Consumer Electronics Show 2017: Hits and Misses

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    Jahkno!
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    This year’s Consumer Electronics Show is the craziest yet, as the falling cost of sensors and connectivity means the internet of things is finally a reality.

    It turns out that this reality is more weird than wonderful with everything from shoes to toothbrushes being turned “smart”, whether they need it or not.

    Here are the hits and misses of CES 2017, which runs in Las Vegas until Sunday.

    Hits

    Folding selfie drone
    My favourite this year is the Hover Camera Passport drone. While unlikely to challenge DJI’s Phantom range in general-purpose aerial photography, this compact Chinese quadcopter, which folds to the size of a hardback book, is a remarkable feat of design and engineering.

    A carbon-fibre cage around the propellers means it can be launched and caught by hand or carried in a bag without risk of injury to human or drone. Computer vision allows its 4K camera to recognise its owner’s face and follow them — no complex controller needed — while another sensor keeps it flying at a steady height. At $600 it is more expensive than a selfie stick but is simpler, and less dangerous, than any drone I have tested.

    Walls have ears

    AI is everywhere at CES


    Play
    To be useful in the home, virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant have to be able to hear commands from anywhere. Smart desktop speakers such as the Echo work fine in a kitchen but Amazon’s black cylinders are hardly elegant. Chipmaker Nvidia envisions tiny microphones that are as ubiquitous and subtle as light switches.

    Jen-Hsun Huang, president and chief executive officer of Nvidia Corp., holds the Nvidia Spot © Bloomberg
    Its Spot is a mic with artificial intelligence, wired into the wall, that taps into Google’s Assistant. Nvidia’s Shield, its television streaming box, is also gaining Google’s AI, acting as a hub for Spots around the home. It could be the system the “smart home” has been waiting for. Pricing and availability have still to be announced.

    Robots for kids

    The machines are coming for your children — and they want to help. Leka is a cute robo-ball with a smiling face and rainbow lights. Its range of educational games is designed to help children with autism and other learning disabilities, and the French start-up’s device is a meaningful antidote to the pointless frippery of CES. Leka raised $132,000 on crowdfunding site Indiegogo last summer and will start shipping this year.

    Meanwhile, toy maker Mattel’s Aristotle system is an AI-powered robot nanny. A combination of Echo-style smart speaker, connected camera and colour-shifting lightbulb, it can play games with children, read bedtime stories or send babies back to sleep with soothing sounds when it sees them wake up.

    For the $300 bundle, which goes on sale this summer, Mattel is drawing on tech from Microsoft and Qualcomm. It is emphasising the security of its system.

    Misses

    ‘Smart’ showers

    Moen – U shower system controller
    The smart home has reached the bathroom. Moen’s U shower system allows you to control the heat of your shower from your smartphone via WiFi. For a price of more than $1,000, excluding installation, you can save those vital seconds spent waiting for the water to warm up. Moen’s app sends you a notification when the shower reaches the desired temperature. Just hope you don’t get hacked while standing naked.

    Talking rubbish

    Simplehuman Sensor Can at CES 2017
    One of the undeniable trends of CES 2017 is the introduction of voice control to devices from cars and TVs to washing machines and fridges. The most extreme example is Simplehuman’s Sensor Can. With this kitchen bin, instead of exerting yourself by stepping on a pedal, you say “open can” or, for a real laugh, “open Sesame”. I might control lights in my flat from the couch via Alexa or Google’s Home, but even I am not that lazy, especially as I would have to walk to the bin anyway.

    Underwater drones


    PowerVision’s latest drone takes to the seas, not the skies. Controlled by a smartphone, the PowerRay can dive to 30m and beam live 4K video to the surface. Its Fishfinder sonar alerts fishermen to a catch. You can even view the drone’s footage using a VR headset. Instead of peaceful disconnection and a relaxing return to nature, fishing, too, can be all about pressing screens to your face.

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