Attendees wait in line to have their badges scanned during CES Unveiled ahead of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Image: Patrick T. FALLON / AFP
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) threw open its doors to thousands Wednesday in Las Vegas despite surging Covid-19 cases in the United States, 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-publicized 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," Steve Koenig, a vice president from the group that runs the convention.
"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.
The event has been cut back by a day to end Friday, 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 United States.
Badge-wearing attendees pulling suitcases have begun trickling in, some with a bit of trepidation.
'We are concerned'
"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 organizers' 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," Paddy Cosgrave, Web Summit founder, 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.
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 focused on more immediate challenges, such as global chip shortages and supply delays, which are delaying new product launches.
Deals and business are, not surprisingly, top of mind for those who have decided they had to attend CES in person.
"I do think that people are still going to want to do business and this is a show where a lot of business gets done," said exhibitor Vanessa Camones. "A lot of people don't want to lose that opportunity. "