From cleverly designed toys and wellness devices to alternative energy ideas and device virtualization software for the Internet of Things, International CES has got it. CES, which started out strictly as a tradeshow for dealers of audio/video and home entertainment systems, has become the annual make-or-break showcase for startups, software designers, and propeller-heads to test innovative product concepts, breakthrough technologies, and clever application ideas among fellow engineers, marketers, consumer electronics OEMs, and investors who gather here at the convention center.
The opening gadget salvo is called “CES Unveiled,” a sort of indoor Maxwell Street for new technology and product ideas, all complicated by the presence of food tables and unlimited free alcohol. We don't know how many Unveiled newborns will be commercialized by the end of the year, let alone how big a commercial success any one might become.
Following is a sampling of the products (and sometimes prototypes) that caught our eye this year. (My colleague Jessica Lipsky here at CES also contributed to this story.)
Parrot offers toys as well designed as cars
Paris-based Parrot, always a crowd pleaser on the CES show floor, returned to show off the company's two new gadgets: its new-generation personal drone, called “Micro Drone,” equipped with indoor wheels to roll on the floor or the ceiling; and a smartphone-controlled robotics device, “Jumping Sumo,” that jumps 2.5 feet in the air but always lands on its wheels.
Demonstrating his new toys, Henri Seydoux (second from the right in the photo above), the founder and CEO of Parrot, told EE Times: “These are not quick gadgets. They are toys that are as serious and as well designed as cars.”
Indeed, they are robust. Parrot's new Micro Drone comes with an unprecedented automatic stabilization system. Jumping Sumo, with embedded camera, can even make 90 degree turns at high speed, while its foldable wheels control speed and enable tricky moves.
ClearView Audio's invisible speaker
Obviously, a speaker with no wire and no cable is pretty much been-there, done-that. So, ClearView Audio of Waltham, Mass., came up with an invisible speaker. Using a transducer made from thin, slightly curved, and optically clear acrylic glass, the new speaker, called “ClearView Clio” lives up to the company's marketing pitch: “No more black boxes” in the living room.
The invisible speaker features “Edge Motion” technology to generate sound, a mechanical principle very different from traditional cone speakers, according to the company. Edge Motion deploys piezo-electric actuators that vibrate the sides of a clear acrylic glass transducer to generate a piston-like motion, thus creating sound waves with equal radiation forward and backwards.
In a nutshell, the invisible “dipole speaker” works by creating air movement directly from the front and back surfaces of the driver, rather than by impedance, matching one or both outputs to the air.
WakaWaka solar lamps and charger
A Dutch company called Off-Grid Solutions came to CES to show off simple solutions to one of the world's complex social problems: 1.3 billion people in the world do not have access to electricity. People living in such areas often use dangerous and expensive kerosene lamps. Without electricity, there is no escape from poverty.
So, what's the solution? Solar powered WakaWaka LED lamps and WakaWaka chargers. WakaWaka means “shine bright” in Swahili.
WakaWaka Power is a compact solar unit capable of charging “virtually any type of mobile phone (or smartphone) or small electronic device within two hours,” according to the company, “providing over 60 hours of safe light.” The solar panel placed on the charger's cover, when placed in full sunlight for eight hours, fully recharges the charger.
Novasentis guns for the world's thinnest keyboard
Burlingame, Calif.-based Novasentis came to CES to show off a new keyboard integrated with EMP (electrical-mechanical polymer) actuators. The company describes it as “the world's thinnest keyboard designed to replace conventional, bulky mechanical keyboards.”
Novasentis's roots are in the discovery of a new class of ferroelectric material. EMP is a special type of electro-active polymer in which physical movement is caused by an internal reorganization of polymer chains.
This inherent difference in material behavior is said to enable EMP products to have “superior tensile and elastic properties and undergo higher stretching and applied forces,” according to the company.
Novasentis has teamed with Texas Instruments, which makes a driver that actuates the EMP piezoelectric polymer material.
Shown above, on the palm of Novasentis's Victor Hsia, is an actuator. One of its applications is a 1.5 mm-thin keyboard equipped with localized haptics and sound effects, offering users solid, tactile typing experience. The company is now working on a version that's thinner than 1mm.
Late last fall the startup got a Series B funding round of $8 million with new investors Samsung Venture Investment Corp. (Samsung Ventures) and Chengwei Capital.
Arrayent enables “device virtualization” for IoT
Think about garage openers, washing machines, and smoke detectors (which inevitably start beeping in the middle of night).
Yes, they can be all connected to the cloud, becoming end nodes of the Internet of Things. Missing from today's much hyped IoT discussions, though, are cost, reliability, scalability, and security issues, Shane Dyer, founder and CEO of Arrayent, explained to EE Times.
“Our mission at Arrayent is to let things be things,” he noted. “Just because every device — like a smoke detector — can come with a real-time clock and is capable of running Linux, it doesn't mean it has to.”
