CES has been running for 52 years and if feels like I was at all 51 of them. Like many in the tech industry, I feel like I mostly know what I'm going to get when I arrive at the world's biggest tech show. Cavernous halls filled with the world's biggest brands, dazzling TV displays, wafer-thin computers and futuristic cars that look ready to drive me to space.
Yes, you'll find your fair share of unexpected game changers (and the occasional). But you know the big hitters — the Samsungs, LGs, Sonys and Intels of the world — are going to do what they do best: Big booths, sleek counters and perfectly groomed cadres of brand reps in pressed white polo shirts.
But for the past five years, there's been another part of CES taking on the tech establishment.
Down the road from the main CES halls and spread across two floors at the Sands Expo Hall is Tech West. For the past five years, this part of CES has been offering up something a bit different. And every year, when they open the doors at Tech West you literally do not know what you're going to get.
You want a? You got a talking robot! You want a box that ? Bam! Tech West. You want a ? Hey there, weirdo, you'd better believe this is the show hall for you. If it inflates, , or has the cold dead eyes of a robot serial killer, it's in Tech West.
These are the offbeat brands, interesting tech players and, downstairs in the startup-focused hall known as Eureka Park, the companies often run by one or two people who've sunk everything they have into pursuing one technological dream.
Yes, there are plenty of gimmicks. But beyond the vaporware, there's that seam of gold. This is the show hall that gives us the tech devices we're most likely to really connect with over the year ahead. The devices that could become integral to our everyday lives.
One of the biggest highlights of Tech West is the area devoted to wearables, fitness tech and, perhaps most seriously, health tech.
The world of biotech has sprinted way past step tracking and calorie counting in recent years. Tech West is where you'll see devices that could become the second doctor in your home. Like, which puts a digital stethoscope in its at-home blood pressure cuff, meaning you can take electrocardiograms (a chart of your heartbeat often abbreviated to EKG or ECG) and get real-time monitoring of your heartbeat and analyse for heart conditions.
A brand new, like the glorious panels on show at the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), might make your Netflix look really, really good. But will it save your life?
While there will always be a place for your healthcare professional, health tech is democratising the information that was once out of reach for most of us. In the very near future, you could live-chat to your doctor while you— and that's the future we saw at Tech West.
Tech West is also the Smart Home mecca. Yes, you'll get plenty of brushed stainless steel appliances in the LVCC, all laid out to look like a home you would never be able to keep tidy. But I don't want House Beautiful 2.0. I want Back to the Future II. I want weird and wacky concepts that spark my imagination and show me how I could be cooking in 10, 20 or 30 years time. I want a “Hydrate level four, please!” machine that will rehydrate my pizza or cook my food.
And downstairs at Tech West, in Eureka Park? Oh my sweet summer child, this is the place that dreams are made of.
This is the future you were promised in movies. This is the world of, of coffee machine alarm clocks, of with in-built heads-up displays, of when you fall over.
Walking through Tech West is like walking through an old-time bazaar (with Wi-Fi), where sellers spruik their wares, where the art of the demonstration is key to convincing the customer. If the LVCC shows off big brands who have honed their products to perfection, Tech West is the home of brilliant ideas, of ridiculous concepts that might just work. And if you care about tech, that's a really exciting thing to see.
On Sunday night, the night before press day and two days before Tuesday's official show opening, I wandered the halls of Tech West. Stepping over ladders, under scaffolding, dodging forklifts, it felt like a place buzzing with electricity (both in the metaphorical and “health and safety incident” sense). No one was ready, but there were great ideas germinating.
As the technology world pushes to find the next big thing, the big players are spending more, promising more and delivering more. But who knows? That next big thing could be in a back corner of a trade show hall in Las Vegas.
You won't really know 'til the doors open.
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