CES 2017

CES 2017: Random ramblings from my second day here

Robots that fold laundry, an Iron Man massage chair and other cool devices that will never be in my house

Dell Canvas CES 2017

The International CES trade show is so big now that you can’t possibly see everything on display here, even if you had superpowers like Iron Man (speaking of Iron Man, there was a very cool Iron Man-branded massage chair on display). For the most part on Day 1 (officially now, although it’s my second full day of meetings and booth visits), I stuck to the Sands Expo Center, which featured mainly Smart Home products, robots, 3D printers, kid tech, fitness tech and wearables. The Sands Expo also features the Eureka Park section, a whole floor dedicated to startups that brings a LOT of people to its very narrow aisles. I can’t tell whether a product or company is very popular because of the crowds or because they (probably) pack them in tight to give them the appearance of popularity (probably a little bit of both).

+ MORE FROM CES: CES 2017: Early trends and thoughts | Hottest products at CES +

 Some thoughts on what I saw, in no particular order:

Innovation in the PC space

Over the course of the first two days I saw new products from three big PC makers – Lenovo, HP and Dell. Computers have been around for so long now that it’s hard to innovate in this space, but these companies are doing some very cool things to appeal to customers. Dell showed off its new Canvas offering (see photo above), a 27-inch glass device that connects to a computer via USB-C to provide creative types (officially known as ‘Creators’ now) the ability to draw, touch and manipulate their content on a flatter surface horizontally instead of vertically. The system can also work with an existing monitor to create even more display area, so it should be interesting to see how customers utilize these spaces in the things they create (thing video professionals, CAD/CAM designers, etc. – no need to do this with an Excel spreadsheet unless you’re really into Excel).

Dell also impressed me with its two new all-in-one offerings – the XPS 27 and Precision all-in-one (model 5720). Company officials said these were definite Apple competitors – they’re going right after customers who’ve used iMacs that haven’t been able to get a new version in a few years now. With support for Microsoft’s new Windows 10 Creator Edition coming soon, it should be an interesting year to see if PC makers can grab some of Apple’s customers.

HP Sprout Pro CES 2017 HP

I got another good look at the Sprout PC from HP (this time, it was the HP Sprout Pro, see photo above), which uses an overhead-projector-type device and flat surface as part of the computer. This lets creators take 3D objects and scan them into the system, digitizing them for either 3D printing purposes or integrating them into other projects (for example, developers creating VR or AR applications).

On the Lenovo front, they had a bunch of cool new product offerings (especially with support for USB-C ports), but I’m still a fan of the Yoga Book offering that debuted last year if you’re talking about innovations in the space.

FoldiMate robotic laundry folder Foldimate

Wonderful and wacky, but unlikely in every home

CES is also one of those shows where a large portion of products on display will likely never see your home or living room. This has always been the case in the TV market – large displays like the 100-inch model from (insert your favorite brand here) are there to get attendees’ attention, but you aren’t going to go buy one at your local Best Buy or Target.

 The front-runner for this style of product this year is the FoldiMate (see picture above), a robotic laundry folder. Drawing a large crowd at its Eureka Park booth, the FoldiMate can take a bunch of ordinary shirts and blouses and robotically fold them into a pile. Human intervention is still required -- you have to hang the shirt onto clips before the machine does its work, and the machine can’t do work on sheets or smaller clothes (kids clothes under size 5 are out of the question). Also, the hardest part of folding laundry is always socks anyway (turning them inside out, finding the correct match, etc.). Maybe in 20 years we’ll have a system that can take clothes directly out of the dryer and into a folded state, but the $700 to $850 price tag means it likely won’t be in my house any time soon.

Other contenders on this front – the very cool Square Off chess board ($375 and $450 models), which lets you play chess against an AI opponent (or another human over the Internet), with the trick being that you see the opponent’s move without human intervention (the pieces are moved from under the board). The BluAtomVR motion control vest and hand controllers add additional functions in VR video games (gun controllers and vibration sensors that react with the game).

Doing wireless beyond data transmission

I met with two different companies doing interesting things with wireless that had nothing to do with data transmission. Cognitive Systems Corp. showed off its Aura technology, which uses two devices (a base and sensor unit) to detect changes in wireless signals within a house that occur when someone enters the space (or a door opens, or a window, etc.). The company is using this knowledge to create a home security offering that can detect motion extremely accurately (thereby eliminating false positives) without utilizing a camera, thereby addressing concerns around privacy (for example, we wouldn’t put a home security camera in the bedroom or bathroom of our house).

The second company – Ossia – was showing off a product in the wireless power space that it will never produce itself – it’s going the licensing route. But the proof of concept is quite awesome. The Cota technology has the ability to wirelessly recharge devices over several feet of space – no pads required, just a receiver and a transmitter that can detect where the receiver is located. With the ability to send wireless power signals around obstacles (including humans), this is basically the holy grail of recharging our mobile devices without having to look for power adapters or carrying around batteries and cables all the time.

Truly random thoughts, in bullet form!

* Every year when I attend CES I want to try to see as much as I can, but I’m finally admitting defeat. I can’t see everything – I will likely miss entire areas of the show (I’m thinking Central Hall and North Hall).

* At the Dell booth I tried a VR version of the game Rock Band – the company was showing off a coming-soon version that uses the Oculus Rift and guitar controller along with one of the company’s Alienware gaming desktop PCs. I must admit – I’m quite the rocker at Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer”.

* 3D printing on the consumer level still doesn’t strike me as something that will take off, but companies continue to try. The coolest thing I might do is to create a very small version of myself that I can place on a LEGO-style mini-figure.

* I’m kind of tired of cute robots and not-very-cute drones. I don’t have time to program a robot or learn how to fly a drone.

* The most popular booth at CES is always the people either offering massages, selling massage chairs or just letting people lie down for a bit. Despite that, I still don’t know anyone who owns a massage chair – I only see them at the mall or at a trade show. If you own a massage chair, let me know so I can come over to your house.

 * The scariest device I saw was a scale that you step on and it provides you with an augmented reality version of what you’d look like if you were in shape (it’s so scary that I was afraid to get any more material on the product). Turn that into a virtual reality thing and I’ll hand some money over (and never take the VR headset off again).

* I’m also a little creeped out by earbuds that are offering customized fit through the use of a make-your-own process (with specialized goo). I tried some of those years ago when Ultimate Ears put me through the process with the help of a professional audiologist – there’s no way I’m going to be able to do this correctly by myself. I can’t even put a protective screen on my smartphone the correct way.

* I wish I wasn’t so tired by the time I ran across the booth for Edwin the Duck, the app-connected smart duck for kids.

On to Day 3! 

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