The world’s largest IT and consumer electronics trade show, CES (Consumer Electronics Show) 2017 kicked off its 4 day run in Las Vegas, United States, on January 5th, local time. Celebrating its 50th anniversary, this year’s CES featured 3,800 firms from 165 countries around the world, each flaunting their state-of-the-art technology and innovative products. Throughout the run, CES 2017 presented the future envisioned by the ‘fourth industrial revolution.’ Today, we’ll take an in depth look at the trade show with Professor Park Hee-jun (박희준) of Yonsei University’s Department of Information & Industrial Engineering. First, let’s take a look at the keywords of this year’s CES.

This year’s exhibition is all about “connectivity”, from home appliances to cars and even clothes. The keywords include: artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, TV and smart homes, virtual reality and wearable devices. The application of artificial intelligence to the self-driving vehicle technology or smart cars, or to TVs and smart homes is expected to boost the service quality and also bring many changes to our lives. Moreover, virtual reality technology is expected to become more widely available to consumers with expanded services and applicable devices. As for the wearable devices, it seems that we’ll be seeing various wearable products in the forms of shoes or shirts starting this year. Services and products that can generate more demands in our everyday lives are expected to hit the shelves soon.

From vacuum cleaners to television sets, self-driving cars and drones, innovative products that shocked the world were all introduced at the CES. And this year, CES 2017’s slogan is “connectivity.” It’s focusing on the new market that’s emerging as a result of the blurring of the lines between industries due to technological developments, and the increasingly close relationships between information and communications technology (ICT) and other industries. In fact, global companies revealed a slew of products and services based on “connectivity” at this year’s CES. As the leaders of the world’s home appliances industry, Korean firms were no exception.

Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics took part in this year’s CES and revealed their new technologies in various fields including those of TVs, refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners and smartphones. Samsung Electronics presented the “Family Hub 2.0”, an IoT-equipped kitchen appliance with strengthened connectivity. On the other hand, LG Electronics exhibited smart home appliances equipped with voice recognition technology and artificial intelligence, capable of thinking and making its own decisions. For example, Samsung Electronics displayed a more convenient refrigerator. With it, one could cook and search for recipes at the same time using voice commands, while the appliance makes purchases of necessary ingredients on its own. LG Electronics rolled out the smart home service “Smart ThinQ” with the “deep-learning” technology, which allows a machine to teach itself or learn on its own. It’s essentially a robot that can take on some tasks at home.

The technologies showcased by Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics at this year’s CES can be summarized into “IoT” and “robots.” Samsung aimed for the expansion of user convenience by linking all products with the smart home service, while LG placed their AI-equipped robots up front, demonstrating future technologies. Meanwhile, vehicle technologies became another essential element of the CES along with home appliances and telecommunications. In that field, Hyundai Motor Company presented their vision for the future.

Hyundai Motor won rave reviews by displaying their self-driving technology in the city via their IONIQ Electric and IONIC Hybrid cars on the roads near the Las Vegas Convention Center. One of the difficulties currently faced by the self-driving technology is driving through intersections. But Hyundai’s self-driving car is able to effectively recognize the traffic lights and the actual traffic conditions by using its AI. Such technologies were displayed during the city road demonstrations, leading to great responses. Hyundai was able to show off its autonomous system technology at this year’s CES thanks to its successful demonstrations on the real road.

Hyundai Motor Company revealed their new technology under the theme of ‘innovation for mobility freedom’ through successful test drives that took place at day and night. The autonomous car technology is classified into five different levels. The Hyundai Motor car presented at this year’s CES is equipped with the level four technology, meaning that technology-wise, it’s near completion. Other global carmakers also debuted their AI-equipped self-driving concept cars at this year’s CES, sounding out the possibility of popularization of future cars that communicate with humans. The fourth industrial revolution was clearly taking shape at CES 2017.

CES celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, and from home appliances to IT devices and cars, it was all about the convergence of industries. The topic of artificial intelligence that cropped up early last year thanks to Google’s AlphaGo seems to have taken a step closer to the real world, while Google, Amazon, Apple and even global car manufacturers are butting heads to take the lead in the driverless car market. The idea of the fourth industrial revolution was introduced at last year’s Davos Forum, and this year can be seen as its starting year. In the past, robots were built to repeat simple tasks that humans did not want to do, and later they were evolved to swiftly complete intricate tasks that humans could not do. In recent years, technologies like artificial intelligence and the internet of things show that it’s developing toward eventually replacing the roles of humans in various fields.

CES 2017 fired the starting pistol for the fourth industrial revolution where different industries merge and new industries are born. Global firms like Google, Amazon and Apple exhibited cases of the fourth industrial revolution one after another, while various robots showed that the world of robotics is no longer far from us. What kind of future did Korea see at this exhibition?

Hyundai demonstrated its great technological prowess, but it still lags behind the driverless car market leaders like Google, Amazon or Apple. Also, while the 5th generation mobile networks technology is largely led by Korean telecommunications companies, the artificial intelligence needed to support the service such as big data and the internet of things is falling behind by about 2 years. In the early stages, some government investment is a prerequisite in order for the technologies that form the foundation of the fourth industrial revolution to develop and create a market. I hope that a solution can be found on that end soon, so that new markets are formed by these technologies to help our currently stalled economy find a new path during the fourth industrial revolution.

Numerous Korean firms helped tow the nation’s development by receiving the CES Innovation Awards again this year. But now that the gates to the fourth industrial revolution have swung open at the show, Korea should focus more efforts into preparing for the future and forming new markets.