the meantime, I would be sitting in my hotel (or my living room!) with my feet decidedly comfortable and a cup of tea in hand. In addition, the drone would have a sort of receptacle attached that would collect all of my CES schwag for me (because let’s face it, we all secretly love the schwag), and at the end of the conference, it would drop it into the mail so I don’t have to pack it in all my suitcase; a late holiday gift box full of mugs, phone chargers, and flash drives would be waiting for me when I get home. Maybe Amazon could get involved, and I’d get my free Prime shipping to boot.
I was starting to really warm up to my drone idea when it occurred to me that, despite the fatigue and the sore feet, there is a reason we are all here at CES live and in person. What we do is really cool, and we want to connect with other people doing other cool things because it makes us smarter when we meet other smart people. While VR may offer the opportunity to see what’s going on at CES from afar and avoid the crowds and scheduling logistics, there is a certain buzz here that a drone can’t capture. The tech industry was built on passion and excitement for advancement, and that is palpable on the CES show floors. We’re here because we’re genuinely excited about what our industry is capable of and how we can share that with each other, even if it means walking three miles to see 100 booths that all demo the same thing. I don’t think a giant show floor, buzzing quietly with the hum of 10,000 drone attendees, instead of the cacophony of 100,000 human voices, could quite capture that. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to soak my feet.