Old brands display new tech

10 January 2019 | Tegnologie
The companies founded by blacksmith John Deere and candle and soap making duo Procter & Gamble may not be the hip purveyors of new technology they were in 1837, but they are first-time exhibitors at this year's CES gadget show. Other unlikely newcomers include missile maker Raytheon, outdoorsy retailer The North Face and 115-year-old motorcycling icon Harley-Davidson.

The four-day consumer-electronics show opened on Tuesday with some 4 500 companies exhibiting products and services and more than 180 000 people expected to attend. It's the place start-ups and established tech giants alike go to unveil everything from utilitarian apps to splashy devices.

"Every company today is a technology company," said Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which organises CES. Shapiro said many companies already send executives to Las Vegas each January to gauge trends, so it's not surprising that they eventually unveil their own new technology as well.

It's also part of a more fundamental economic shift as consumers increasingly expect to buy not just goods and services, but a personal experience, which often skews towards digital, said Dipanjan Chatterjee, a brand analyst at Forrester Research. "We're still doing old-fashioned things: Ordering clothes, buying detergent, getting a cup of coffee, but there are new-fangled ways of doing it," he said. "Brands have no choice but to play a role in this new technology space."

That's one reason Harley-Davidson is using the show to announce the commercial launch of its first electric motorcycle LiveWire. The motorcycle will have a cellular connection, as many cars do these days, so people can keep track of their motorcycle's charge or check where they parked it through an app.

Consumer goods giant P&G, best known for Pampers diapers and Tide detergent, is showcasing heated razors, a toothbrush with artificial intelligence and a wand-like device that scans the skin and releases serum to cover up age spots and other discoloration. P&G is also showing off an internet-connected scalp adviser: The Head & Shoulders-branded device uses ultraviolet light and other techniques to uncover scalp issues and recommend products. The device is available only in Europe and Asia, for now.

Expect these gizmos to cost more than the plain-old "dumb" versions. P&G's Oral-B toothbrush, for example, is expected to cost US$279, while a regular Oral-B electric toothbrush can be bought for less than US$30.

And every new connected device means more data collection about people's personal habits - a gold mine for advertisers and hackers alike.

The North Face is using virtual reality to provide a fine-grained look at its waterproof fabrics.

Raytheon is demonstrating the everyday applications of GPS anti-jam technology, which was originally designed to protect military forces.

John Deere has hauled in self-driving tractors and a 20-ton combine harvester aided by artificial intelligence. The combine has cameras with computer-vision technology to track the quality of grain coming into the machine so that its kernel-separating settings can be adjusted automatically. Farmers can monitor it remotely using a smartphone app.

It's hard to imagine what 19th century Illinois blacksmith John Deere might think if he were plopped into his company's 2019 booth at the flashy Vegas convention centre, but Deanna Kovar believes he'd be "amazed and astonished".

"His innovation was making a self-powering steel plough that could cut through the heavy, rich soils of the Midwest," said Kovar, the company's director of production and precision agriculture marketing. "We've been a technology company since the start." Kovar said American farmers have been using self-driving tractors for decades - and that CES is a chance to let everyone else know. -Nampa/AP

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