Start-Ups and Sensorization Rule the Day at CES

By Mandy Wright


Startup Disruptive Technology Emerging Technology Online Article

Bright lights, large crowds, and sprawling exhibits in the city of Las Vegas—not to mention exercise machines that incorporate virtual reality, toothbrushes that assess brushing technique, and software that, coupled with any camera, can detect your body’s vital signs—could be overwhelming for anybody. That’s why NACD and Grant Thornton teamed up to create a CES experience just for directors.

During the first half of NACD and Grant Thornton’s CES Experience 2020, CES regulars helped prepare new director attendees for the tech extravaganza by recommending questions to take with them as they explored the exhibits. Questions were provided by Gerald M. Czarnecki, chair and CEO at Deltennium Group; Nora Denzel, director of Ericsson, Advanced Micro Devices, Norton LifeLock, and NACD’s Northern California Chapter; Nichole Jordan, central regional managing partner of Grant Thornton; and Suzanne Spaulding, former Under Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security. They included:

  • When will the product be out, and where will it be marketed and sold? This will give boards an idea of whether a piece of technology will be immediately disruptive, or if the trend bears further watching.
  • What other use cases have you seen or envisioned for the product? Asking this question can give directors a better sense of how an innovation might disrupt their industry, even if the product isn’t directly linked.
  • If a product is 5G-enabled, what good is it? 5G capabilities will take years yet to fully deploy and develop, especially for consumers.
  • What sort of cybersecurity parameters exist for the product?
  • When you return home and talk about what you saw at CES, what are the reactions of the people around you? This will help directors determine the level of genuine market interest.

With these questions in mind, here are just a few of the takeaways from the first half of this year’s CES Experience.

The Start-Up Mentality
Start-ups are able to disrupt and innovate often more quickly than larger, established companies, according to Denzel, because they are able to create and iterate with few ties to the past, allowing them to completely reimagine—not just reengineer—products and business models that already exist. This morning, four start-ups pitched their reimaginations to our director attendees.

Rubitection. This company has created a low-cost early detection device for bedsores—the Rubitect Assessment System— in the hope of ending related preventable, painful deaths. The prototype can currently measure bedsore indicators with 96 percent accuracy. In the future, the company is looking to more broadly detect skin health using its platform and scientific approach, and envisions partnering the product with insurance, health care, software, and security companies to make sure all data collected is secure and HIPAA compliant. The start-up is a 2017 NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit start-up winner in the health care category.

Winston Privacy. Winston is a small device, currently on the market, that consumers can plug a router into and within 60 seconds have a faster, more secure internet connection. The device encrypts and scrambles data, essentially confusing data collectors and obscuring both the user’s search history and location. In the future, the company hopes to release a mobile app and offer data privacy cleanses that would delete old data, making the user less trackable. The company was named a CES 2020 Innovation Awards honoree in the cybersecurity and personal privacy group.

Firedome. Twenty-eight percent of consumers will not buy an internet of things (IoT) device because of security-related concerns. Firedome aims to alleviate such worries by creating a real-time software cybersecurity platform for the manufacturers of IoT devices. The first devices employing the firm’s cybersecurity software will release to the market this year. Firedome is also a CES 2020 Innovation Awards winner in the cybersecurity and personal privacy group. Just as 90 percent of the brain’s processing power is used for sight, computer vision is an essential sense for artificial intelligence (AI). The company helps mainly large businesses create computer vision applications for various uses in the real estate, insurance, and health care industries. One example: Prior to putting a house on the market, the AI platform can assess photos taken of the home’s interior and exterior and point out what needs to be fixed or updated to make it more attractive to would-be buyers.
Larger, public companies, too, can adopt the start-up mind-set. This is just what Amy Wilkinson, professor at Stanford University and founder and CEO of Ingenuity, discussed in her NACD-exclusive keynote speech this morning, pulling on her cutting-edge research. Five-year-olds ask almost 100 questions a day, and 40-year-olds ask only two to three on average. According to Wilkinson, continuing to ask any and all questions is often what differentiates quickly innovating start-ups.

Sensorization Is In
Speaking with NACD president and chief strategy officer Erin Essenmacher during director-exclusive programming, John Penney, executive vice president of consumer business development and strategic partnerships at Twentieth Century Fox, chief strategy officer at Starz, and chair of STARZPLAY, told directors that much of what they’d see on the show floor would revolve around sensorization, a tech buzzword that describes the ability to add sensors to almost any product and collect data. Directors saw products ranging from Sleep Number Corp.’s climate 360 bed, which controls the temperature of the mattress for better sleep, to Moen’s Flo, which collects water usage patterns in the home and looks for abnormalities, sending alerts to an app if water is unintentionally left on, or if there are pressure or temperature issues. Directors should take note: Sensorization of the physical world has the potential to connect consumers more intimately to companies—while raising still more questions about data privacy and security.

More B2B Than B2C
As Czarnecki pointed out, CES has outgrown its original name as the Consumer Electronic Show. Nowadays, the show’s exhibitors are focused less on consumers than they are on business-to-business (B2B) innovations. For example, director attendees saw one exhibit today run by Copilot, which offers “automated customer experience management,” or third-party mediation of consumer data to grow more efficient relationships between a company and its consumers. The increased B2B focus of CES is a potent reminder that much of what’s new is geared toward making business processes—not just products—more efficient and effective.

Mandy Wright is senior editor of Directorship magazine.