CES 2017 has come and gone and left us all with a smattering of new tech product announcements and (I know I’m not alone in this) a lingering bug from shaking a few too many hands at an event that pulled in somewhere north of 175,000 people to a city not known for its high standards of personal hygiene. And in this age of go-ahead-and-impress-me, many reports coming out of the dusts of Las Vegas come prefaced with great big typed-out yawns.
Event-goers descended on Sin City, jumping into the neon scene ready to look at and judge the latest in consumer electronics, packing comfortable shoes and hopefully plenty of water. Personally, my schedule was packed from the moment I got off my plane on Wednesday, and I’m not entirely sure I sat down until Sunday as I shuttled, walked, and sometimes ran between events, interviews, and demonstrations held throughout the Strip (and, in the case of the Drone Rodeo, 35 minutes outside the city). By the time I made it back home on Monday, with a bag full of business cards, product brochures, and a little bit of swag, I was beat.
Back at my computer, I set out to work through my books of notes from interviews and the show, sharing impressions and thoughts from tech ground zero — and occasionally stopping to read other publications’ coverage of the event. After writing up my own thoughts, I always enjoy reading what other media attendees had to think about events we were both at, and CES was no different, with coverage everywhere. A consumer-focused tech show is always going to be big, popular news, and it doesn’t get bigger each year than the latest from the annual CES. However, with yawn after yawn coming up in the news from the show, I was left to wonder: did we go to the same event?
I was never bored at CES. I can come up with a good deal of other adjectives to describe my week in Vegas, but bored was never among them. If I yawned, it was because I forgot to do nice things like sleep or eat for most of the show — because I was busy checking it all out. It’s impossible to see all there is at CES, and so of course I didn’t even make it to half of what could have been relevant for 3DPrint.com — I’m especially sad to have missed the full-day 3D printing conference put on by TCT, which hosted some truly interesting speakers in sessions I would have loved to attend — and with 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space I had no hope of making it to every booth that had a 3D printer or had used 3D tech in its business model.
Some facts are hard to ignore: yes, there were fewer 3D printing companies in attendance this year; yes, there were fewer big 3D printing hardware or software announcements this year; yes, some tech we’d hoped would have come further along since CES 2016 still isn’t market-ready (I’m looking at you, VR).
But I’m not sure in what world those things immediately correlate to, “Well, nothing to see here.” Maybe some other media folk just wanted to hit the craps tables and so chalked their losses up on the show floor and put their bets in different rooms of the casinos. Maybe some people have gone to so many of these shows that they truly aren’t impressed by anything less than the next completely new, completely market-ready Next Big Thing that will utterly shake up an entire sector of living. Maybe some found that smaller booth space meant that returning companies had less to say. Whatever it was, their way of doing the show sounds way too cynical for me.
When I was a kid, my mom loved to say, “If you’re bored, you’re boring.” There’s rarely a reason in today’s world to be bored. I have to say that if someone found themselves bored at CES, it was probably their own fault. When I found that I had a free two hours left before the show ended on the first day, I hopped a shuttle from the Sands to the LVCC, where the main floor was, because at CES there’s no such thing as an empty slot in a schedule; there’s always something more to see. Getting away from the heart of the 3D Printing Marketplace allowed me the opportunity to see some massive robots, a helicopter parked on an RV, GPS-enabled thing-finders, gaming demonstrations, walls made of TVs, a pavilion of guitars, a course for self-driving cars, VR headsets everywhere, and wearable everything-trackers for apparently every imaginable bodily function. Was all of it ready for market? Nah. Was all of it cool? Okay, no. Does that make it irrelevant or dull? Hard no.
For me, the biggest hardware announcement was probably the new Metal X from Markforged as we see metal 3D printing continue to make impressive headway in this industry. I’m not going to say this one new hardware introduction made the entire show for me, but seeing it in person and talking with CEO Greg Mark about the new machine was a highlight. My conversation on the floor with Mark mirrored several others, highlighting trends in software that might not have been as readily apparent had I not been at CES and listened to those in this industry talking about the critical nature of software in becoming cleverer to keep up with advances in hardware, a point ZMorph’s CEO also drove home in our talk, as did the CEO of Sculpteo when I talked with him. Sure, it’s no secret that advances in software need to be made — but going from booth to booth and hearing from companies each with a different business plan and market focus emphasizing that one aspect brought it to light in a way that no email communication or scouring of press releases could have done.
That most of the other new 3D printers brought to market or introduced at CES aren’t necessarily the most innovative of new kids on the FDM block wasn’t a problem for me; it was, rather, an exercise in seeing why these were coming out. XYZprinting’s booth was a sight to behold, to be sure, a massive structure that fit with a company touted as the uncontested leader in the desktop space right now. Walking through their booth showcased all the new products they’ve introduced lately — and showed the other desktop manufacturers what they’re up against. Another Asian company, Shining 3D, is rising to the occasion, showing off their own new technology in a decent-sized booth space as they too focus more on the US market. CES provided a space for these and several other companies from Asia to showcase their goods to this market, touching base with potential customers and resellers. An interesting point that was regularly emphasized among producers of desktop machines, including early market leader MakerBot, was the growing focus too on the educational space. Getting desktop-sized machines into schools is a real focus for many companies as they recognize the importance of teaching the next generation these skills starting right in the classroom.
The greatest thing about exhibit halls at shows like CES isn’t just being introduced to the latest and greatest; it’s meeting the people who made these things happen. The people behind the innovations are remarkable — my go-to example of the moment is Lyman Connor, the GE engineer behind Handsmith dedicating his precious free time to creating affordable bionic prosthetics — have an energy all their own. Talking to one after another of these incredible people is an experience not to be replicated anywhere else. CES provided a basis of gathering not just a few, but a few thousand of these people together at one time. In the same day, I was able to talk to the innovative team from Nano Dimension and talk 3D printed electronics, then go chat with Glowforge to see in person the much-maligned 3D laser printer that may or may not actually hit the market soon (it’s real, and it works). If seeing is believing, I quickly became a believer in affordable prosthetics, 3D printed circuits, and 3D engraved goods that appear in minutes. Just because prosthetics, circuitry, and laser engravers aren’t the newest technologies around doesn’t mean that innovations in each area don’t have a place at a tech show.
It’s not just the companies that offer interest at these events, either; the other attendees hold a wealth of information and networking at CES is an experience not to be missed. While some conversations last longer than others, I was happy for the chance to catch up with, among others, John Hauer of Get3DSmart, who shares his thoughts with us from time to time, and Chris Connery, Vice President of Global Analysis and Research at CONTEXT, who I’ve had the good fortune to run into several times over the last year. Talking with them about their thoughts on the industry and different experiences at the show provided a deeper look beyond what I had seen in my own time in Vegas. A chance meeting in the media room too is leading to some great connections to the Dutch 3D printing industry, as we continue to look globally for the latest developments.
Maybe the main difference between my experience at CES 2017 and that of those who left unimpressed by virtual reality headsets is that I managed nearly a full week in tech-central of Las Vegas without actually ever donning any VR gear myself. The reality of the show was enough for me.[All photos taken at CES 2017 by Sarah Goehrke for 3DPrint.com]