CES 2020
CES 2020

Windows onto the future

16 January 2020

For four days every January, the one-armed bandits and stage shows in Las Vegas are relegated to a second-string role. During those days, the casino city focuses firmly on the future – tech companies, IT companies, start-ups and ever larger numbers of car manufacturers present their technological innovations at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES). We spoke to Hartmut Abeln, Managing Director of TÜV NORD Mobilität, to get his take on the trends and developments that were set in train at this year's CES and what makes this trade fair so special.

#explore: Mr Abeln, you’ve just come back from the CES in Las Vegas. What do you think were the most important trends at this year's trade fair?
Hartmut Abeln: Well, the CES is a trade fair that covers the entire spectrum, from smart homes to audio entertainment to the automotive and industrial sectors. And automation, in the form of digitalisation, is playing a key role in all these areas – in other words, the question of how processes can be simplified through automation. Voice control systems are already very advanced, and you can find them everywhere. Self-learning systems can now also be found in almost every sector. In the automotive sector, the big issues are autonomous driving, security solutions for networked vehicles and electromobility.

What was the biggest surprise for you?
First of all, I was amazed to see far development has come at Google, Apple and Amazon, all of which are breaking out into completely new business areas with their products. When you walk through the automotive hall at the CES, alongside the classic car manufacturers and suppliers you’ll also find a two-storey stand from Amazon-Automotive, from which the company can provide complete software solutions and platforms to control self-driving cars, along with pedestrian and damage detection. The second big surprise had to be the fact that Sony was demonstrating its own in-house electric car. This isn’t a company you would have expected to find in the automotive sector. Bosch, for its part, has introduced a complete electric car platform, and pretty much all you have to do is to put a body on it. This should give start-ups or other companies the opportunity to relaunch themselves really quickly as car manufacturers or to develop their own business ideas on these platforms. There’s never been anything like this in the past.

How do you explain this development?
Digitalisation is opening up an incredible number of new possibilities. Voice control, image recognition and the underlying software platforms are one day going to be used to control different areas, such as mobility. Here, the big tech companies have built up huge reserves of expertise that the traditional providers simply can’t yet offer in this form. And because these companies also have enormous financial resources, they can move into fields where they didn’t use to be present. Before the CES, I spent a few days in Silicon Valley visiting the Google campus. There you have thousands and thousands of incredibly highly qualified people working in completely new working environments, making them unbelievably productive in the development of new technologies. There’s simply no such thing in Germany, or anywhere else for that matter.

What was your personal highlight?
The personal highlight for me was without question to see a vehicle scanner system from a French company winning the CES Innovation Award. This shows the worldwide relevance of vehicle evaluation, which we’ve been working intensively on at various levels for 150 years. This also gives us a future perspective on how our own work will develop.

And what was the oddest thing you saw?
I watched two robots mixing cocktails and preparing espressos in a smart kitchen. And they did everything completely by themselves, from grinding the beans to serving the coffee. And because they were robots, they applied exactly the right pressure and had the water run through for exactly long enough, which meant that the espresso was just right. It was really peculiar to watch.

By its very nature, the CES is one of the world's most important trade fairs for consumer electronics. For some years now, it has also been a must-attend date for the automotive industry. What makes the CES so attractive to car manufacturers?
You’re right, the automotive section of the CES is growing significantly, and I think it will occupy a much larger space next year. The reason for this is the increasing networking of cars with all the other systems of everyday life. In the future, the car is going to be a smartphone on wheels and, because it will be driving itself, it will be networked with voice recognition systems, the driver’s own home, the energy industry and other road users. So, it also makes sense for car manufacturers to present themselves in this environment to make the point very clearly that these areas are going to go together in the future. It follows that the vehicles they’re showcasing at the CES are on a completely different level: pioneering cars with futuristic designs, in some cases even without a steering wheel.

Many trade fairs are struggling with a loss of exhibitors or, like CeBit in Hanover, being shelved altogether. The popularity of the CES, on the other hand, remains undimmed. How do you explain this?
Other trade fairs show mainly the current state of the art. The CES manages to present future development in ways that have never been done before – and, it’s doing so holistically, covering every area of life. I’ve honestly never been to another trade fair that shows us the future like this one. If you want to see what’s already here and what tomorrow will bring, there you can actually touch and experience it first-hand. Of course, not everything that’s shown there is finished yet. And it goes without saying that the ideas will have to be accepted and be technically feasible to actually become reality. But it's just incredibly exciting to see what's being worked on and what might happen tomorrow.


Hartmut Abeln is Managing Director of TÜV NORD Mobilität and a member of the Group Executive Committee.