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Image: Marcelo Cáceres

APEX Insight: When the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) takes off in Las Vegas tomorrow, some of the biggest and most daring technology companies will be displaying what they hope will be this year’s must-have gadgets. As crowds measuring hundreds of thousands prepare to descend upon two million square feet of exhibition space, APEX Media explores the tech trends that will matter most for the passenger experience industry.

Take Me There

While self-driving cars aren’t likely to become ubiquitous in the near future, autonomous-vehicle technology keeps improving. One potential application for the airline industry could be taxi bots that guide planes to their gates. The aviation industry is constantly in search of new ways to reduce jet emissions while taxiing – existing solutions include electric-assisted taxiing and airport redesign. There’s more to the future of driving than robotic chauffeurs, so expect to see advances in fuel efficiency, electric power, connectivity, driver interface and more. BlackBerry will be one of the companies presenting on the auto-tech front, and its QNX mobile operating system is already used by automakers such as Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Maserati.

Get Real

Virtual reality and augmented reality have crested the hype hump and entered the verdant fields of real-life usability. Even if you’re not familiar with augmented reality, you’re likely aware of Pokémon Go, which is arguably the most successful implementation of this type of technology to date. One area where we could see augmented reality integrated into the passenger experience is airport mapping: real-time wayfinding and marketing to an audience making its way through unfamiliar spaces. While there are various practical and safety concerns when it comes to using virtual reality headsets in flight, Qantas and XL Airways have made some headway in this regard.

Specialist Drones

At CES, drone manufacturers from around the world will be competing on specs such as racing, indoor agility and navigation. Amazon has been experimenting with drone delivery, while Uber set its sights on AI-assisted personal aircraft. While jetliners have been flying with a little help from auto-pilot for years, actual unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are relatively new: Governments and airport authorities are still figuring out how best to share the skies.

Revisiting the Smart Home

With the Internet of Things (IoT) becoming a household term, get ready to revisit the smart home. In the wake of the Mirai botnet attack that affected some of the world’s largest websites a few months ago, expect stiff competition in IoT security, as well as smart devices that make our lives simpler instead of more complex. We should also see more forward movement with wearables. Health-related connectivity seems to be the most compelling aspect of the wearables world, but health-device certification standards limit the claims a wearables manufacturer can make.

Unplug Your Audio

The limited battery capacity of wireless headphones makes them less than ideal for watching in-flight entertainment on medium- or long-haul flights. While wireless audio will no doubt be widespread on the CES convention floor, driven in large part by Apple’s removal of the headphone jack on the iPhone 7, the longevity of existing cabin configurations means that the physical headphone jack won’t be disappearing from airplanes any time soon.

Jordan juggles deadlines across various time zones as he writes about travel, culture, entertainment, and technology.