At its oddest, CES becomes a giant Mad Libs competition in which manufacturers unveil products that seem to have combined trending features and buzzwords — VR, blockchain, Alexa — at random.
Consider the following seven items I came across at CES 2018, some of which address legitimate use cases and some of which may be closer to mad-scientist territory.
Would Google (GOOG, GOOGL) Glass headwear have done any better in the market if it had carried a description like “smart sunglasses”? Somewhat like that doomed project, this augmented-reality eyewear overlays projections of computer data on the world around you. Unlike Glass, Vuzix Blade will also let you request information and entertainment via… wait for it…. Amazon (AMZN) Alexa. Will that attract enough people willing to part with $1,000 or so? The developers hope to find out by the second quarter.
This Bay Area startup made its CES debut to tout its design for a self-driving store with an 80-mile range on a charge. The idea behind this vaguely van-shaped contraption is to bring the produce section (that being the part of the grocery store where people get most judgmental about how the fare looks) to your driveway. You’d summon one via your phone, pick out pre-packaged fruits and vegetables, and the company would bill your account automatically.
Watch out, scented candle: You’re about to get disrupted. This $189 “smart home scent diffusing device” can fill your abode with custom combinations of smells mixed from ingredients in fragrance capsules ($29.95 each after the first four that come with the Moodo device) with names such as “Citrus Fresh” or “Divine Rose.” You can control it with a smartphone app, or, of course, Alexa!
This activity-tracking smartwatch, $169, $199 or $249, depending on the model, requires constant recharging, which is OK because its power source is your own body heat. But be aware that the smartwatch’s features are limited, compared to an Apple (AAPL) Watch. The Matrix PowerWatch’s thermoelectric charging technology also imposes its own limits. For instance, the watch can’t be charged if it gets above 90 degrees outside, which makes Vegas a poor market for this.
If you have trouble going to sleep, spend a week at CES and you will find yourself nodding off all the time. If you can’t do that, Dutch startup Somnox has a different remedy in mind: a 4.5-lb. animatronic, fabric-coated lump that comes programmed to lull you to sleep “via breathing regulation, sounds and snuggling.” (The company is not unaware of the weirdness of that, to judge from the “I go to bed with a robot” T-shirts its employees wore.) It’s supposed to ship in September, with Indiegogo backers getting it for 499 euro.
Many people go to Vegas to indulge bad habits, but HabitAware CEO Sameer Kumar brought this smart wristband here to help people quit theirs. The Bluetooth-linked Keen, $149 or $179, uses a 9-axis inertial measurement unit sensor to judge whether you’re about to snap into a habitual gesture — hair pulling, nail biting, scratching, whatever — that you want to quit and have trained it to recognize. When it detects one of those tics are about to happen, it vibrates automatically to help you stop.
(Admit, you were about to pick your nose until you read this paragraph.)
Japanese firm Omron decided to apply its experience building industrial robots for a less productive task: playing against a human in a game of table tennis. The resulting array of robot arms and cameras (two to track the ball, one to track the movements of its human opponent) is programmed to try to match a human player’s ability while offering such supportive comments as “this rally is fun.”
I showed up seriously rusty at table tennis and so spent the first few minutes having this thing drag me up and down the court. But then I focused a little more and started getting the better of the bot. So there’s hope for us humans yet.
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