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Fewer people, more robotic drum kits: CES relaunches in Las Vegas

Updated January 6, 2022 - 6:21 am

It began like it normally ends.

Usually, the opening surge of the tidal wave of tech that is CES, Las Vegas’ largest trade show, has the vibe of a Black Friday scrum at Walmart, with hordes of attendees pressing through the doors of the Las Vegas Convention Center as soon they’re unlocked with the zeal of bargain-hunters ready to gouge eyeballs and punch throats for a half-priced microwave.

But on Wednesday, CES’ first day seemed more like its last has tended to be in previous years, with smaller crowds, less vendors and more room to gawk at robotic drum kits, lobster-shaped underwater gizmos and a fully automated, Indianapolis 500-worthy race car (Somewhere, the ghost of Al Unser is shedding a tear).

“It’s definitely more empty, not as many people here, less extravagant,” observed Connor Reathaford of Issaquah, Washington-based sales and marketing organization ADW Acosta, who’d been to CES three times previously. “Like the space we’re standing in right now,” he continued from within one of the convention center’s voluminous halls, “this was filled last (time).”

Reathaford was taking in CES with co-worker Tony D’Alessio, who was attending the convention for the first time.

“I think a lot of people are probably saying, ‘We’ll just do it in one day and call it good,” D’Alessio said of CES’ reduced offerings yet still bustling atmosphere. “The people who are here, the booths seem to be busy. The hope is that these people are face-to-face, having good discussions and at least get some good business talks out of it.”

Of course, some of this was to be expected considering the ongoing pandemic, which caused CES to go fully virtual in 2021.

Last week, CES reduced this year’s convention from its customary four days to three, with things concluding on Friday instead of Saturday.

Also, a number of big companies like Microsoft, Google, General Motors, Amazon and others have pulled out of this year’s in-person show due to continued coronavirus concerns.

Still, just because CES 2022 isn’t as big as its most recent incarnations doesn’t mean it hasn’t remained a massive tech nerd fantasia, a labyrinth of laser TVs, Wi-Fi-enhanced rifle scopes and American flag-adorned cellphone straps (a dieting whale is still a whale, you know?).

‘Plenty of innovation here’

A number of large corporations including Samsung, Sony and Panasonic had massive displays with video screens that flashed with Times Square wattage.

“Despite the well-publicized cancellations, there’s plenty of innovation here,” said Steve Koenig, vice president of research at the Consumer Technology Association, which puts on CES, during an early-morning talk on tech trends at the conference.

The automotive industry, in particular, continued to have one of the strongest presences at CES, with the focus on more electric models from brands like Jeep and Fiat and an emphasis on automated vehicles, from 18-wheelers to the hydrogen-powered Evocargo transportation vehicle to Bobcat tractors from the Doosan Group, whose display featured one of the day’s most far-out attractions: a drum-kit outfitted with swinging robot arms and pistoning cymbals that hovered in the air like flying saucers ready to deliver a payload of rock ‘n’ roll in place of little green men.

Though the convention halls had more open space than usual with some of the big dogs absent, it could be seen as a heightened opportunity for some companies that have yet to become household names.

“I think without a lot of the bigger guys, it gives the smaller booths a little bit more of a focus and a chance, which is kind of what we’re looking for,” Reathaford noted. “If you’re looking at the Sony booth and it takes up half of the room and you’ve got these other little guys, now you can look more at the little guys.”

‘We need to be here’

One such company is the Minnesota-born UGO, which creates waterproof cases for cellphones, tablets and more.

When co-founder Vicky DeRouchey was asked if she felt that her business might benefit from a CES less congested with other vendors, she answered enthusiastically in the affirmative.

“Absolutely,” DeRouchey said while splashing her wares in tubs of water. “People don’t know we exist, so we need to be here. It’s our job to be here.

”It’s been going good,” she added. “I like it because it’s not too crazy, actually.”

For other companies attempting to build their brand on these shores, pulling out of CES simply wasn’t an option.

“It doesn’t matter to us if someone wants to cancel because of COVID,” said Pavel Sakvarelidze, project manager for Evocargo, “we just wanted to be here to show what we developed, what we produced. That’s why we are here — no matter the COVID.

“We have opportunity and we use it,” he continued. “We are ready to show what we do. And we did it.”

In the entryways to the hall, various slogans were emblazoned on the walls.

“You’re first in line for the future,” one of them read.

Turns out that line’s just a little shorter this year, that’s all.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @jbracelin76 on Instagram

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