The week of January 4, 2015

Bracing for CES

By Molly McHugh

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is upon us. The show itself is a beast to cover. I’m preparing for my fourth attendance with a carry-on full of Emergen-C and 5-Hour Energy, bracing for the onslaught of on-the-ground pitches that will be hurled at me.

After it’s over, once the lights go dark and the booths pack up, once the requests for demo units are sent out, NDAs signed, and embargoes announced, then the year in tech truly begins.

The show floor is difficult to describe. There are flashing lights, literal mobs, dancers, models, robots, cars, booze, and celebrities. The giant, almost unfathomably large conference center boasts multiple floors, hallways, and meeting rooms. Within each major hall there are LED-lit booths showing off the latest from every company you imagine (well, pretty much everyone except for Apple). Then there’s a trickle down from the big-name companies’ house-sized setups—this year one booth literally includes a house—to the tiny platforms tech startups snag for their demos.

Traditionally, CES , which takes place every January in Las Vegas, is a throw-it-at-the-wall-and see-what-sticks event, with everyone competing for that elusive next-big-thing status. But this year, a larger trend is already emerging: the Internet of Things, the catch-all term for devices that connect to the Internet. Now that list includes refrigerators, phones, bracelets, earrings, drones, cars, coffee pots, scales, sex toys, and so much more. At this point, as Mike Wehner rants in this issue, “Internet of Things” has  lost its definition.

Hopefully, in 2015, we can give it back.

The smart home revolution, for one, is desperately trying to help define and lead the Internet of Things. Here, Taylor Hatmaker takes us on a tour of a 100-year-old historic house that’s been transformed through DIY hacking into a home of the future. And we go bigger: Selena Larson explores the smart city of Amsterdam, which assuredly puts your Nest use to shame. And of course, all of this would be impossible if it weren’t for the underlying networks letting us “talk” to our things. Companies like IFTTT and SmartThings help us understand the infinite potential of what we can make our physical world do, as well as the challenges and gaps that lie ahead.

It’s not entirely a magical future we’re entering into, of course. More data means more data breaches, and it could lead us all down the path to becoming cyberchondriacs.

This year’s CES promises to hold plenty of new possibilities for the Internet of Things, giving us a glance at where it’s going—and maybe if we’re lucky, even a few answers to our many questions about where it currently stands.

Until then, let this week’s issue of the Kernel act as a gentle preface to the next week of madness. Trust me, you’re going to need it.

Illustration by Max Fleishman