At CES 2016 Robots Have Taken Over, But Maybe It’s Just a Dream – Is Anyone Listening?
The Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas each year can be overwhelming for a tech addict like myself. Gadgets everywhere, and this year was no exception – hoverboards, segways, audio, video, really big TVs, the latest cars, home automation, and the list goes on all surrounding you in acres of show floor that you can peruse. At each show I try to come up with a couple themes that predict what we’ll see in that coming year. This year’s themes made me feel a bit more like we’re in that future we always dreamed of. Here are the top three themes, and a fourth odd, yet bonus theme that I saw at CES this year:
1. The Robots Are Among Us
The coolest theme I saw at CES was a common sight of “personal robots” aimed to serve humans in various capacities around the show floor. These robots weren’t all just toys, either. From room service to personal servant in your home, there were robots to serve you. Here were a few of the highlights:
- The Savioke Relay: The Savioke Relay is a room service assistant that gets programmed a map of the entire hotel, and delivers items to guests within the hotel. Items are placed in a compartment within the droid (let’s face it – it’s an Astromech Droid!), and the robot manipulates its way through the hotel, finds the room, calls the guest to let them know he (or she?) is outside the door. Guests can then remove their items, and are then presented with a screen to rate their service. They can even take a selfie with the robot. Better tip your room service extra this next time because they are likely to be replaced by robots in a year or two! Check out my experience with the Relay here:
- Segway’s Robot: This stacks up as one of the coolest items I saw at CES 2016. A guy rolls into the showroom floor on a new segway-like device. He steps off, and then starts summoning the device. The device “transforms” into a robot, and the guy can ask the robot to do things like go answer the door or represent him remotely. The cool part about the robot is it has a little attachment plug on it that makes it extendable. There’s an entire developer SDK for developers to make their own apps and devices that can attach to the robot, making the possibilities nearly endless – things like adding hands that can grab things and move things around. It must be seen to be believed! Check out the presentation here:
- Meccano Meccanoid G15: I was first introduced to the Meccanoid as a gift my son got for Christmas. He spent a day building it, and by the end of the day he had a fully functional robot that he could control, responded to his voice, and he could even program new moves and actions. Perfect for teens, this robot introduces them to the world of what their world will be like as adults, and encourages programming and development in the process. Maccano had a large display at CES, only adding to the continued robotic theme of the show. You can actually buy the Meccanoid today for just over $106 on Amazon (click here).
- Drones!: This almost deserves an entire category of its own. Drones have been an ongoing theme of CES for the last 3 years. This year I’d argue in many ways they “jumped the shark”, with new types of drones, new features, and new forms of automation of flying and even swimming vehicles. Parrot released their new Disco wing-shaped drone. There was even a drone that flew people around automatically – wait, isn’t that called a helicopter?
2. The Commoditization of Virtual Reality
Walking into the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center one can’t go far without passing the humungous VR exhibit – from different types of VR glasses to new apps showcasing what you can do with VR to new cameras that shoot in 360 and detect depth in new ways to entire accessories that allow you to “feel” like you are actually there, the “holodeck” of the future is almost here. I anticipate 2016 to be a year of virtual reality where VR will finally reach the masses and we will be able to learn how the masses use it and benefit from the technology. Here are 2 of my favorite VR experiences featured at the show:
- Occulus Rift: This is obviously one of the most popular, and most anticipated VR experiences. Occulus Rift, owned by Facebook, is not just a set of VR goggles that you would see with Google Cardboard or the Samsung Galaxy VR, but an entire VR experience that requires a pretty expensive computer system to run. In fact, Occulus launched pre-orders for Occulus Rift the opening morning of CES – you better bet I was one of the first to sign up! I have only had a single demo of the Rift experience, but you are truly immersed in a realistic world like none other I’ve experienced before. My experience in the demo ended in a sample of the game, Unreal Tournament, immersing me in an actual game where I’m the main player, a TRULY first-person shooter experience! It truly felt like I was there. I will do a more thorough review as soon as I receive my glasses.
