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CES 2016 preview: Cool tech at the Consumer Electronics Show

The biggest consumer electronics show of the year is getting underway in Las Vegas, and CNET reporters are there to bring us all the highlights
The next big thing: Cool tech at CES 2016 01:40

When the Consumer Electronics Association's 2016 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) kicks off this week, Las Vegas will be flooded with tech industry insiders and early adopters eager for a look at what the future holds.

With more than 3,000 companies showing off their latest innovations at the showcase Jan. 6-9, there looks to be something for everyone. Here are a few of the top trends and products to be on the lookout for at CES 2016.

Virtual reality

While it made headlines in 2015, virtual reality is expected to explode in a big way in the new year, according to tech experts. What started off sounding like a gimmick out of "The Jetsons" now looks to position itself as an accessible and mainstream option for entertainment and business use.

Tech that could change your life in 2016 04:14

"This is the year it becomes mainstream .... a whole bunch of headsets coming," editor Nicholas Thompson told CBS News about what he sees as the coming virtual reality craze. "Last year was the year that tech editors used it, this is the year that my sisters used it and next year will be the year that my mother uses it."

Major companies in the virtual reality sphere like Oculus (now owned by Facebook), Sony, and HTC will be hand at CES with displays of the Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR system, and HTV Vive, respectively.

To answer the growing popularity, CES has made way for a major virtual reality presence. More than 40 exhibitors will be represented, expanding VR's footprint at CES by 77 percent over last year, according to an event press release.

Statistics from the Consumer Electronics Association suggest why: In 2016, projected sales of virtual reality headsets are expected to increase by 500 percent with 1.2 million units sold. Projected revenue may reach $540 million.

Connected cars

Following up on the sector's showing last year, connected cars will continue to have a large presence at CES. Expect to see even more syncing between cars and consumers' mobile technologies this year.

"Most people wouldn't dream of going a day without consulting their smartphone or tablet for information, and they want the same level of technology and polish to apply to the technology within their cars, too," CNET editor at large Tim Stevens wrote in an email to CBS News. "We've seen all the major auto manufacturers making huge push to raise the bar of their in-car technology."

Google's plan for its self-driving car 01:14

Stevens, who will be moderating a panel on connected car innovations at CES, said that one only has to look at Apple's Car Play and Google's Android Auto applications to see how the mobile industry is trying to cash in on this growing connected car trend. Both of these programs allow a smartphone to assume control over a car's in-cabin "infotainment experience," taking charge of music streaming, voice recognition messaging, and navigation.

"By the end of the year, expect them both to be common functionality," Stevens said. "This is an exciting trend for most consumers, because they'll be able to stay connected and easily access the music on their phones but do it in a safe, legal way."

For those hoping to see some of the futuristic gear from "Star Wars" applied to the real world, hang in there. "Fully autonomous cars that can drive from Point A to Point B" won't hit the market this year, "but the evolution toward that level of autonomy will continue, with everyday cars getting smarter and safer," Stevens said. "More and more cars will receive more advanced driver assistance technologies, even affordable cars like the Chevrolet Malibu, which can steer itself back into the lane should the driver start to wander."

CES 2016 is also expected to see the introduction of the Chevrolet Bolt, an all-electric compact car that promises to go 200 miles on a charge. At $30,000, it may help bringing electric vehicles more accessibly into the mainstream.

Fashionable wearables

Following all the hype surrounding the introduction of the Apple Watch last year, expect wearables to be a big talking point at CES 2016. Trend-watchers say, get ready for wearable tech and fashion to be stitched together more seamlessly.

Every year, FashionWare is the gear-oriented fashion show held at CES, and CNET reports that consumers can expect to see tech developers and designers try the difficult balancing act of creating clothing that is stylish yet functional, looking cool without compromising the technology.

"We're way past spandex," Robin Raskin, CEO of Living in Digital Times, the company that's putting on the CES fashion show for the sixth year, told CNET.

As a result, expect technology like LED lights or even screens to be embedded seamlessly in clothing, not appearing as bulky extensions.

To see how this trend of fashionable tech is coming more and more into vogue, one only has to look at the floor plan of CES itself. CNET reports that the square footage of the wearable tech area at CES has quadrupled to 9,400 square feet, and the number of wearable tech exhibitors has tripled to 41, making CES something of an unofficial, high-tech fashion week of its own.

Robots and drones

Adding to the future-is-here vibe of CES is the continued strong showing of robotics. On its website, CES has 27 robotics exhibitors listed so far. The companies represented show a wide range of unexpected applications for robotics technologies.

JETRO, the Japan Innovation Showcase, has a wide range of consumer robotics, from a therapy robot called Pero to one that can prove useful in search and rescue missions.

Another big trend is the increasing popularity of drones. 2015 saw drones -- or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as enthusiasts prefer to call them -- repeatedly in the news headlines. This year's CES will be another drone-heavy year.

During CES, there will be four conference sessions dedicated solely to drone innovations and trends. The panels will delve into a wide range of topics, from how drones can be used in daily consumer life, to government applications for UAVs, to the social benefits of this technology. For instance, one talk will center on drones being used in a variety of services from delivering first aid to being deployed in rescue missions.

  • CES 2016 runs from Jan. 6 through Jan. 9. will have updates every day, and you can get complete coverage on our partner site CNET.
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