• Brian K. Smith

CES 2019: Five Key Takeaways for Construction Professionals

I recently had the opportunity to attend CES 2019 in Las Vegas. What an event! I have been to a lot of trade shows over the years but nothing like this. The scale was insane, along with the tempo and variation in products, but they all had one thing in common: technology.

Although CES is owned and produced by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), this is far more than a consumer technology show. CES is an amazing stage for everything from bleeding edge to mainstream innovations that can be seen, learned and touched, all in one place.

Hexagon was a first-time exhibitor at CES 2019, and there was a lot of interest in the Leica Pegasus:Backpack, the Leica BLK360 (2018 CES Innovation winner) and the new Leica BLK3D (2019 Innovation Winner). These technologies bring accurate and efficient reality capture to a wide range of applications, including gaming, AR/VR, AI/machine learning, oil/gas production, automotive manufacturing, defense, health care—and, of course, construction. But several other trends stood out to me as relevant to the construction industry as well.


Here are five key takeaways I noticed

1. 360-degree cameras are hot!

I saw at least twenty 360-degree camera companies at CES. If it is mainstream in the consumer world, it should also be in the commercial world.  The quality of the cameras and most importantly the applications in which the cameras can be used has greatly improved how the AEC industry can adopt them. At its simplest form a photo is great, but a 360 photo allows the non-technical user a way to understand and navigate the jobsite.

2. AI and machine learning is everywhere!

It was displayed in a variety of uses and varying degrees of data utilization, but everywhere I turned it was there. From the security in a smart home to autonomous vehicles and drones, AI is being applied. Mercedes-Benz released a study on autonomous driving at CES, called vision URBANETIC, that said, in essence, “We are creating an individually unique environment for you to interact with your transportation that responds differently to everyone.” AI is also being used at the Amazon stores for product sales and tracking. Kaiser Permanente is also using AI to run simulations on patients, to help plan for preventive medical treatments. How can construction learn from these?    

3. AR/VR is becoming more mainstream,

but I still don’t see anyone using it to solve real-world problems. All the companies are focused around gaming with a few single player training simulations. Although the displays are getting smaller, faster and less expensive, there is little practical application. I believe there is still a long road ahead until AR/VR is widely adopted beyond gaming. 

4. 5G and wireless speed was also a big topic

This trend was evident from all the major cellular providers and mobile companies. As IoT grows and the connected house becomes more prevalent, 5G, or fifth-generation cellular wireless, will become more important because of its ability to bring faster speeds (to transmit more data) and connect more devices at once. WiFi speeds and connectivity are major problems on construction jobsites around the world, so I look forward to seeing 5G become a reality. 

5. Location is misunderstood. While there was a lot of information on smart cities, they didn’t necessarily fit the definition as we know it in the construction world. At CES, a “smart city” was one filled with smart technologies like autonomous cars and transportation systems with complex AI and navigation. The amount of focus on everything outside of the building was crazy. It was impossible to turn the corner without seeing another autonomous car, AI, software or hardware company. Where is the indoor positioning? Where are the smart cities that will help us navigate when we don’t have GPS? I was surprised that I could not find anything about indoor positioning or location systems, despite asking around. I think there is a huge untapped opportunity to help people understand positions inside buildings during daily life and during construction.


CES takes place every January, and I’m already looking forward to next year. If you have an interest in technology at any level, I highly recommend you consider adding this event to your calendar for 2020.  Many of the technologies that are shown or displayed are bleeding edge and are primarily focused towards the consumer, but as technology continues to help improve productivity in the construction industry you can bet that many opportunities will come from technology displayed at CES!

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