- Virtuix Omni: You may have seen these guys on Shark Tank, only to be turned down by Mark Cuban. Virtuix Omni had a fairly large booth at CES, showing off their platform for VR allowing people to strap themselves, standing up, inside a platform where their feet slide, as though they’re walking. Strapping on VR goggles and a hand controller, one can truly walk inside the VR experience, making the experience feel even more real. Check out my demo of their booth here. Oh, and it turns out Mark Cuban is now one of their main investors!
3. The Home of the Future
I talk often about my love of automation within the home. I have a Samsung SmartThings hub in my home that does things like control my fireplace through my voice, or open and close my garage door as I enter and leave proximity of my home. In fact even Mark Zuckerberg has committed this year to focus his efforts on the automation of his own home. This year was no shortage of home automation products. I picked a few of my favorites:
- Sengled Pulse: I saw these guys at a press event in the evening, demoing what appeared to be “just” LED lights. It turns out they aren’t “just” LED lights, but very nice speakers that you plug into your light socket and can control from your phone! The lights come equipped with JBL speakers, and you can connect up to 8 speakers in a single setup, meaning you can stream music from your phone to any set of up to 8 full speaker sets! The LED speaker lights come bluetooth equipped, which means you don’t need any special app once they are set up – just connect the bluetooth on your phone to the bluetooth on the lights and you can stream music to them from any app inside your phone. They also come with an app you can use to dim the lights and control the volume of the sound if you need to.There is no z-wave or zigbee compatibility, so at least at the moment I can’t connect through my Samsung Smartthings hub (until it adds bluetooth as well), but as a replacement for a wired home audio system, this makes home-wide audio a snap to install! It even integrates with your existing subwoofer (I’m assuming that has to be bluetooth-equipped) to add even more advanced and powerful sound throughout the house. Go purchase the Sengled Pulse for just under $150 here: http://amzn.to/1QoYRxp
- SCiO: This is one of those things that even more than the device, I’m amazed by the sensor and potential that it could be included in more devices in the future. The SCiO has sensors that send light into the molecules of food to identify the nutrients within the food. It sends back a scan to tell you how healthy that food is. This device has #GeekGreens written all over it!
- Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator: I continue to mention my fascination and love of Samsung Smartthings. They don’t pay me to say that – I promise! The new Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator is a Smartthings hub on steroids! The Family Hub operates on the premise that your family likely congregates around the kitchen. If you look at your refrigerator now it likely has a notepad on it, pictures of the kids, a calendar, and maybe a magnet or two. What if all of that were automated?The Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator allows you to display messages for your kids or the rest of the family, even remotely for when they get home. It allows communication, internet access, and more. And perhaps the coolest part is it has cameras that point inside the refrigerator that can be accessed remotely from your phone so you can see what items you have in the fridge when you’re shopping. You can even mark over each item when it was added so you can track how old everything is!
It’s not just a fridge though – you can also use it as a Smartthings smart hub to control all of the devices in your house. It has all the same Smartthings sensors as the Smarthub does, but also includes a screen for you to control those things as you would currently do on your phone. I love this idea, and as soon as I can afford what is likely to be a hefty price tag for the fridge I’m first in line to get this product! There is not yet a release date for the Family Hub refrigerator. You can see more of this refrigerator over on the Samsung website.
- Fisher Price Code-a-Piller: As a coder-turned-marketer, I have programming in my veins. So when I see products that teach young kids to program as a toddler or infant, I jump on them! The Fisher Price Code-a-Piller is a little toy aimed to teach those younger 1-3 year old Mark Zuckerbergs learning how to code from a young age. The toy works on logic – the toy can be taken apart and re-assembled, and based on the order in which it is assembled, and what buttons are pushed, it will do different things based on how your toddler “programs” the toy. It’s a very basic solution that fits a young toddler’s mindset. I can’t wait to get this for my young kids. See more of the device at http://www.fisher-price.com/en_US/codeapillar/index.html.
