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Other innovations 11/02/2019

Innovation trends at CES 2019

It has become a tradition: a few days after its 4thtime participating in the CES, ENGIE Innovation Team held a conference for all the Group’s employees to decipher the trends and weak signals detected during the gigantic, world-leading event for innovation.Hendrik Van Asbroeck, Director of Innovation, Stéphane Quéré, COO for Global Smart Business at ENGIE Digital, Etienne Gehain, Digital Innovation Officer, Erwin George, Head of the Drones and Robots Lab at ENGIE Lab CRIGEN, Vincent Vandenberge, Head of the Livin' project and Alexandre Liagre, Commercial Director of the startup Aeromapper (which participated this year at CES at the ENGIE & Partners booth) all participated in the meeting. The debates were moderated by Lucile Hofman, Director of Connectivity.

LH – My first impression was that there was not much by way of a “wow” effect at the CES this year. For several years we had gotten used to discovering new things that broke with things we had done in the past. This year, that wasn’t the case. On the other hand, we observed some players moving in new directions.

HVA - An initial observation is that the themes that we used to structure the ENGIE booth and represent the Group's vision for the energy transition are indeed global trends, which reinforces the fact that these are the "right" subjects. For me, the CES is the only trade fair where the whole world is represented. This allowed us to perceive that the main trends that the Group is refocusing on are shared by the major players. We were at CES to show the world how the Group is evolving and drawing the outline of the energy world of tomorrow: storage, micro-grids, blockchain, access to energy, connectivity, etc.

EG - Indeed, this CES wasn’t about big technological breakthroughs, but rather about integration. We saw fewer concepts and more products. The vector for integration this year was voice assistants - Alexa, the Google assistant and others - who are fighting for control of the world.

The Google/Amazon duopoly is well established. Apple was almost absent on the subject, having made agreements with Amazon to give access to its services through Alexa. Samsung and LG seem to still believe in themselves thanks to their entire ecosystems of objects for the home but for mobility and cars. The Chinese are also arriving with their own voice assistants such as Tmall Genie, the English version of Tianmao JinglingX1, Alibaba's voice assistant.

These voice assistants are going to create an ecosystem around technology providers in every area. Two or three years ago we said the same thing for mobile phones, or more precisely for connected and touch-based screens. This year was the year of the vocal assistants.

LH Connectivity and artificial intelligence were also two major trends for this edition, as evidenced by the sentence seen at the show: "make the visible invisible and the invisible visible". Become visible like the players from the world of components that we see now appearing at the showcase such as Qualcomm, Intel. Intel's slogan at the CES was "Intel outside"! It's an interesting positioning change.

EG The first trend was AI. Nothing is "not smart" at the CES. We used to talk about smart, now we talk about intelligent. All products are intelligent to varying degrees, since the word intelligent covers different realities. It relates to everything involving voice interface, everything that more or less learns something. You could almost say that "intelligent" means simply capitalizing on a certain amount of data to be (perhaps) used later. Being "just" smart today is a little dated and old-fashioned: it's not enough anymore.

It is an irreversible movement. We will never again do anything that isn’t intelligent. But there is still some way to go. On the subject of voice assistants, if you want to ask Alexa to do three different things, you still have to say "Alexa do X" three times. The objects and offers available from suppliers are still very far from being able to hold conversations, even if that’s what the Google assistant tries to do.

The second trend involved user well-being and a focus on user-centricity. Last year, the driver of the smart home was safety, this year it was residents’ well-being, with entire neighborhoods of booths about sleep tech and wellness, including in cars. And I expect that next year we will see artificial intelligence being used to deal with psychic well-being, "selling happiness."

The third trend was about mobility, which is now electric, autonomous, shared and connected (5G) through the concept of "vehicle to X", meaning a vehicle that communicates with the city to make use of all of its services and get around in a fluid way. In cars, technology is disappearing and being replaced by things that can be done in autonomous vehicles: watching movies, picking up mail, shopping...

Whereas last year the concept of autonomous mobility was presented by car manufacturers (ex. Toyota), this year the same concepts were being presented by equipment manufacturers (ex. Bosch, NVidia). The pivots mentioned by Lucile in the introduction was very visible in the mobility space.

The 4th major trend, edge computing, was in its infancy. It involves objects where data processing is done directly in the object and not in the cloud. It's not an issue of connectivity but rather one if responsiveness and maturity in deciding what needs to be done locally in order to be very fast, and what can be done centrally in the cloud. An example: a Swiss startup, InCorpus, offers a medical diagnostic service with some sensors. Their solution is almost as good as IBM's Watson in terms of diagnosis, though without the computing power available to Watson. In just a few years, a feature that used to require huge computing power has migrated to objects.

The last trend: this year, there were forty startups involving the blockchain, a third of which dealt with managing keys and identities. It's a bit shaky now, but next year I'm sure it will be a major theme.

HVA/LH - What struck me was that even tech companies didn’t showcase their technologies, but instead focused on the ways they want to interact with the end customer. The connected house, the city of tomorrow, and the silver economy were everywhere. There is a convergence on the subject of the individual in the city, how they live, how they move in the city. And indeed everyone is positioned somewhere on these topics.

SQ/LH - This year, the CES was a motor show; given the omnipresence of autonomous vehicle, you could even call it a mobility show.

The CES is also a good example how the customer approach is evolving. Beyond technology, it was exciting to see how high-tech companies were able to show what their products are for. Intel didn’t show its chips, but rather the purpose they serve. You could also feel that the user experience has been a really thought about. It's not enough to just have a product that works. In every country, even those for whom design wasn’t a strong point up until now, everything shown was very ergonomic, very well finished. The bar is set very high: products have to be user-centric, putting design in the process from the start. This was particularly the case for cars from Byton, a competitor of Tesla, whose level of finishings is impressive.

To conclude: five words to describe the CES this year?

Fascinating - human-centric - speed - challenge - marathon

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