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CES: Tech boom in USA to break all sales records

According to the CTA, emerging technologies and the resilience of historically leading categories will drive the U.S. consumer technology industry to a record-breaking $351 billion in retail revenues in 2018.

Unveiled in advance of CES 2018, the latest edition of CTA’s semi-annual industry report, the U.S. Consumer Technology Sales and Forecasts, includes for the first time a projection for consumer spending on music and video streaming services – valued at $19.5 billion in revenue, 35 percent higher than just last year. CTA added streaming services sales – which include internet-enabled services that deliver on-demand or linear video content (e.g., Netflix, Hulu and Sling TV) and on-demand audio content (e.g., Spotify, Pandora or Apple Music) – to better capture the full expanse of the ever evolving and expanding consumer technology market. Excluding the addition of streaming services, total industry revenue would increase by 2.2 percent in 2018.

“Technology is improving our lives in more ways than ever – and consumer enthusiasm is growing just as quickly as companies can bring their innovations to market,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, CTA. “Our forecast incorporates several key economic factors including a strong stock market, continued job growth and stable rules for international trade to forecast these record-setting sales for breakthrough technologies and longtime market leaders alike. And the driving themes of 2018, including voice computing, artificial intelligence and connectivity that make our lives better and more efficient, will be on display across the show floor this week at CES 2018.”

CTA is the nation’s largest tech trade association – its semi-annual report serves as a benchmark for the U.S. consumer technology industry, charting the size and growth of underlying product categories. The CTA consensus forecast reflects U.S. factory sales-to-dealers for more than 300 consumer tech products.

Emerging Technologies Expand

Overall, U.S. sales of connected devices are projected to reach 715 million units in 2018 – a 6.6 percent increase year-over-year. Specific products projected to contribute significantly to this growth include:

  • Smart Speakers: Coming off of a tremendous 2017 holiday season, voice-controlled smart speakers, including Amazon Echo and Google Home, are going gangbusters. Unit sales increased 279 percent in 2017, and CTA projects 2018 unit sales will reach 43.6 million units (60 percent increase) and earn $3.8 billion in revenue (93 percent growth). As voice recognition technology is integrated into more speakers at a variety of price points, smart speakers is a category to watch in 2018.
  • Smart Home: The popularity of smart speakers will have a ripple effect on the smart home market, as consumers discover the benefits of voice-activated home automation. CTA expects sales in the category – including smart thermostats, smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, IP/Wi-Fi cameras, smart locks and doorbells, smart home systems, and smart switches, dimmers and outlets – to reach 40.8 million units in 2018 (41 percent increase over 2017), earning $4.5 billion (34 percent increase).
  • Virtual Reality (VR): Popularity among gamers and an increasingly competitive market continue to drive growth for VR/AR headsets and eyewear, with unit shipments projected to grow to 4.9 million units this year (25 percent increase) tallying $1.2 billion in revenues (18 percent increase).
  • Drones: Total drone sales are expected to reach record highs of 3.7 million units in 2018 (20 percent increase) earning $1.2 billion in revenue (17 percent increase). CTA’s forecast also delineates U.S. drone sales for units below and above 250 grams, the FAA’s division for mandatory drone registration. Drones below 250 grams are expected to reach just over 2.2 million units this year, while drones above 250 grams will reach 1.5 million units shipped.
  • Wearables: The total health, fitness and sports tech market – including fitness activity trackers, other health and fitness devices, hearables , over-the-counter hearing devices, smartwatches and, for the first time, sports tech (such as a smart basketballs or baseball bats) – is expected to reach sales of 49.3 million units in 2018 (four percent increase) and earn $6.4 billion (one percent increase).

“Consumers are rapidly adopting new, emerging technology products – with voice-activated smart speakers as the stand-out of 2017 and 2018 – sparking growth in smart home devices, as voice interaction adds a new level of convenience and excitement to our lives,” said Brian Markwalter, senior vice president of research and standards, CTA. “At the same time, core categories – such as smartphones, laptops and TVs – continue to surpass expectations. 2018 will prove to be a milestone year for TVs, especially as LCD 4K UHD TVs make up half of all TVs sold in 2018.”

Maturing Technologies Continuing

The top five revenue categories will contribute just over half of total wholesale industry revenue (51 percent) in 2018.

