Generally speaking, people are of two minds about the Consumer Electronics Show.
Mind One: It’s an overblown, overpriced, overcrowded hype machine full of gadgets we don’t need solving problems we don’t have. Mind Two: There’s a stunning amount of ingenuity out there, and it provides a fun, frantic Wonka Factory tour of ideas, designs, and technologies.
Both are true, of course. There’s an avalanche of MicroLED screens, dancing robots, dancing robot dogs, AR/VR headsets, and smart dashboards for cars you can’t afford. Plus there’s plenty of hyperbolic marketing (“Discover the power of your feet in VR!”) that borders on absurdist art.
But good ideas break through the static, like they always do. So we approached CES this year with a simple question: “Out of all this stuff, what did we actually like?” Answers below.
Much of CES is geared towards dubious gadgetry and gratification, so it’s refreshing to see a business model that seems to lead with sustainability in mind.
U.K.-based Xeros pulled us in with the dramatic tagline “Today, home laundry will change. Forever.” Using patented technology and recyclable polymer beads, Xeros washers use far less water (and energy) than conventional washing machines. Your clothes take less of a beating, and the the process dramatically cuts downs on the amount of synthetic fibers going back into our ecosystem.
Xeros machines have been in commercial use for a few years, and a home model is on the way in 2018. @XerosInc
French company Vaonis’ smart, beautifully-designed telescope was the hit of “Le French Tech” in Hall G. Bonus points: they had a person dressed up as a slow-motion astronaut at their booth.
Available for purchase in the U.S. later in 2018, Stellina’s $2499 tag is a commitment for casual consumers. That said … it may be worth it. Stellina is relatively light (15 pounds) and can fit into a large-ish backpack.
It’s almost comically user-friendly. You can control all functions through the corresponding app, either taking recommendations on what you should watch that night or charting your own path through the stars. You can take pictures of what you see, and the image quality is stunning. @Vaonis_fr
In the race to fully automate the brick-and-mortar checkout process, Aipoly has been a strong contender, and got a lot of notice at the show both this year and last.
Similar to the AI deployed in Seattle’s Amazon concept store, Aipoly’s Autonomous Store Platform connects to existing cameras in retail spaces. The image recognition software identifies products by shape, and tags and tracks individuals in the store. When shoppers take a product off the shelf they are automatically charged.
The whole thing is a data junkie’s dream, running inventory checks constantly and tracking almost all in-store behavior. @aipoly
There was a crowd all day, every day at the Kino-mo booth watching Hypervsn. A wall full of spinning windmills (packed with LEDs) projected floating 3D images, creating a Blade Runner holographic effect. The feeling was familiar … we’ve all seen something kind of like this, but nothing quite as good.
Hypervsn’s projection system presents fluid, clear images, even under convention center lighting and at a distance. Not sure who makes the images, though we’re sure Kino-mo has an answer for that.
The company also stresses the automated nature of it all – users can run multiple displays in multiple locations off one platform. The potential for advertisers was quite evident: onlookers at the booth couldn’t wait to see what came next. @kino_mo_
CES can get a little drone-crazy. They’re everywhere, and since this is a consumer electronics show you mainly see them on display as glorified toys. DASH Systems provides a much-needed counterpoint. DASH creates “low-cost, one-way delivery drones” that can be deployed from aircraft into any number of challenging environments.
We saw one of the colorful prototypes up close and met the founders, who talked about the huge potential for humanitarian and emergency aid. Recently their drones were part of civilian air drops in Puerto Rico, delivering much-needed supplies to different parts of the island. @DASHSystems
Every few years home brewing makes a comeback, only to recede back into the realm of hard-core hobbyists once people tire of the cost and time involved. The explosion of excellent small breweries nationwide, and the availability of craft beers at even the most basic corner markets, can dissuade casual brewers from sticking with it.
And yet…PicoBrew made it all look so easy at their festive beer garden of a booth. The new Pico C home brewery model retails for $549, fits on the counter, produces about 13 bottles per batch, offers a simple user experience, and allows for wild experimentation (mushroom-flavored red ale, anyone?). We’re still evaluating the Keurig-esque environmental impact of owning one, but anything that combines inventiveness and convenience and drinking beer can’t be all bad, right? @picobrewbeer
Let’s chill out for a second with some fun stuff, like Merge Labs’ 6DoF Blaster, which uses positional tracking to bring laser tag home.
No headset or cumbersome gear, it’s just you (and your frenemies) moving around in your own real-world video game, shooting down AR targets and taking cover from return fire. Insert your smartphone as a viewer and away you go. It’s all very virtual and tricked-out, but it provides a classic, backyard shoot-em-up feel that’s quite engaging. @MergeVR
Samsung’s massive MicroLED TV, dubbed The Wall, got a lot of coverage this year, but our inner project managers were drawn to Samsung’s entry into the crowded digital whiteboard field.
As promised, the Flip does indeed flip from horizontal to vertical … and back again! You can save/import/share projects to and from other devices, and multiple users can make multiple additions at the same time.
The Flip feels intuitive, so maybe Samsung’s relatively late start helped the product design and development team. The connectivity speed and screen resolution are impressive, and the retail price tag of $2,699 is considerably less than similar offerings from Google and Microsoft. @SamsungBizUSA
Nanoleaf’s color-changing panels took off like a rocket in 2017, with good reason, they’re affordable, uncomplicated, and fun. You throw them up on your wall in any pattern, connect them to a base station and your music device, then sit back and enjoy an ever-changing light show.
In 2018, more is better. Nanoleaf now offers touch-sensitive panels that can turn off and on, dim up or down, and change colors with a tap. There’s now a motion sensor that will change colors as you pass by, and connectivity upgrades allow you to now (conceivably) cover an entire wall with the panels. @nanoleaf
This is a cheat because it was introduced at last year’s CES. However … this go round our friends at Harman let us see and hear it up close, and it is a thing of beauty.
First things first: it costs $10,000. And it’s made up of things like an aluminum sandwich main chassis and discrete internal cartridge lead routing, and other parts your audiophile friends will comprehend immediately while you nod along sagely. The design though, that mix of classic and modern, is so elegant (particularly the pulley and triple belt drive). Maybe we should become professional DJs to help justify the expense. @MarkLevinson