CES 2014 Recap January 10, 2014

Written by: Larry Weintraub
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cesI returned yesterday from a fairly quick jaunt to Las Vegas for my annual CES pilgrimage.  Each year I go with high hopes, seeking technological inspiration, and this year did not disappoint.

The big guys like Panasonic, LG, Samsung, and others had massive sections but I tend to spend a little more time navigating the areas a little less traveled. CES did a good job this year of creating clusters around new technologies with areas dedicated to topics like Wearables, 3D Printing, Health and Fitness, and Robots in which multiple companies playing in those spaces were situated together.

Robots

Last year I saw the dancing robot from TOSY. The robot was there again this year, but I’m not sure he has become much more practical since he first debuted. That said, what if a robot could clean your BBQ grill while you are inside enjoying your meal? Grillbot to the rescue! I actually stood there watching this little robot clean a grill and I inundated the guy with questions like, “Can it work on a hot grill? “Do the brushes last long?” “Does it shut off automatically?” And the guy answered all of my questions in a way that made me think it might just be worth the $119 to be a little lazier.  Look, it’s not as sexy as a moonwalking robot, but if it can get me back to watching the Super Bowl that much sooner, I’m in.

(See my video of the Grillbot HERE and watch the company’s fancy version below.)

I love the idea that robots are being created to solve simple problems vs. trying to become my friend. First the Roomba swept my floor now the Grillbot cleans my grill, we’re on the right track!

Connected home

This is what I am most excited for, but it’s still not there.  I don’t necessarily need my fridge to talk to my dishwasher who in turn talks to my vacuum cleaner, but I would like an automated system that helps me manage my life a little better.  All the big guys like Samsung and LG had Connected Home areas. But when I asked the guy at Samsung if he could point me to the refrigerator that scanned my food as it went in and then sent me a text when I needed more eggs, he said, “I don’t know about that, but we have a cool fridge over there.” Needless to say, the technology we all REALLY want from our connected home still has a ways to go.

Below you can see how LG’s “HomeChat” is their entry into the Connected Home concept and what they explain as a way to text with your appliances.

Trending closer to the “make my life better” concept, I did like some of what I saw at the Cisco booth. They were showing some examples under their “Internet of Everything” banner wherein you can control and track all of your appliance usage and the corresponding bills.

ciscoWhat we really need now is for someone like Apple to make all of this stuff simple, intuitive, and elegant. The products being created by Nest are more of what I was looking for and sadly if they were there, I didn’t see many of them (though I did notice there were suddenly a lot of companies making Thermostat’s that synced with your iPhone).

nestWearables

Wearables could be seen in full effect in the Fitness Tech area. A plethora of companies were showcasing all the ways to track your health and workouts using bracelets, chest straps, and head gear. All of it synced with your smartphone and provided reasonable utility, but nothing on the floor cried ‘must have!’

Patrons wearing Google Glass and sporting their Samsung and Pebble connected watches were seen in large quantities.  The latter announced it’s new Pebble Steel watch at CES which appeared to be well regarded.

pebble-steel-3qtr-trio-zoomI know there is a lot happening in this space, but I left CES feeling like the real innovations are being kept under wraps because what was being shared openly wasn’t in line with what I’ve been reading about.

Solar electronics

A large part of my Vegas trip was spent attempting to stop my iPhone’s battery from dying and looking constantly for ways to charge it.  I was excited to see several smaller manufacturers offering products powered by the sun. (I hope someone from Apple was as excited to see this as I was.) Portable Bluetooth stereos at one booth caught my fancy and said products even had USB ports to charge your (previously referenced) phone and tablet while you tan to the sounds of your Spotify playlist.

TVs

Every year the televisions get larger and thinner. This year they curved, bended, and produced 4K images dwarfing the already impressive HD that we just got used to.  My question is, “do we need this right now?” You can tell me all day long how the curved TV is a more immersive experience but I heard a friend say that now it won’t fit in his entertainment center! Meanwhile, while the 4K picture is truly amazing, unless the networks are planning to roll out a slew of programs filmed with 4K in mind, you will be watching Game of Thrones with a picture so clear it actually takes away from the Hollywood magic.

Without a doubt, the most conversations around Curved TVs centered on the Michael Bay meltdown at the Samsung press conference!

3D Printers

My business partner, Terry, was enthralled with the 3D Printing area. Numerous manufactures showcased their printers and peripheral 3D scanners for an approving crowd.  The future for this sector is truly inspiring and we should be seeing great things from this in the years to come. If I had one critique for this area, I wish there had been more examples of how 3D printers are churning out actual useful household, automotive, and medical items and less examples of dolls and figurines.  That said, the band playing the classic rock soundtrack using instruments generated from 3D printers was quite impressive.

Photo: Ben Pimentel/MarketWatch

Photo: Ben Pimentel/MarketWatch

Random

Another favorite was less about the technology and more about the creative integration of existing technology.

TreadmilliFit showed off their “Everything Inside” concept which came to life in the form of a flat screen television positioned above a NordicTrack treadmill enabling the exerciser to virtually tour the world via Google Street View maps.  The idea that you could “hike” the Grand Canyon without leaving your house was almost inspiring enough to, well, not leave the house.

Overall it was a good CES and I’m glad I was there. The promise of what is to come was more impressive than what I actually saw, but as a creative dreamer always looking for inspiration, there was plenty oozing from the Las Vegas Convention Center this year.