The recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas gave companies the opportunity to show off their latest upgrades and inventions. A few highlights:
▪ Professor Einstein, a miniature educational robot, looks eerily like the genius himself. The company behind it, Hanson Robotics, says it’s the first commercial robot with emotive features. Professor Einstein is expected to come out in March for about $300. The robot stands more than 14 inches tall and has soft skin. The robot interacts with an Android or Apple tablet – not a smartphone – to teach science, math and other subjects. It recognizes your voice and responds to your questions. It also can offer weather updates and recite facts about famous people.
▪ Vibrating pants? As an alternative to GPS, a French startup Spinali Design has created jeans that will vibrate on your right or left hip to let you know which direction you should head. A chip embedded into the waist is connected to an app. Just enter your destination ahead of time. The company also has bikinis that will buzz when you’re out in the sun too long and need to apply more sunscreen lotion. The jeans cost about $100, and the bikinis about $140.
▪ No keys, cash or ID? You’ll still be welcomed by name, stateroom doors will open, and your favorite food will show up wherever you are on teched-up Carnival Corp. cruise ships in the Princess line, starting on the Regal Princess. All you’ll need is an Ocean Medallion, a quarter-sized smart disc.
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One of the coolest travel tool launches since GPS, Carnival’s Ocean Medallion cruises will require a major refitting of boats and home ports. For extra-sharp guest profiling and predicting (improving over time), travelers open the Ocean Compass app on their smartphone or cabin screen to share likes, interests and almighty credit card info. Both intriguing and creepy, the Medallion helps the wearer reconnect with luggage and shipmates and lubricates onboard spending on drinks, candid photos and gambling.
▪ Want to turn on lights or crank up the heat by voice? The bulk of these items collaborate with Amazon’s Echo and Dot digital-assistant speakers. But imitators are multiplying, including newbies from Lenovo and Microsoft. Some makers are going it alone. Samsung’s second-generation Family Hub refrigerators will play nicer with other products in the brand’s “ecosystem.” So when standing near the fridge, you’ll be able to dictate a message to your kid to “be home by 6” and have it pop up on the child’s Galaxy (or Apple) smartphone. Or, from that same kitchen spot, request that a Samsung smart TV in the living room “turn on NBC” and see the nightly news pop up as a “mirrored” image on the refrigerator’s in-door LCD color screen. On 2017 LG Smart TVs, a “Magic Link” search initiated by voice or typing will analyze the show you’ve requested and find related content on other channels, YouTube and websites that you can view simultaneously (by split screen) or catch up with later.
▪ An auto grocery list. GeniCan is introducing a scanning device that installs on your trash bin to automate the creation of a grocery shopping list, using bar code scanning and voice recognition to note what’s discarded. GeniCan also will interface with Amazon’s Dash Replenishment Service to automatically order such items as diapers, paper towels, and snacks once tossed or recycled. Eugene, from the French startup Uzer, also attaches to your garbage can. It scans the barcodes of the rubbish as you’re throwing it out to learn whether it can be recycled. Eugene will also build a shopping list of replenishment items. The device is expected to cost about $100 when it goes on sale in the U.S. at the end of the year.
▪ What about the TVs? Incrementally better pictures, larger screens and cheaper prices – and that’s about it. True, set manufacturers are bombarding consumers with a whole series of buzzwords – such as OLED, HDR and wide color gamut. But when it comes down to it, none of these amount to revolutionary improvements for your living room. 2:30 p.m.
▪ More grocery list help. British company Smarter is launching the Fridge Cam, a small round camera for your fridge. It takes a picture every time you close your fridge door, so you can see if you need bread or sundries if you’re at the store. It also uses visual recognition tools to alert you if you need to replace something. You can sign up for automatic reorders via the app, and it can alert you when products are due to expire. Similar technology is already built into smart refrigerators, but those are pricey – Samsung’s Family Hub starts at $5,600. Smarter’s Barnaby Sellars says you can instead “spend $149 and turn your refrigerator smart.”
▪ Ouch. How about getting a smartphone alert when you might have a concussion? Neurosurgeons and engineers at the Cleveland Clinic hospital group have developed a mouth guard that’s basically a small computer. Wear it next time you play football, ice hockey or any other sports with the potential for head injuries. The mouth guard measures the force, location and direction of the impact of each head injury. It sends data to a smartphone wirelessly and alerts coaches and medical personnel when a threshold has been exceeded. A red light on the mouth guard also comes on. The mouth guard costs $199 and comes from a Cleveland Clinic spinoff called Prevent Biometrics.