  • Smartphones: Following the introduction of new flagship models from major manufacturers in 2017, smartphones will continue to anchor the industry and see slight growth in 2018. Unit volume will reach 189 million smartphones (two percent increase) shipping in 2018, with revenues expected to reach $62.9 billion (three percent increase).
  • Laptops: In 2018, the commercial and consumer laptop market will sell 50.1 million units, up three percent over last year, and earn $28.4 billion in revenue. Convertible models remain a high-growth area within computing.
  • Televisions: Performing better than expected in 2017, unit sales of total digital displays in 2018 are projected to reach 44.2 million units (two percent increase) and $22.1 billion in revenue (two percent increase). Future category growth will be driven by next gen features.
    • 4K Ultra High-Definition (4K UHD): For the first time, 4K UHD TVs will make up half of all total digital displays sold in 2018, with unit sales forecast to hit 22 million units (27 percent increase) generating $15.9 billion in revenue (14 percent increase).
  • Automotive Electronics: Factory-installed automotive technology, from driver-assist features to entertainment systems, is projected to contribute $15.9 billion in revenue (5.9 percent increase) – the result of strong automotive sales, propelled by a rising tide of tech, from sensors and artificial intelligence to safety and infotainment systems.
  • Tablets: After tremendous adoption in recent years, some tablet sales have been cannibalized by convertible, 2-in-1 laptops as standalone tablet adoption has leveled off and replacement cycles have slowed. Tablet sales will decline in 2018. CTA expects sales of 45.6 million units (12 percent decrease) and revenues of $12.5 billion (13 percent decrease).

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Now IBM’s Watson joins IoT revolution in agriculture

Global expansion of the Watson Decision Platform taps into AI, weather and IoT data to boost production

IBM has announced the global expansion of Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture, with AI technology tailored for new crops and specific regions to help feed a growing population. For the first time, IBM is providing a global agriculture solution that combines predictive technology with data from The Weather Company, an IBM Business, and IoT data to help give farmers around the world greater insights about planning, ploughing, planting, spraying and harvesting.

By 2050, the world will need to feed two billion more people without an increase in arable land [1]. IBM is combining power weather data – including historical, current and forecast data and weather prediction models from The Weather Company – with crop models to help improve yield forecast accuracy, generate value, and increase both farm production and profitability.

Roric Paulman, owner/operator of Paulman Farms in Southwest Nebraska, said: “As a farmer, the wild card is always weather. IBM overlays weather details with my own data and historical information to help me apply, verify, and make decisions. For example, our farm is in a highly restricted water basin, so the ability to better anticipate rain not only saves me money but also helps me save precious natural resources.”

New crop models include corn, wheat, soy, cotton, sorghum, barley, sugar cane and potato, with more coming soon. These models will now be available in the Africa, U.S. Canada, Mexico, and Brazil, as well as new markets across Europe and Australia.

Kristen Lauria, general manager of Watson Media and Weather Solutions at IBM, said: “These days farmers don’t just farm food, they also cultivate data – from drones flying over fields to smart irrigation systems, and IoT sensors affixed to combines, seeders, sprayers and other equipment. Most of the time, this data is left on the vine — never analysed or used to derive insights. Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture aims to change that by offering tools and solutions to help growers make more informed decisions about their crops.” 

The average farm generates an estimated 500,000 data points per day, which will grow to 4 million data points by 2036 [2]. Applying AI and analysis to aggregated field, machine and environmental data can help improve shared insights between growers and enterprises across the agriculture ecosystem. With a better view of the fields, growers can see what’s working on certain farms and share best practices with other farmers. The platform assesses data in an electronic field record to identify and communicate crop management patterns and insights. Enterprise businesses such as food companies, grain processors, or produce distributors can then work with farmers to leverage those insights. It helps track crop yield as well as the environmental, weather and plant biologic conditions that go into a good or bad yield, such as irrigation management, pest and disease risk analysis and cohort analysis for comparing similar subsets of fields.

The result isn’t just more productive farmers. Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture could help a livestock company eliminate a certain mold or fungus from feed supply grains or help identify the best crop irrigation practices for farmers to use in drought-stricken areas like California. It could help deliver the perfect French fry for a fast food chain that needs longer – not fatter – potatoes from its network of growers. Or it could help a beer distributor produce a more affordable premium beer by growing higher quality barley that meets the standard required to become malting barley.

Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture is built on IBM PAIRS Geoscope from IBM Research, which quickly processes massive, complex geospatial and time-based datasets collected by satellites, drones, aerial flights, millions of IoT sensors and weather models. It crunches large, complex data and creates insights quickly and easily so farmers and food companies can focus on growing crops for global communities.

IBM and The Weather Company help the agriculture industry find value in weather insights. IBM Research collaborates with start up Hello Tractor to integrate The Weather Company data, remote sensing data (e.g., satellite), and IoT data from tractors. IBM also works with crop nutrition leader Yara to include hyperlocal weather forecasts in its digital platform for real-time recommendations, tailored to specific fields or crops. IBM acquired The Weather Company in 2016 and has since been helping clients better understand and mitigate the cost of weather on their businesses. The global expansion of Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture is the latest innovation in IBM’s efforts to make weather a more predictable business consideration. Also just announced, Weather Signals is a new AI-based tool that merges The Weather Company data with a company’s own operations data to reveal how minor fluctuations in weather affects business.

