CES 2018: Uncooperative robots and tech problems dominate first day

Truly autonomous cars are years away, experts say

Samsung’s Joseph Stinziano talks about the new Family Hub smart refrigerators during a news conference at CES 2018.

Samsung’s Joseph Stinziano talks about the new Family Hub smart refrigerators during a news conference at CES 2018.


Technology’s problems rather than its triumphs appeared to dominate the first day of the CES exhibition in Las Vegas, as tech executives were forced to confront major security flaws and uncooperative robots.

Meanwhile, carmakers and tech companies sought to temper expectations over autonomous cars, pointing out they were years away and that there were plenty of hurdles yet to overcome.

CES typically showcases technology advances and new products from the major tech firms down to small start-ups. It sets the scene for the coming year of tech, with companies using the platform to unveil the latest advances in their products. But while there was plenty of enthusiasm for TVs and robotic companions, autonomous smart homes and artificial intelligence, there was still a note of caution.


Intel boss Brian Krzanich addressed the Spectre and Meltdown problem affecting its chips in his keynote speech ahead of the opening of the event, saying the company would issue security updates for all its products affected by the two flaws by the end of the month.

“For our processors and products introduced in the past five years, Intel expects to issue updates for more than 90 per cent within a week, and the remaining by the end of January,” he said.

Last week, security researchers from Google published details of flaws in processor chips made by Intel and other manufacturers that could be exploited to access personal data on computers.

Many tech giants, including Apple and Microsoft, have since confirmed they have either already released or will shortly release updates that mitigate the issue.

Despite the turbulent weeks for technology, both LG and Samsung pushed ahead with adding internet capabilities to their entire appliance lines, enabling them to communicate and work together. For LG, it was a smart fridge that can create recipes and send cooking instructions to a connected oven.

Samsung, meanwhile, demonstrated its own “Family Hub” smart fridge that can link up with a smart TV to check its contents.

However, LG did also encounter issues when smart home robot CLOi became unresponsive during a live demo.

Industry analyst Ben Wood from CCS Insight warned the incident could signal a sense of foreboding for exhibitors at the Las Vegas convention.

“Unfortunately for LG, its 2018 CES press conference will be remembered for the problems with its CLOi consumer robot,” he said. “This episode may well prove to be a metaphor for a lot of the technology on show at CES this year, particularly in the area of consumer robotics.

“Based on what we have seen so far it feels like many of the devices are not quite ready for prime time. Early adopters risk being alienated and true mass market commercialisation likely remains many years away.”


Google also showed its face at the tech show, announcing it Google Assistant would be coming to speakers with screens and cars. Google Assistant is compatible with devices made by Sony, LG, Lenovo and JBL, a brand of Samsung’s Harman division.

Meanwhile, executives from car giants Toyota and Hyundai Motor Co, supplier Robert Bosch GmbH and ride-hailing service Lyft said this week that truly driverless vehicles are years away. While each of those companies showed off the progress they’re making in the form of concept models or Las Vegas test drives, they’re quick to admit that plenty of major hurdles remain.

“It’s a mistake to say that the finish line is coming up very soon,” said Gill Pratt, chief executive officer of Toyota Research Institute, the carmaker’s $1 billion unit working on artificial intelligence and robotics. “Things are changing rapidly, but this will be a long journey.”

One of the major challenges is replicating the human brain, Pratt said. People can sense gestures and the movements of pedestrians and other drivers and predict where they’re going. AI scientists are working on this, Pratt said, but it’ll take years to get autonomous-vehicle systems to be capable of complete robotic driving.

Hyundai announced an even longer time frame. “We take very conservative steps,” Lee Jinwoo, vice president of Hyundai’s Intelligent Safety Technology Center in Namyang, South Korea, said in an interview. “We want to test and validate the technology first. It will not be for sale in 2021, only testing in city use.”

There were the usual slew of TV announcements, with Panasonic unveiling a range of OLED TVs that that support the opensource metadata platform HDR10+, while Samsung and Sony also showed off new displays. Sony uised the show to unveil new additions to its mobile range too.

Dell, meanwhile, showcased new laptops, including the thin and light XPS 13, which has been named a CES 2018 Innovation Award honouree. The company has also developed software solution that enables wireless integration between Dell PCs and iOS and Android smartphones. The Dell Mobile Connect software will be pre-installed on all new Dell consumer PCs, allowing users to make calls, send texts, get notifications and fully mirror their phones to interact with all their favourite mobile apps. On the virtual reality side of things, its Alienware brand is collaborating with Nvidia and Oculus to create competitive virtual reality eSports.

CES opened on Tuesday and is set to run until Friday. An estimated 170,000 people are expected to visit CES over the course of the four-day event.

- PA, Bloomberg