CES finishes today, and hordes of attendees are making their way to the airport for their return journeys home. But next year, maybe we can all catch the show without the hassle of plane trips, getting lost in the casino while looking for the actual hotel part of the hotel/casino combo, and fighting it out over the last seat on the shuttle bus.
Anybots gives us an alternative with its robotic telepresence system. Their QA robot can be controlled from the comfort of any networked computer, allowing you to wander around and check out booths in spirit, if not in body. The QA has a 4 to 6 hour battery life (which, to be fair, is about my daily limit for walking up down the show halls too). It’s tall height means that it’s built in camera has a normal human eyeline, and it’s body is jointed to allow the QA to express some basic gestures and look down. While watching the camera feed and controlling the QA remotely, a loud speaker and microphone lets you converse with any humans that might be present (the LCD screen on the QA’s chest can display a photo of its operator so that people can know who they are talking to.) The base is similar to a Segway’s, allowing the robot to roll around while remaining upright, and has a built in LIDAR system to automatically detect potential obstacles.
Of course, there is still one thing missing from the QA that gives going to the show in person the edge, at least for now–the current version has no arm with which to grab those free vendor giveaways…
One of my favorite items at CES was HeartMath’s emWave PSR, a biofeedback device that’s supposed to help you “balance your autonomic nervous system.” Doing that is supposed to put you in that famous zone where your performance at just about any task is elevated, like the athlete who says she can’t miss a shot or the ball she’s swinging at looks like a watermelon. What psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow.”
To bring you to this promised land, the emWave watches your pulse, but the goal isn’t to lower your heart rate, as you might expect–it’s to smooth out the rhythm, regardless of what your pulse is. HeartMath says they have 17 years of research of their own research plus published, peer-reviewed studies showing that a smooth pulse indicates the balance, or “coherence,” of your sympathetic nervous system (which triggers stress responses) and your parasympathetic nervous system (which triggers calming responses). Which is nice.
The emWave PSR itself is very simple: A rectangular device about the size of an Altoids box connects to a PC and to a clip that attaches to your ear lobe and monitors your pulse. The box has a light that moves back and forth (think KITT’s scanner), showing the proper breathing rhythm. Meanwhile the PC shows a graph of your nervous-system coherence, and this biofeedback is essential to the project–once you have a clear idea of what internal process achieves the desired result, it becomes easier to focus on and reproduce that. It’s like a shipwrecked person who’s trying to learn to wiggle his ears finally finds a mirror.
As proof that there’s nothing that can’t be upgraded with a healthy dose of high-tech goodness, there is the new Brother Quattro 6000D sewing machine. With a list price of $600, this sewing-machine-of-the-future features a 32-square-inch Sharp LCD screen. The screen is hooked up to a camera mounted above the needle for precision positioning of fabrics (the sewing area is helpfully illuminated by a cluster of natural-daylight LEDs). The Quattro 6000D can also automatically embroider designs from an onboard library thanks to its built in computer — additional designs can be loaded using one of three USB ports.
Of course, computer technology pretty much began thanks to the textile industry. Still it’s a little disconcerting to find probably more raw onboard computer power than we needed to land a man on the moon in a tool for a craft with such a comforting, low-tech vibe. Some futurists predict that when virtually every human-made object has an embedded, networked computer, it will lead to a new stage in human evolution beyond our current comprehension, when human and machine intelligences merge. Having seen the Quattro 6000D in action, I can tell you that if this occurs, we can at least be assured that neatly hemmed edges will certainly be involved.
If I ever win the lottery, once I get that check deposited in my bank account, my first call will be to Simcraft, makers of the utterly awesome APEX SC830. The SC830 is designed to be a training simulator for professional race car drivers. The simulator boasts three degrees of freedom, allowing it to roll, pitch and yaw in response to motion within the simulation– I tested it out, and I could really feel the car pulling around curves. (This was before I spun out and crashed horribly, proving that in real life I should never be allowed near the steering wheel of a race car). It’s an amazingly realistic experience, and the company told me the military have also used it to train drivers to handle off-road conditions. A flight simulator version is also in the works.
