Executive Advisor, Simon Segars, and Co-Founder and GP, Eileen Tanghal, share their takeaways from CES 2023 in Las Vegas this January.
Overall, CES was busier than expected. “My morning Uber driver said there were 100,000 people in town for the show, a number that had been more like 200,000 in the past”, said Simon. It’s hard to know how accurate that was, but clearly, while busy, attendance was not back to pre-pandemic levels. Despite this, there was a lot going on with a balance of big and small companies.
The Eureka startup space featured many early-stage companies, including a number of university spinouts. The North Hall featured numerous healthcare companies. “AI was everywhere and being applied to everything”, said Eileen. AI was powering ‘virtual humans’, impersonating a trainer to solve issues in healthcare, such as worker shortage and burnout. There were lots of robotics too, with a robot coffee maker being one of the busiest booths, to the point that a human was having to do crowd management. Artificial intelligence and machine learning were all the rage, and with emerging technologies like the internet of things, there will certainly be new and interesting ways to innovate in this space. “I am interested in how natural language processing will improve how we interact with digital systems”, said Simon.
Noteworthy was the number of urine analysis solutions being shown. This ranged from entire toilets, a bowl add-in device from Withings, and a strip on which you pee then photograph and analyze via a smartphone app from vivoo. Urine analysis plays an incredibly important role in healthcare and many diseases, like diabetes, can be tested and monitored via this type of analysis. Of course, there are potential concerns around the security of data, accuracy, and the need to consider a variety of factors in assessing a patient, all of which need further work as diagnosis moves out of the clinical setting. However, it is encouraging to see how low-cost electronics, machine learning at the edge, and smartphones are allowing this, and other medical technologies to move to the home and become ubiquitous and affordable. Interestingly, the theme seemed to be that many companies are focusing on conquering direct-to-consumer first, an important note for investors and founders alike.
Another critical theme was sustainability, with greater emphasis than Simon had ever seen in previous years. New products were on display such as systems designed to reduce commercial kitchen waste by utilizing cameras to do object categorization, with the hope of turning insight into action. Panasonic, a leader in battery technology, discussed hydrogen as an energy source to help the migration away from CO2-producing fossil fuels. The ethos of sustainability was echoed through the emphasis on the electrification of transportation. The West Hall, a new extension at CES, was filled with electric cars and e-motor bikes. The Central Hall featured not just consumer vehicles, but delivery vehicles, robotic taxis, charging solutions, and an electric hydrofoil boat.
“CES is always good to get a sense of what is going on across such a broad set of spaces”, said Simon. Health tech had a strong presence this year, from smart stethoscopes to autonomous wheelchairs, exemplifying Black Opal Ventures’ investment thesis in action.