Samsung’s CES 2020 keynote began with an acknowledgement: Despite the futuristic expectations we all had for 2020 growing up, we’re nowhere near the flying cars and time travel we imagined. Still, HS Kim, president and CEO of the company’s consumer electronics division, looked on the bright side.

“I do see 2020 as a new era in tech,” he began.

Samsung’s HS Kim holds Ballie, the company’s take on a robot assistant.

Instead of flying cars and time travel, however, the company hopes to leverage its smart home tech to be more capable and more genuinely useful to its users. Much of the presentation focused less on specific devices and instead on how they’re used, punctuated by Samsung’s main theme for the night: the Age of Experience.

It’s not so much the products themselves, Kim said, but what experiences they enable. To that end, Samsung rolled out its take on a smart robot companion, the BB-8-like Ballie.

The aptly named Ballie rolls out on stage at CES 2020.

The roughly softball-sized spheroid followed Kim around the stage, but made sure to give him some space as Kim approached it. As the Samsung exec jogged away, Ballie followed suit by gradually speeding up.

Ballie-following
Ballie follows Samsung’s HS Kim around the stage.

Samsung’s Sebastian Seung then discussed how they envision Ballie as a useful companion that can help control smart home devices and, according to a demo video, address issues while you’re away, like calling in the robovac when your dog accidentally spills some food.

While some of these abilities certainly seem fanciful, Samsung did try to make some compelling use cases for seniors, where Ballie can help them interact with other smart devices more easily or potentially call for help if it senses an emergency. It’s still a prototype, but it serves to help demonstrate where Samsung hopes to go with its AI efforts and smart home tech.

Head of the Samsung Design Innovation Center Federico Casalegno talked about taking smart homes further, into something he dubbed intelligent homes. The idea is that your smart home becomes like a living organism, reacting to you in real time and adjusting as needed, through a combination of sensors and advanced AI.

Samsung’s Federico Casalegno discusses the company’s vision for the future of smart homes.

“The goal isn’t to add more devices and products,” he added, “but to enable us to live better.”

Later on, Senior Vice President Emily Becher talked about how smart home tech can help in dense city settings, like apartment buildings. There, advanced sensors, like leak detectors can alert tenants and maintenance crews early and save time and money.

Rounding out the evening, Kim returned to the stage to emphasize that personal data and storing that data securely are vitally important (this, after a 2019 filled with smart home security and privacy mishaps from across the industry). The company, he said, is adding its Samsung Knox data-protection to smart devices and appliances. And he promised no data would be shared with third parties without “direct” requests first.

“We stand by that promise,” Kim added.

In all, it was a fittingly conceptual keynote, full of potential for the future if a bit light on specifics for the here and now. After all, we’ve seen plenty of concepts and takes on how future AI and smart homes will become our trusted, conversational pals. The verdict’s still out on if companies can realize those dreams, or it remains a fanciful notion like all those flying cars we were promised.