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14 January 2015

Hot technologies at CES are powered by photonics

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which kicks off each year in Las Vegas and did so again last week, is a mega-event that identifies trends and gives some of the biggest gurus in technology a platform. The mainstream media covers it all with gusto. Of course the tech media is all over it too, with everything from product specs to analysis of tweets to see who the biggest “influencers” are.

The good thing about CES is that there is something for everyone – but that’s also the bad thing. Significant developments or important new products might just be overshadowed by something with a bigger flash, but possibly not much substance. And there’s also the paradox of constant monitoring. As Junko Yoshida says in EE Times: “While consumers see the Orwellian implications of constant monitoring, they can’t resist the temptations to see or hear things that wouldn’t be on the radar without embedded cameras or microphones.”

Of course photonics plays a big role in just about everything touted at CES. LEDs were big again this year, as were wearables, drones, and smart cars. Our colleagues at optics.org highlighted some of the automotive photonics-enabled bling – from Ford, BMW, and Volkswagen. Their article on sensors and wearables included optical pulse oximeters, live thermal imagery and gesture-sensing 3D cameras for controlling devices. They covered the emergence of quantum-dot-enhanced TVs as well.

Some of this stuff does indeed improve our world – anything that makes driving safer, our health more easily monitored, or energy more efficient is great. But really, the exciting developments and the ones with the most potential for improving the lives of millions are probably not likely to be hyped in Las Vegas. A quick test for the dengue virus could impact a half billion people. LEDs can replace kerosene for lighting and let children study after dark. That’s what the International Year of Light and Light-Based Technologies is intended to highlight.

The lives we save and the minds we develop with photonics will be able to grow and learn – and maybe in 20 years, they’ll be in Las Vegas for CES showing us the future generations of photonics-enabled miracles.

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