CES 2019: Friendly robots, oddball cars and a vending machine that bakes bread

By Heather Kelly and Samuel Burke, CNN Business

Robots that keep you company, faster internet on phones, voice controlled everything, and oddball vehicles to replace regular cars. They’re just some of the technologies coming to CES 2019, the massive consumer electronics show that takes over Las Vegas for a week every January.

The show floor doesn’t technically open until Tuesday, but the announcements start trickling out Sunday evening from different events and press conferences. Expect a mix of products from major technology companies and small startups ranging from the practical, like televisions, to the more unusual, like self-driving vegetable stores.

Here are some trends that we expect to see.

Artificial intelligence branches out

Sixty companies will exhibit in the show’s AI section this year, but the technology will make an appearance in products from almost every category.

“AI is the star of the show, the ingredient in other technology,” said Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Technology Association.

AI is what makes voice assistants like Alexa tick, and is being used in old and new technologies across industries, even retail. Television companies will try and use AI to improve image quality, while self-driving cars are depending on it to make their products safer and more efficient.

Televisions get bigger and chattier

Major technology players save their biggest announcements for their own orchestrated press events instead of CES. One thing the big companies like Samsung, Hisense and Panasonic do like to show-off in Vegas is televisions. This year look for giant 80-inch sets, better image quality with HDR (high-dynamic range) and MicroLED screens, and some early examples of 8K televisions (though they won’t be taking over living rooms anytime soon). Television manufacturers are also expected to add more voice assistants to their products, likely choosing an existing option like Alexa or Google Assistant over building their own from scratch.

5G will get a push toward reality

The wireless industry has been buzzing about 5G for years. The cellular network technology, which is expected to bring faster internet speeds to everything from phones to self-driving cars, will finally start rolling out later this year and nationwide in 2020. At CES, chip-makers and wireless carriers will share more details on 5G potential and how it could change industries in the coming years, eventually supporting speeds up to 10 gigabits per second on smartphones.

China will be on everyone’s mind

Trade war, trade war, trade war. Small and large companies are expected to talk to manufacturers about shifting production from China to neighboring Asian countries because of the trade war between the United States and China. Startups, and even publicly traded companies, will try to get a sense of what their peers are doing and where they can duck for cover.

China is going to be a big topic at CES for other reasons too. Look for Chinese companies rolling out more innovation than some of their US competitors, like powerful camera lenses in shrinking devices. There is a new DJI mini gimbal camera that could knock companies like GoPro to its knees.

Google Assistant vs Alexa: Round 2

Last year, Google plastered every imaginable surface in Las Vegas with advertisements for its virtual assistant. The company didn’t have any major announcements to make itself. The ads were a shot across Amazon’s bow, in a growing competition between the two companies to be the primary voice assistant controlling homes.

This year, Google is going big again, with a larger presence on the show floor and another pricy ad blitz. Amazon and Alexa are also expected to be everywhere at CES, doing a lot of work behind the scenes to push Alexa into more places outside of the living room. One reason the companies are choosing CES is to reach the various hardware and gadget makers looking to integrate a voice assistant into their products.

What’s going to be missing

Every year some sections grow, and some get smaller. Shapiro says previously hyped technology like 3D-printing will have a smaller presence this year. The Design and Source section, which helps connect companies with partners to handle production of their products, often in China, will also be smaller. Part of that change is because of the current US and China relationship.

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