I own a Roomba, and personally, now that I have one, I can’t quite see the need for any other pets (my Roomba is notably more affectionate than many cats I have known, for example.) But apparently I’m in a minority, because the iRobot corporation has developed an addition to the Roomba line specifically designed for pet owners, and their never-ending battle against shedded fur. The new model comes with a large capacity bin to handle the extra debris that arises when someone insists on having organic lifeforms as their domestic companions, and the design of the sweeper system has been tweaked so that all that hair doesn’t get tangled up around the brushes.
CES isn’t always about the bells and whistles. Sometimes it’s about elegant design. Areaware is a New York-based company that aggregates futuristic products from a consortium of industrial designers. Their booth featured, among other things, a wooden radio and a folding bicycle. What caught my attention though was their “Moof” bike. An elegantly designed single-speed, the Moof includes front and back solar LED’s artfully integrated into the bike tube, solving a classic cyclist’s dilemma: you really ought to have a light on your bike, but most bike lights make you look like a total dork. You can be the coolest cruiser around town (see pic below) later this year for $500.
You’d think that a conference session titled “Greener Gadgets: The Future of Consumer Technology,” would be focused on the latest environmentally-oriented cutting-edge technology to emerge from places like Silicon Valley. In fact, the take-away from the session panel was that if you’re really interested in learning how to build low-power, long-life, non-toxic devices with a small ecological footprint, the kind of places you should visit are Africa and India.
David Floyd, managing director of British company Freeplay Energy, explained why, using the example of a solar-powered radio his firm had developed for classrooms in Africa (the goal was to allow national governments to broadcast educational programs to schools over the airwaves.) Solar power was essential because so few places in Africa have access to electrical power. Other companies had approached the problem by trying to combine an off-the-shelf solar panel with an off-the-shelf radio, but the power demands of the radio, designed for the Western world where electricity is plentiful, doomed those radios to failure.
Interactive Toy Concepts, who are beloved by geeks for their neat line in miniature remote-control helicopters, have topped them selves with their latest toy, DuckHunter. Players must hit a bobbing and weaving ornithopter-style mechanized duck as it flies about the room with a beam from an infra-red gun. (The gun also doubles as a charging stand for the duck’s batteries.) Three hits and the duck stops flapping and glides to the floor. Simple, but insanely fun.
One of the trends that being talked about at this year’s CES is the latest attempt by TV makers to introduce 3D displays for the home. After all, after many, many false starts, IMAX 3D theaters have finally established a sizable and stable audience for 3D movies–why not let people enjoy the same experience at home? But this effort is all about watching 3D content that someone else has made. In this Web 2.0 age of user–generated content, surely there’s some way that regular folk can get in on the 3D game? Indeed there is, which is where the Minoru 3D Webcam comes in. It produces 3-images using the old-school red-and-blue cardboard-and-plastic glasses method. Although not as slick as more modern 3D systems, such as LCD-shutter glasses, red-and-blue glasses are sufficiently cheap and ubiquitous that there’s a good chance that many people have a pair lying around. The webcam just became available to buy and retails for about $90.
The iCEphone, developed by a company unfortunately called The Medical Phone, is a strange mish-mash of features and one of the weirder items to be seen at this year’s CES. First, the thing has a unique three-part form factor, with three slabs attached side-to-side by funky hinges that let the slabs fold either way–like a Z or like an S–and are stiff enough to hold the phone in any of those configurations (see the video if this doesn’t make any sense). The phone is ruggedized (including rubber bumpers), fairly large and bulky, and comes in bright colors like fuchsia and orange. It has built-in medical monitoring, a touchscreen, a trackpad, gaming features like multiple “triggers,” and a full qwerty keyboard, including the bonus Windows keys that let you perform such feats as the famous ctrl-alt-delete.
What, you may wonder, the hell is going on here?