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CES tech fair opens under pandemic shadow

LAS VEGAS (AFP) – The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) threw open its doors to thousands yesterday in Las Vegas despite surging COVID-19 cases in the United States (US), as one of the world’s largest trade fairs tries to get back to business.

After a series of high-profile companies like Amazon and Google cancelled over climbing virus risk, the return of the in-person convention was cast in doubt.

But organisers cited their vaccine and mask requirements while insisting the show – with its mix of journalists, entrepreneurs and tech lovers from around the world – had to go on.

“Despite a few well-publicised cancellations amongst our exhibitors, we have over 2,200 exhibitors here at CES 2022 in Las Vegas, and all of them are counting on us to move forward,” a vice president from the group that runs the convention Steve Koenig said.

“Why? Well, because these businesses are looking for investors, they’re looking for partners, they’re looking to conduct business,” he added.

Some health experts have voiced caution that people may not universally respect the mask mandate, and noted that daily testing would be a useful tool to keep the spread in check.

Samsung Electronics Inc Vice Chairman & CEO Jong-Hee Han delivers a keynote address at CES 2022 at The Venetian Las Vegas. PHOTO: AP

The event has been cut back by a day to end tomorrow, and the scale of the show will be sharply reduced with fewer than half the roughly 4,500 exhibitors that turned up for the last in-person edition in 2020 – just before pandemic lockdowns hit the US.

Badge-wearing attendees pulling suitcases have begun trickling in, some with a bit of trepidation.

“We are concerned and worried given the situation and the spike in the cases,” said exhibitor Bhavya Gohil, who added he was vaccinated and that the organisers’ precautions were reassuring.

“But definitely yes, we are still worried of what could be the outcome,” he noted.

The show is held in a hybrid format, in person but also online, using software developed by Web Summit, a European technology conference.

“There’s no walking, there’s no noise, there’s no distractions,” Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave, said of the upsides of joining online.

“But I don’t personally believe that you can mimic online the quality of an actual in-person, humans-to-human interaction,” he added.

Despite a thinner crowd, the show floor will still hold firms hawking everything from quirky gadgets to technology aimed at humanity’s deepest concerns.

One of the top items on the menu for the 2022 edition is transportation, increasingly electric and autonomous. Space-related technologies are making a strong entrance, after a year that saw peaking interest in space tourism and the development of satellite Internet.

And of course, the metaverse is on everyone’s mind, although its definition remains fluid at this stage.

The concept refers to the emergence of a world where digital and real worlds are combined, which humans will access via augmented and virtual reality equipment.

Born out of science fiction, it has become one of tech’s hottest topics since Facebook announced colossal investments in this field and renamed itself Meta.

But for now, the industry is focussed on more immediate challenges, such as global chip shortages and supply delays, which are delaying new product launches.

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