The first thing you're likely to ask when you arrive at CES 2016 in Las Vegas is whether the event is simply one, big unending line.

It isn't. But it can feel that way.

Wear Walking Shoes

With 2.4 million net square feet of exhibit space and more than 3,600 companies, including a record 500 startups, the show attracts a lot of people. And there's a lot to see. In fact, this year is the biggest show in the event's 49-year history.

Owned and produced by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), formerly the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), CES 2016 runs through Jan. 9.

The show kicked off yesterday with keynotes from executives at Netflix, GM and IBM. Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the CTA, opened IBM’s keynote by announcing a research partnership between the CTA Foundation and IBM. The partnership will study how cognitive computing will transform our lives as we age and transform the lives of those living with disabilities.

"You know, for nearly half a century, CES has been mostly about cutting-edge consumer products and during most of its more than 100-year history, IBM has been the preeminent leader in the business to business IT," Shapiro said.

"But that's changing for both of us … The massive convergence going on around the world, thanks to big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) is driving two distinct trends. First, CES is no longer totally consumer product centric. It's increasingly about technologies driven by the IoT.

"And IBM is today leveraging its advantages with data and the Internet of Things to enter spaces it has never even been in before, appealing to totally new audiences as a result."

Smart Systems

Ginni Rometty, chairman, president and CEO of IBM, said the challenge of IoT today is making sense of all the data we’re creating and capturing. “The future of the Internet of Things is cognitive — the cognitive IoT,” Rometty said.

"This is an era of systems you do not program; they understand, they reason and they learn."

Cognitive computing "will change what you make, it will change how you operate, and the IoT will change who you are,” she added.

Rometty said the IoT is all part of the phenomena of digitization of products, of services, of companies. "So, if I ask you to raise your hands and ask how many of you either work for a digital company or you are trying to become a digital company … almost everyone's hand goes up," whether you're B2B, B2C, public or private.

"But I want to ask you a question. When everybody becomes digital, then what? Who wins? I like to say digital is not a destination. It's a foundation.

"I just looked around this whole conference — wearables, sensors, cars, data everywhere. But what will differentiate you is understanding that data."

CMSWire Staffer Casey Scheld ventured into the crowds, camera in hand, to share a glimpse of some of the data-driven devices capturing imaginations at one of the biggest consumer product shows on the planet.

All photos by Casey Scheld