Eric Bauswell, CEO & Founder of Surfaceink, on CES 2019
The 2019 CES show is coming up soon. What do you think will be the big news this year?
First, this is Surfaceink’s 20th year at CES. While that is not huge industry news, I’m very proud of that fact. Since the very beginning CES has always been a way to showcase our firm’s work and ideas. This year is no different. But there is also a lot to learn at the show.
From my perspective, CES is always an interesting combination of “follow on” products and future casting technologies. The follow on products tend to represent features and nuance that industry players may follow closely. It is interesting to see how companies and designers differentiate their products from competitors. CES can be a great place to learn and understand how the market is changing through incremental improvements.
We have many programs across multiple clients and several vertical markets, so what see at CES allows us to validate what we are working on versus what we see in the broader market. I believe this year we will witness more voice products performing at a higher and more integrated level of experience for customers. We’ll also see companies taking machine-learning models out of the cloud going into edge machine learning models directly within products.
CES is also a wonderful place to meet with technology players from around the world. Some pieces of forward-looking technology are shown on the floor, but for the most part, roadmap technology is only shown behind closed doors under non-disclosure agreements. This is one of the primary reasons that Surfaceink attends CES. We want to meet with silicon suppliers, component vendors and contract manufacturers to really engage in their technology roadmaps and see how they might integrate or be leveraged on our clients’ existing product development efforts as well as their future product roadmaps.
What is Surfaceink’s approach to CES this year; what will you be showcasing?
There have been a handful of developments we’ve been working on with several key players in the market around voice and audio, moving beyond beam forming technologies.
The demonstrations we are able to show around voice pickup (for both near field and far field) are quite remarkable and so is single source cancellation. This is a significantly major improvement surrounding one of the largest customer complaints: quality of voice input. It’s what causes customers to disengage or stop relying on voice as an input. We are now able to do a pickup over loud music or even over the volume of a television in the background in ways that we simply couldn’t in the past.
There are other pieces, like significantly extending battery life for audio over wireless solutions and being able to use voice pickup on a micro-controller to manage battery life triggering the application processor. This is similar to how we might do it for an accelerometer, bringing the AP out of sleep. There are also several interesting demonstrations of form factor, back end data sharing, materials for aesthetics and even some edge machine learning models to bring the experience out of the cloud directly into the products. One of the core messages to our clients is that it doesn’t cost that much more to dramatically improve your brand and still sustain your price point. You will get quality and performance, but also an aesthetic attraction to your product and brand.
Tying out the price point of a product with the appropriate level of processor or microprocessor, as well as input controls and sensors, to drive the architectural decision for single- or multi-function devices. There are some fairly distinct step functions that drive this that are delimited between these architectures. We want to showcase some of those options as well as demonstrate their strengths.
Looking back at 2018, what are a few highlights from Surfaceink’s perspective?
One of the more compelling products we’ve seen is Facebook’s Portal and Portal Plus. This is a great example of something that we at Surfaceink truly believe in and do well: a company has a great core offering on the software side and we follow it with a hardware product that ties back to their original value.
The Portal and Portal Plus do a fantastic job of integrating into the home and smart home ecosystem as well as connecting people in a social network. What this means, practically speaking, is the device allows my wife and kids — our family — to see and speak with their grandparents and aunts and uncles in real time even though they live far away. It’s live and almost as if they magically appear. The experience from out-of-box through setup and use is incredibly simple. It is a great example of bringing a platform off the web to an immersive-shared face-to-face experience.
Another favorite from this year is MākuSafe’s smart industrial ecosystem for a safe workplace on the factory floor. We worked with their team to develop a wearable for the worker and the hub for charging and timecards. This is clearly a significant impact on making the environment more measurably safe as the armband communication device tracks across a slew of sensor inputs to identify zones of potential risk. The fact that it is easy to use makes the experience for the worker (with both timecard and event paper work) simplified. This means they’re going to use it. With the MākuSafe team, we were able to get immersed in the end user’s experience and understand what they wanted. We could then take that back up into the product and ecosystem to get a value from bottom to top.
What do you expect the big trend to be for 2019?
We will likely see voice input achieve a level of integration that will make it commonplace and functional to the point of crossing the chasm from early adopters and niche use models (or limited models like smart speakers) to the mainstream.
The other element that will be significantly more visible will be the shift from cloud modeling or machine learning/AI to edge machine learning. This will eliminate a good portion of the delays or miscues between your devices that now typically go through the bottleneck of your phone or WiFi hub to your local network or even down to a device with a limited library of models with targeted functionality.
For example, your light switch voice interface won’t need to talk to your phone, which then talks to the cloud or backend server, to turn your lights on or off. Instead, your light switch or light bulb will listen and decide immediately, right there in your living room. It will be a democratization of different sensor technologies with fewer requirements enabling all of the players to get along. This should make setup easier and adoption rates spike upward.
If you are going to the CES show, join us for Happy Hour at Venetian Hotel on Jan 8-10 from 4-7pm. We’re on the 30th Floor, Suite 102.
Surfaceink provides full-system product design and development services to Fortune 500 companies and startups in the Consumer Electronics market segment; from initial product strategy and design to detailed hardware and software engineering to production ramp. Clients include global market leaders such as Amazon, Apple, Broadcom, Cisco, Dell, Dolby, Fitbit, Google, HP, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola, Netgear, Nikon, NVIDIA, Oculus, Pepsi, Plantronics, Qualcomm, Tesla and many more plus numerous high-potential startups.
Surfaceink is a privately held company headquartered in Silicon Valley with offices in Santa Clara, CA.