4. Headphones? The Path Towards Wearables
There was no shortage of audio and headphone products at CES this year, as is usually all years. However, I seemed to notice a trend towards smarter headphones and wearable technology this year as well. That’s why headphones and audio were important for me to start with, but as you’ll see with the 1More headphones, wearable smart watch maker Misfit is seeking to use this headphone technology in their own wearable technology! Here are some of my favorites that I saw on the show floor:
- Favorite In-Ear Headphones – 1More Triple-Driver In-ear Headphones: If you follow me on Facebook you’ll know I’m very excited about these. With a triple-driver inside, the sound on these $99 in-ear headphones is just amazing. For the price especially, these are truly some of the best earphones I’ve ever heard – they stack right up with my $300+ over-ear Pioneer headphones. I loved these headphones and just had to get my hands on them to review (which I’ll do later on this blog). Currently the triple-driver is not yet available to the public – you can purchase their dual-driver version on Amazon here though – the triple driver should be available end of January: http://amzn.to/1Qp00Fk
- Brookstone’s Cat Ear Headphones: These were more amusing for me than anything, but I am seeing all sorts of reports of my friends seeing youth wear these out on the streets. They are truly a trendy item that grabs attention when you wear them. The Cat Ear headphones by Brookstone not only have fair sound, but with the flip of a switch you can also share your music with the world (my kids do that anyway with their singing) over loud speakers that look like cat ears over your head. Oh, and you can also turn on colored lights to attract even more attention. It’s a teenager’s dream and a parent’s worst nightmare. Still, these things are going to be a huge hit amongst the younger audience and millennials. Here’s where you can purchase them for just under $130.
- Braven BRV-Pro With Solar Accessory: As a camper I love these guys – plus, they’re a Utah company (where I’m from)! These speakers are rugged and waterproof. They also work with accessories like the solar adaptor that allows charging without any need for power. A really fun device to take out camping with you. Since it fits nicely in a backpack, I’d say that’s “wearable”! Stay tuned for my review on this product. You can get the BRV-Pro at Amazon here: http://amzn.to/1RY6hcL
- MisFit Specter: The main reason I included the 1More In-ear headphones in my review of CES this year is because they also worked with Misfit, a company that produces very simple smart watches and activity trackers that last forever on one charge. This year Misfit announced a partnership with 1More to produce a “Smart Headphone”, allowing you to track your activity through in-ear headphones that you wear, powered by the 1More technology. This was the first headphone activity tracker I’ve seen, and I think it makes a lot of sense since many people wear headphones mostly when they work out or run. There are still few details out on this device, but you can learn more through this review: http://www.theverge.com/2016/1/6/10716614/misfit-specter-bluetooth-earbuds-ces-2016
- Fitbit Blaze and Surge: The Blaze and Surge by Fitbit are Fitbit’s answer to the smart activity watch you can get from other watch manufacturers. They include an LED display and features within the watch to track your activity, and even a smart exercise mode to take you step-by-step through the exercise process. Both integrate with your phone’s most basic notifications. They are both very similar in form – the Blaze is color, while the surge is black and white. The more expensive Surge also has built-in GPS. You can get the Surge on Amazon right now for just over $240. If you want something very simple for tracking activity and notifications, these are a great option.
- 3D Printed Dresses by Intel: This was one of those proofs-of-concept that I’m still not quite sure we’ll see purchased in the mass markets yet. Intel had a demo of a 3D printed dress. The lady wearing it would breath in and out, and the dress would detect her motions, responding and adapting as she did so. This could allow ways to interact with other things around you. I’m still not entirely sure of the entire use-case of this, but it was still really cool to watch! Keep following this blog and I’ll share my video of the experience. It was very fascinating!
Disclosure: among the above items, I requested and received items for review for free from the following manufacturers: Sengled Pulse, 1More, Brookestone Cat Earphones, Braven BRV-Pro. I will always disclose which units I receive for review, but all items are subject to a thorough analysis, both good and bad! Expect more of a review on all of these and more in the future – I always review my favorite things!