This year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) gave investors a glimpse at how emerging technology is going to shape our lives. From really big televisions with extremely high display resolutions to virtual reality headsets and robots, CES 2018 had its usual share of futuristic tech.

Not all the cool things shown at CES will be big consumer hits. But there were a couple of themes that are very close to becoming a part of our daily lives: smart speakers and driverless cars.

Many tech giants announced new partnerships or products targeting these areas at this year's show, but the ones by NVIDIA (NVDA -2.10%), Alphabet's (GOOG -0.63%) (GOOGL -0.69%) Google, and Baidu (BIDU -4.04%) stand out. Let's see why.

Person reading a book inside a self-driving car.

Image Source: Getty Images.


NVIDIA needed a boost in driverless cars, an area where Intel is trying to steal its thunder, and at CES 2018 it announced a slew of new partnerships to boost its automotive business. Two of these, with Uber and Volkswagen, stand out.

Though Uber has been working on self-driving technology since 2015, progress hasn't been smooth. It had to suspend its autonomous program last year after one of its cars flipped in Arizona, and Navigant Consulting ranked Uber 16th on a list of 18 companies that are testing driverless cars, citing reliability issues. Meanwhile, Alphabet's Waymo is far ahead of Uber in self-driving experience, having clocked 4 million autonomous miles on public roads, and it is currently testing its own driverless ride-sharing service in Arizona.

Uber has turned to NVIDIA to boost its autonomous car development following the launch of the graphics specialist's Xavier chip at CES 2018. NVIDIA claims that this new chip is 15 times better than its predecessor and can power Level 5 autonomy in cars, eliminating the need for human drivers.

NVIDIA could improve Uber's standing in the self-driving space with the help of its technology, and in return, Uber could give the chipmaker access to the lucrative ride-sharing market, whose revenue is expected to jump tenfold over the next decade.

Uber has a presence in 83 countries, with a reported market share of 77% in the U.S. And it is aggressively expanding its autonomous fleet in a bid to stay ahead of the ride-sharing competition, integrating 24,000 cars into its fleet over the next three years. So sales of NVIDIA's self-driving car systems will get a boost thanks to Uber.

As for Volkswagen, it brings the much-needed mass-market sales opportunity for NVIDIA. The German company will create a new generation of vehicles based on NVIDIA's DRIVE IX platform, equipping its cars with capabilities like facial recognition and eye tracking, among others. NVIDIA could win big from this partnership as the Volkswagen Group is the world's largest automaker, having sold 10.7 million cars last year.


Alphabet subsidiary Google made a big move in smart speakers last year at Amazon's expense -- Google's market share rose from nothing in 2016 to 25% in the third quarter of 2017, according to Strategy Analytics.

Google announced a total of 15 partnerships with original equipment manufacturers, including Altec Lansing, Sony, JBL, LG, Lenovo, and Bang & Olufsen, at CES 2018. These speaker manufacturers have pledged to make devices based on the Google Assistant platform.

More importantly, four of Google's partners will make speakers with a smart display. This is Google's answer to Amazon's Echo Show device, the e-commerce giant's version of a screen-equipped smart speaker. Google can gain an edge over Amazon with its smart display speakers since it controls properties like Google Maps and YouTube.

For instance, Google's smart display can show routes and traffic, and suggest video content to users based on their browsing histories. The Echo Show can't do so because Google has stopped supporting YouTube on Amazon's platform, and it could even pull support for Maps, as it has done with Amazon's Fire tablets.

According to a study by digital marketing firm 360i, Google Assistant is significantly better than Amazon's Alexa at answering questions -- as much as five times more efficient, not surprising given Alphabet's legacy as a search engine provider.

It's likely that Google will keep cutting into Amazon's market share in smart speakers as 225 smart-home brands are using its platform to power more than 1,500 devices. This could benefit Alphabet big-time -- smart speaker revenue is expected to hit $4 billion this year, and clock an impressive annual growth rate of 50% through 2024.


Like NVIDIA, Baidu doesn't want to miss out on the self-driving boom, either. At CES 2018, the Chinese giant debuted its Apollo 2.0 autonomous car platform, which it claims can help vehicles drive themselves in urban conditions at night.

According to Baidu, vehicles using the Apollo 2.0 platform can identify traffic lights from as far away as 500 feet with 99% accuracy, and recognize obstacles from 300 feet. Baidu believes that it can use this new platform to bring autonomous cars into production by 2020, and start mass production of driverless buses this July.

More importantly, Baidu can become a dominant player in the Chinese self-driving market thanks to the open-source nature of the Apollo 2.0 platform. The company has brought in  90 partners to collaborate on Apollo 2.0, providing cloud services, reference hardware, software, and vehicle platforms in a bid to accelerate self-driving car development.

These partners give Baidu technology access to information in return for using these services, allowing the company to quickly train its self-driving car platform for different conditions. Not surprisingly, NVIDIA has decided to work with Baidu to create a production-ready autonomous driving platform for the Chinese market.

This partnership puts Baidu in a strong position to capitalize on the Chinese government's push toward autonomous cars. The country's State Council wants highly autonomous vehicles to account for 15% of the 35 million cars expected to be sold in China in 2025. This is where the Baidu-NVIDIA partnership comes in, as their solution can support self-driving capabilities ranging from the partly autonomous Level 2 to the fully autonomous Level 5.

The Foolish takeaway

The announcements made by NVIDIA, Google, and Baidu at CES 2018 will start impacting their businesses sooner rather than later. Smart speakers and autonomous cars are gaining traction already, and these three tech giants seem to be making the right moves to take advantage.