The combination of rich weather forecast data from The Weather Company and IBM’s AI and Cloud technologies is designed to provide a unique capability, which is being leveraged by agriculture, energy and utility companies, airlines, retailers and many others to make informed business decisions.

[1] The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision”

[2] Business Insider Intelligence, 2016 report: https://www.businessinsider.com/internet-of-things-smart-agriculture-2016-10


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What if Amazon used AI to take on factories?

By ANTONY BOURNE, IFS Global Industry Director for Manufacturing

Amazon recently announced record profits of $3.03bn, breaking its own record for the third consecutive time. However, Amazon appears to be at a crossroads as to where it heads next. Beyond pouring additional energy into Amazon Prime, many have wondered whether the company may decide to enter an entirely new sector such as manufacturing to drive future growth, after all, it seems a logical step for the company with its finger in so many pies.

At this point, it is unclear whether Amazon would truly ‘get its hands dirty’ by manufacturing its own products on a grand scale. But what if it did? It’s worth exploring this reality. What if Amazon did decide to move into manufacturing, a sector dominated by traditional firms and one that is yet to see an explosive tech rival enter? After all, many similarly positioned tech giants have stuck to providing data analytics services or consulting to these firms rather than genuinely engaging with and analysing manufacturing techniques directly.

If Amazon did factories

If Amazon decided to take a step into manufacturing, it is likely that they could use the Echo range as a template of what AI can achieve. In recent years,Amazon gained expertise on the way to designing its Echo home speaker range that features Alexa, an artificial intelligence and IoT-based digital assistant.Amazon could replicate a similar form with the deployment of AI and Industrial IoT (IIoT) to create an autonomously-run smart manufacturing plant. Such a plant could feature IIoT sensors to enable the machinery to be run remotely and self-aware; managing external inputs and outputs such as supply deliveries and the shipping of finished goods. Just-in-time logistics would remove the need for warehousing while other machines could be placed in charge of maintenance using AI and remote access. Through this, Amazon could radically reduce the need for human labour and interaction in manufacturing as the use of AI, IIoT and data analytics will leave only the human role for monitoring and strategic evaluation. Amazon has been using autonomous robots in their logistics and distribution centres since 2017. As demonstrated with the Echo range, this technology is available now, with the full capabilities of Blockchain and 5G soon to be realised and allowing an exponentially-increased amount of data to be received, processed and communicated.

Manufacturing with knowledge

Theorising what Amazon’s manufacturing debut would look like provides a stark learning opportunity for traditional manufacturers. After all, wheneverAmazon has entered the fray in other traditional industries such as retail and logistics, the sector has never remained the same again. The key takeaway for manufacturers is that now is the time to start leveraging the sort of technologies and approaches to data management that Amazon is already doing in its current operations. When thinking about how to implement AI and new technologies in existing environments, specific end-business goals and targets must be considered, or else the end result will fail to live up to the most optimistic of expectations. As with any target and goal, the more targeted your objectives, the more competitive and transformative your results. Once specific targets and deliverables have been considered, the resources and methods of implementation must also be considered. As Amazon did with early automation of their distribution and logistics centres, manufacturers need to implement change gradually and be focused on achieving small and incremental results that will generate wider momentum and the appetite to lead more expansive changes.

In implementing newer technologies, manufacturers need to bear in mind two fundamental aspects of implementation: software and hardware solutions. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, which is increasingly bolstered by AI, will enable manufacturers to leverage the data from connected IoT devices, sensors, and automated systems from the factory floor and the wider business. ERP software will be the key to making strategic decisions and executing routine operational tasks more efficiently. This will allow manufacturers to keep on top of trends and deliver real-time forecasting and spot any potential problems before they impact the wider business.

As for the hardware, stock management drones and sensor-embedded hardware will be the eyes through which manufacturers view the impact emerging technologies bring to their operations. Unlike manual stock audits and counting, drones with AI capabilities can monitor stock intelligently around production so that operations are not disrupted or halted. Manufacturers will be able to see what is working, what is going wrong, and where there is potential for further improvement and change.

Knowledge for manufacturing

For many traditional manufacturers, they may see Amazon as a looming threat, and smart-factory technologies such as AI and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) as a far off utopia. However, 2019 presents a perfect opportunity for manufacturers themselves to really determine how the tech giants and emerging technologies will affect the industry. Technologies such as AI and IoT are available today; and the full benefits of these technologies will only deepen as they are implemented alongside the maturing of other emerging technologies such as 5G and Blockchain in the next 3-5 years. Manufacturers need to analyse the needs which these technologies can address and produce a proper plan on how to gradually implement these technologies to address specific targets and deliverables. AI-based software and hardware solutions will fundamentally revolutionise manufacturing, yet for 2019, manufacturers just have to be willing to make the first steps in modernisation.

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