It was kind of like the Running of the Bulls, but with the densely packed throng goaded forward by technological devotion in place of pointy horns.
“It’s like being at a Walmart on Black Friday,” quipped Victor B., a Canadian who works in the utilities industry, as CES attendees surged through the doors of the Las Vegas Convention Center South Hall 1 like a dam burst as the convention opened at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
After descending the stairs immediately past the entryway, the horde entered a noisy, pulsating, pupil-shrinking fantasia of light, sound, vintage video games and decidedly nonvintage flying thingies.
Also, there were pingpong-playing robots.
“Chaotic and overwhelming describes it,” said Johannesburg resident Charleen Clarke, who works in publishing. “If you come here for the first time, you’re at a loss for what to do. It’s really crazy.”
Her awe was shared by Snejina Badjeva of Sofia, Bulgaria, who’s employed in the same field.
“It’s overwhelming,” Badjeva seconded. “You have to prepare yourself before coming here.”
Oh, but how does one prepare for $2,000 augmented-reality motorcycle helmets and ultra-elaborate gaming chairs that looked as if they were lifted from the flight deck of the USS Enterprise?
Despite gizmos galore, this was not an easy-to-please crowd.
“People are pretty jaded at CES, because you’ve been to a lot of them and you see a lot of stuff,” explained Kevin Gordon, chief marketing officer for Hypervsn, which creates eye-popping 3D holographic displays that make it seem as if images are floating in air.
Despite Gordon’s observation, Hypervsn’s wares stood out, literally — imagine if your TV screen were a permeable barrier you could just step right through and be inside whatever you’re watching. Hypervsn works kind of like that.
At CES, the hard-to-imagine is easy to achieve, like the opportunity to replace your boring friends with a Chuangze Intelligent Robot, a 3-foot-high buddy bot adorned with a cherubic face and big promises for your immune system.
“With a loving friend like me, you don’t have to worry about getting sick all year-round,” a message read on its display screen.
Elsewhere, a much larger, vaguely sinister-looking robot engaged in a heated match of table tennis with a flesh-and-blood competitor.
Named Forphues, from tech company Omron, the thing looked more like something you’d see zapping humans to ash in “War of the Worlds” than engaging in recreational activities with strangers.
Here, artificial intelligence comingled with real aspirations.
“Empower your robot,” one display booth commanded.
Did Skynet teach us nothing?
The robots’ corporeal counterparts labored away in unison with the machines they tended to, weathering a four-day grind without the benefit of a battery supply like their charges.
“I kind of get off on the stress,” said Las Vegan Cristy Corso as she worked a display for an electronics company, explaining how she copes with the CES grind, this being her fifth go-round. “There is a physical drain.”
For all the forward-looking flourishes that defined the day, the past was also present.
To wit: The Pong Table, a mechanized, tabletop version of the classic video game.
Yes, here we were in 2019 at one of the world’s biggest tech gatherings, playing one of the earliest arcade games, dating back to 1972.
“Retro is back in a big way,” said Steven Tan, general manager of Unis Technology, which manufactures the game.
Guess you can’t have the future without the past, right?