Alexa, tell me the future

Amazon’s virtual assistant is winning in a big way By Koh Wanzi

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Amazon’s virtual assistant is winning in a big way By Koh Wanzi

Picture amazon
Picture amazon

Amazon may not actually have been at CES 2017, but its virtual assistant stole the show in a big way. Every day brought a fresh deluge of announcements about devices with Alexa built in, or products that could be controlled by Alexa.

Alexa is one of those things that make the slick future we’ve seen in movies and science fiction seems a little closer. Dim the lights with a simple voice command. Order a pizza by talking to your table lamp. Make the robot vacuum go to work by yelling at your Echo device.

It’s a tantalizing vision of a unified smart home, one where you can even ask a router in Linksys’ Velop mesh Wi-Fi system to read out the Wi-Fi password to you. In a time where it can be difficult to make sense of the myriad smart devices vying for a place in our homes, Alexa promises to provide an easy and intuitive way to get a hold of your device ecosystem.

In addition, Alexa is moving out of the home and into the mobile space. The Huawei Mate 9 comes pre-installed with an Alexa app in the US, but the more interesting development is Alexa’s presence in the automotive space. Ford, Hyundai, and Volkswagen have put Alexa in their dashboards, giving users an alternative to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

This allows users to turn on the lights at home or call up a Spotify playlist right from their car, adding a whole new level of connectivity for when you’re on the road.

Taking over the world, one device at a time Brinks Home Security ARRAY

Brinks’ smart lock connects via Wi-Fito the cloud, while the smartphone app allows you to operate the lock remotely and schedule user access, issue keypad codes, and enable push notifications when users unlock it. It works with Alexa-enabled devices, so you can control it from your Echo as well.

Lenovo Smart Assistant

The Smart Assistant is essentially Lenovo’s equivalent of the Amazon Echo. Tall and cylindrical, it comes with Alexa built in, which means it can theoretically do everything that Amazon’s smart speaker can. It is available in light green, gray or orange fabric, and features eight farfield microphones for picking up your voice from across the room.

LG Smart InstaView refrigerator

There’s also LG’s new flagship fridge, where integration with Alexa lets you quickly adjust its power settings or order groceries by just barking instructions at it. The 29- inch touchscreen display can turn translucent to show you the fridge’s contents, but the most notable thing is the ability to look up recipes, call up weather forecasts and play music.

Picture oculus
Picture oculus
What’s next for VR?
Virtual reality finally arrives, but where does it go from here?
 It’s 2017, and virtual reality, is… well, a reality. Last year we finally saw the launch of every major VR platform in development, from premium, dedicated hardware systems like HTC’s Vive, Sony’s Playstation VR and Facebook’s Oculus Rift, to affordable smartphone-based systems like Samsung’s Gear VR, and even the build-it-yourself Google Cardboard. But that was just the first step for VR. Now, the hardware needs refining, and the big software developers need to be convinced to get on board. So what’s next for VR?
Triple A Gaming
Gaming and VR sound like the perfect match of technology, but to date, no triple A developer has fully embraced the platform.Nearly all of Steam’s 1,000+ VR titles are short, quirky games 
from small indie developers. 
Current VR headsets just aren’t designed for triple A 
gaming. They’re bulky, heavy devices (the Playstation VR 
weighs 610g), tethered to cables and off-board processing, 
and extended use is physically punishing on your eyes, neck 
and shoulders, which doesn’t translate well to lengthy gaming. 
We’ll never get a triple A game fully built for VR, as long as VR 

headsets come with an emphatic warning against wearing the headset for more than an hour. Fortunately, the next-generation of VR headsets already look more portable. At CES, HTC was showing off the TPCast, an accessory for the Vive that makes it completely wireless, and Lenovo announced a new VR headset that weighs just 350g.

Self-tracking headsets
Currently, one of the biggest limitations for VR headsets is that they can’t see the room around them. It’s one thing for an external camera to find an LED embedded in the Oculus Rift, or for the Vive to communicate with two carefully calibrated laser towers in the corners of the room, but for the headset to look at the world and calculate your position without external help is an entirely different scenario. Fortunately, two of the biggest names in VR are working on solving this problem. Last year, Oculus demonstrated its ‘Santa Cruz’ concept, a next-generation Rift headset that is entirely self-contained and is capable of position tracking. And at CES 2017, Google and ASUS showed off the ZenFone AR, the first phone with both Project Tango depth-sensing cameras and Daydream virtual reality.
Adding your other senses to the virtual world
Nothing breaks your virtual reality immersion more than not being able touch it. Japanese company Cerevo is tackling this issue with its Taclim VR system, a pair of gloves and shoes that it debuted at CES 2017, which were initially designed for Google’s Daydream platform. The gloves and shoes each have an array of tactile, vibrating sensors that provide haptic feedback when you interact with your virtual environment. The devices can simulate different surfaces that replicate the feel of walking on sand, wood and through water, or provide actual resistance, changing it to simulate when you punch something soft versus an armored opponent.