San Francisco-based Arrayent, developer of embedded software, is bringing virtualization technology to minimize the hardware and software complexity often associated with adding Internet connectivity to consumer products. Rather than making every device a smart, “headed” device (with computing power, software, and even a user interface), why not leave it as it is as a headless device? “Device-virtualization places most of the compute power and software in the cloud,” says Dyer.
Well, haven't other middleware companies also come up with something similar — like remotely turning on and off the switches of every lighting fixture at home? The difference with Arrayent is “scalability,” says Dyer. “We work with a host of well known home appliance brands, ranging from Chamberlain and First Alert to Maytag and Whirlpool.”
Withings to change your sleep pattern
Paris-based Withings wants to “revolutionize” your sleep quality, by offering consumers a smart sleep system called “Withings Aura.”
The system, consisting of a bedside device, a sleep sensor (for your mattress), and a mobile app, is designed to monitor and affect your “sleep experience,” according to Withings.
The bedside device is there to record your sleep environment (noise, room temperature, and light level), while providing “scientifically-validated light and sound programs.” Meanwhile, a discreet sensor, which looks like a softpad, designed to slip under a mattress, monitors your personal sleep patterns and cycles — through movements of your body, breathing cycles, and heart rate.
Tying the two together to a smartphone is a mobile app that lets you visualize your sleep cycles, understand what wakes you up, and compare nights. The app helps you analyze your sleep pattern and develop your personalized wakeup and fall-asleep programs.
In essence, you will learn a lot more about what's going on while you're sleeping. But will it really improve sleep quality? Maybe not, but it's the perfect gift for the hypochondriac in your family.
Dropcam WiFi video monitoring
Here comes a cloud-based WiFi video monitoring service with free live streaming. Dropcam, which might be deemed the ultimate surveillance system, offers consumers a host of user-friendly features, such as 60-second setup, two-way talk, secure live streaming, and optional cloud-based recording. The idea is to help users stay connected remotely with their kids, babies, pets, and home.
Integrated with Ambarella's HD camera SoC, Dropcam delivers such features as HD video, premium audio quality, and better wireless connectivity. Viewing is enhanced with a 130-degree field of view, and it allows users to focus on a specific area with up to 8x zoom on live video while preserving image detail, according to the company.
Dropcam Pro is said to come with activity recognition, a new feature that recognizes motion patterns in the video stream and provides customized user alerts.
Allure Energy Inc. combined iBeacon and NFC-enabled smart sensor technology to develop Aura, a sensor and temperature regulator. Used in conjunction with Eversense, a touchscreen thermostat, Aura can be placed in a room where mobile apps can detect that room's temperature and adjust it accordingly.
Aura and Eversense use proximity control technology, which manages the home's temperature and energy usage based on how far, or near, each user may be from the residence. The application will be available for iPhone and Android, though Aura does not have a set release date.
BeeWi's Fighting Mini Robots
Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots, eat your heart out. European BeeWi introduced the next generation of feuding machines: mini, Bluetooth-connected robots. The robots are remotely controlled with an app on your smartphone or a tablet and come in black or white.
Infrared guns located inside the robots' eyes can be used to shoot another robot or other connected fighting tanks and assault helicopters made by BeeWi.
TREWGrip, the Mobile QWERTY
This handled, rear-type keyboard offers a unique typing experience for your mobile device or smart TV. The full QWERTY keyboard is split and rotated, allowing the user to grip the keyboard and touch-type simultaneously. Although the shape and typing style confused a few testers at CES, the manufacturer believes that TREWGrip's shape makes it easier to type while sitting, standing, or walking.
Handgrips are removable and can be replaced with different sizes or types of grips to accommodate various hand sizes and user preferences. Users can also activate a light for visual stimulation of keys on the front of the keyboard.
Rick Scott of Pacific Cycle (shown above) was busy at CES showing off the Schwinn CycleNav, a guidance system specific to bikes co-developed with MapQuest. The Bluetooth device, which costs $60, clips onto a bike's handlebars. Working with a free app downloaded onto a smartphone or tablet, the Cycle Nav plots a course for a bike trip, guides the rider along the route, then, at the end, provides useful fitness data like distance, duration, and calories burned.
An added feature is that it operates either silently, using LED arrows to note turns and deviations, or by voice. Asked if the voice is male or female, Scott described it as “androgynous.”
Digital cash register
Clover's compact, Android-based, standalone cash register provides touch-screen access to all products and their prices, and even allows immediate adjustment in prices. We were able to reduce a Payday candy bar from $1.75 to the more reasonable price of a nickel. It's especially convenient for businesses with high cashier turnover, because its similarity to smartphones makes training easy. The Android connection also enables more third-party use. It has a separate, and very fast, receipt printer. It just doesn't look as cool as the old NCR model sitting nearby.
Associate Editor Jessica Lipksy also contributed to this story.
This article originally appeared in EBN's sister publication EE Times .