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Shawn Dubravac, chief economist of the Consumer Technology Association.The 2016 International Consumer Electronics Show kicked off, at least for the press, with an analysis of the trends that are driving the tech universe.

Shawn Dubravac, chief economist of the Consumer Technology Association, the trade group that puts on CES (the big tech trade show this week in Las Vegas), said (for the second year in a row) that gadget makers are now focusing on what is technologically meaningful, not just what is technologically possible. They are not just doing tech for tech’s sake, but they’re giving more thought to how tech fits into our lives, he said.

The big trends this year include “ambient sensors,” aggregated learning, and the maturing of nascent technologies. This  year, about 51 percent of revenues in the consumer electronics industry come from established categories like TVs, computers, smartphones, and tablets. In the future, these categories will be less than half as new tech categories like wearables, drones, robotics and other categories take off.

Above: Shawn Dubravac, chief economist of the Consumer Technology Association.
Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

A decade ago, Dubravac said we were using motion-sensing accelerometers a decade ago to sense air bag deployments. Now the accelerometer is built into every smartphone. You can now use motion sensors to detect how your baby is doing.

“We have switched to an array of sensors that are continuously monitoring,” Dubravac said.

There are dishwashers from Whirlpool and other appliance makers who can fit in with the larger environment of the Internet-connected kitchen.

“You empower environments, setting a dishwasher to run at a time when the energy costs are lower or when you are away from home,” he said.

The “ambient sensors” in our lives will monitor our responses to content. Your TV, smartphone, and other devices will gather feedback via their sensors on how you are responding while using gadgets.

“These technologies will impact every single job out there, every one of us,” he said.

As for aggregated learning, Dubravac said that the data being collected can now be used to customize solutions for each person. It’s like how Netflix predicts what movies you will like based on what you’ve rated in the past.

“We are constantly recording this information,” Dubravac said. “We’ll also see how quickly technology advances when information is shared.”

Google’s self-driving fleet of cars, which are currently being tested, have driven 1.6 million kilometers already.

“That’s more than any of us will drive on our own,” Dubravac said. “When it comes across a hazard, the self-driving  car will recognize that, all because it is sharing information across a whole fleet.”

Still, change will take time. He estimates a million self-driving cars a year will be sold by the year 2030. That’s a long gestation, he said.

Dubravac said the third big trend, the birth of nascent tech, includes things like virtual reality. There’s now a whole ecosystem of content, hardware, and other categories that are driving it forward now, he said.

“I see the potential for it as an immersive experience,” he said. “The implications for commercial technology are quite pronounced.”

He said, for instance, we’ll never book a trip on a cruise ship without seeing what it’s like to visit the pool or walk through the corridors first.

Wearables are another category, emerging from nascent growth into a real business, he said. About 5 million are expected to sell this year. They’ll be joined by drones, which are expected to sell 2.9 million units this year. 3D printing is another new category, with 1,000 schools currently using them.

“It’s another 10 to 15 years before we see the full impact of it,” Dubravac said.

Smart homes have become a $1.2 billion market, and it will be another driver of the overall tech market, he said.