Useful, weird and wonderful technology
What happens in Vegas, where new trends in technology and industry have just been unveiled, is likely to end up in our homes
Last week more than 175,000 techies, journalists, programmers, entrepreneurs, innovators, tinkerers and technology fundis flooded Las Vegas to attend the 50th CES trade show, an annual showcase and conference focused on consumer technology.
It is largest of the major annual global tech expos (which include Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and IFA in Berlin), and is exciting, fascinating, aspirational and eye-opening. But it is also overwhelming and frantic from an attendee’s perspective, though there must be an army of organisers and a sophisticated eventing team behind the scenes.
This year around 3,800 exhibitors were spread across 2.6mft² of rabbit warren-like exhibition space in multiple venues. Besides the slogan-shirt wearing tech press and tie-and-suited company reps, there are drones, robots, electric bikes, virtual reality gamers and autonomous and concept cars to navigate around.
Most of the cool stuff is oversubscribed — so you have to throw some elbows to get within eyeball range if you don’t make the press launch list. Queues for anything new and experiential, like a sleep assistant system or mindfulness brain-stimulating wearables, could rival the hordes who lined up in New York in 2013 when cronut pastries debuted.
And if you accidentally find yourself in the mobile accessories spaces, you may never discover your way out: there were, in my estimation, at least 10trillion and five new cellphone cover brands exhibiting this year.
Still, CES is one of the hottest tickets in the industry year after year. In 2016, over 7,545 journalists attended — 1,700 more than went to the Rio Olympics that year. And that’s in just four or five days (including a couple of choice pre-CES events). The Vegas strip crawls with geeks.
So what’s new and cool for 2017 in technology?
TV screens continue to get thinner while packing eye-watering detail and depth of colour into their slim-line designs. Chinese company Skyworth revealed a screen with two independent displays squeezed into a remarkably skinny profile.
Sony and LG, among others, remain focused on 4K resolution displays and the organic light-emitting diode (Oled) TV screens that were hailed as the pinnacle of television technology. Samsung broke ranks with its quantum dot light-emitting diode (Qled) TVs. The jury is still out about which tech will trump in the fight for buyers; it is likely to be the big battleground between TV brands in 2017.
Welcome to the future
The world of virtual reality and robotics imagined in vintage science fiction is well and truly here, complete with home assistant robots and flying simulation virtual reality. Also on the future menu are virtual reality shoes and every variation of smart car, with varying degrees of machine-intervention-led driving.
The Internet of Things is, predictably, going nowhere soon, with sensors and various means of communication finding their way into just about everything you can imagine. Some of these have obvious uses, but many are odd and seemingly unnecessary, like the inexplicable connected hairbrush made by Withings to track hair health.
Amazon’s voice recognition technology (powered by Echo, with voice service Alexa) is being incorporated into a plethora of devices in interesting and user-friendly ways. In fact, voice was a big theme throughout CES 2017, prompting technology correspondent David Pogue to write that Alexa "is going to be what saves the Internet of Things".
Here’s to your health
Health tech is a growing category, with all kinds of interesting applications. Rem-Fit debuted a smart pillow and sleep monitor that not only plays music and monitors and analyses your sleep, but detects snoring and prompts you with a subtle vibration to reposition yourself. Under Armour revealed its Athlete Recovery Sleepwear that has bioceramics woven into its fabric. The company claims that it absorbs infrared wavelengths and reflects the far infrared rays — all of which is supposed to help athletes recover while sleeping and promote better sleep.
Also on the display floor were wearable (and virtually silent) breast pumps, produced by Willow, for mothers to gather milk for later feeding, and a rather comical-looking hairband by HairMax that promises to stimulate hair growth using lasers.
Wearable activity trackers are still booming. For every Fitbit and Misfit there were two or three unfamiliar, low-budget competitors hoping to steal a
slice of the market from the household names.
Baby care wearable applications included smart baby socks from Owlet that function as a next-generation baby monitor, tracking a baby’s heart rate and oxygen levels.
The writer was a guest of Samsung in Las Vegas