Since its debut in 1967, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), has long proven the launching platform for what have become staples of household technology. The camcorder and compact disc player were both introduced in 1981. DVDs in 1996. And, the Xbox and plasma TV launched at CES in 2001.
From its beginning, the show has been an essential earmark for event planners of the world’s largest technology firms. It’s their opportunity to hobnob with industry insiders, analysts, bloggers and influencers, and reveal their best ideas.
But more and more, a lot of big ideas aren’t coming from the largest booths with the most swag. Some have gone so far as to speculate large-scale ingenuity may have hit a lull. “The drones, 3-D printers and smart-home devices of the world -- now seem a bit too old to be called ‘the next big thing,’ writes one Washington Post critic.
Today, some of the most interesting and inventive products are coming from independent makers. And these small hardware entrepreneurs are turning to crowdfunding to both finance, and broadcast, their projects.
Crowdfunded indie products began to rise at CES as early as 2013 when the Pebble smartwatch raised $10.2 million. That was the dawn of indie products and novel concepts getting as much attention and traction from CES as the big players. Back in 2014, the Denver Post noted, “startups fresh off crowdfunding campaigns or incubator programs are now turning the conference into a stepping stone of sorts.” In 2015, the 102 independent startups who were at CES raised more than $50 million on Kickstarter.
CES gives new products an unparalleled audience of inventive thinkers who won't be wowed by a glimpse of something in the Internet of Things that will end up at Best Buy merely three months later. Their excitement is in being the first to see something useful and unique that may never make it to production, but if it ever does, they hold bragging rights to having seen it first.
Big companies like Sony, Asus, Samsung and the rest often get ideas for what to make next by looking at their existing technology portfolio and manufacturing capabilities. Creators of independently developed, crowdfunded products start with a need or desire and build it from there.
CES’s sweet spot is generating the buzz companies need when they are looking to raise capital. That’s what makes crowdfunded, independent projects a natural fit. “The key here at CES is publicity, because it’s the coverage from the press that comes from all over the world that helps to fuel more support,” explained Antoine Auberton, president of Enlaps, a French startup that has created an innovative time-lapse photography product.
How cool is indie-product CES cool? This year’s CES Kickstarter Innovation Award Winner by Amaryllo International is the "world's first cordless robot" that can talk, hear, detect faces and monitor intruders. It racked in $75,000 in pledges on a mere $1,000 goal.
Carloudy, by Cognitive AI Technologies Inc., an e-Ink, smart, wireless head up display, nearly doubled its $50,000 fundraising goal at the time of this article, with three weeks left to go.
The "Indiegogo Zone" at this year's conference hosted six innovative campaigners. Home security device, Butterfleye, offers a product that saves time, storage and bandwidth by only recording important moments. Having raised $800,000, Mars by Crazybaby, is a levitating wireless speaker with Hi-Fi sound. NuDock, is aconnected smart dock that works with your iPhone and Apple Watch, as well as a multifunctional smart LED lamp. WowWee aims to give your family a robotic dog that will recognize your voice and play fetch.
Indeed, if this year's show was any indication, indie creators and crowdfunders have a go-to playground each January at CES.
Related: The 6 Weirdest Gadgets at CES