Crisis, what mid-life crisis?

By Terry Herbert March 03, 2017 International

The future turned 50 in Las Vegas in early January with the 2017 iteration of the International CES. Was there evidence of a mid-life crisis? Not a bit. Terry Herbert reports.

To view a PDF of the complete profile as it appeared in Wares magazine, click the download button at the bottom of this page.

Focusing on “the future of technology”, and seemingly going from strength to strength, CES turned 50 this year.

The record-breaking event attracted more than 3,800 exhibiting companies covering more than 2.6 million square feet (28,000m2) of exhibition space. Attendees totalled more than 175,000 people, of whom 55,000 had travelled from outside the US.

The consensus amongst us Wares geeks, who viewed the show from afar this year, was that CES had got over its mid-life crisis and that new product releases and both energy and interest levels were distinctly up from last year’s tech fest.

The following are just a few of the innovations, gadgets and must-haves that tickled our collective fancies.

Robots, AI, AR and VR

What happens in Vegas and all that… – Is Alexa winning the race to become the voice activated smart home platform of choice? That’s the question pundits are asking following the Amazon voice assistant’s widespread inclusion in other brands’ products and announcements at CES. Amazon itself wasn’t an exhibitor but products that can be controlled by Alexa voice commands (called “Integration” now number more than 7,000, we hear), including Whirlpool whiteware, a Samsung vacuum cleaner bot, one of ADT’s security systems and several more. Is Alexa’s apparent lead simply being due to Amazon being first to market? Will Google et al catch up? And have any of the players in voice control even hit their straps yet?

 

Aristotle will babysit your kid – Mattel’s Echo-style speaker with built-in “assistant” called Aristotle will read your kids stories, play games, share facts and add soothing sounds on demand. Aristotle has the voice of an upbeat, twenty-something teacher and will grow with you and your child. It’ll take on the role of tutor, friend and babysitter, keeping her entertained and informed while you’re not around. Aristotle will retail for US $300 when it launches in June.

 

 

 

The ultimate VR combo? – Lenovo has been working hard on their first VR headset that works with Microsoft’s Windows Holographic platform. Next to other headsets like the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive, it’s noticeably smaller, lighter and at less than US $400, also cheaper. The headset uses two 1440 x 1440 OLED panels for its display, making it higher resolution than both the Rift and the Vive too. However, it’s the gaming components that matter – enter Lenovo’s Legion Y720 configured with an Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor and Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics with 6GB of GDDR5 memory, optional 4K display, up to 32GB of DDR4 RAM and a 2TB HDD or 1TB PCIe SSD all bundled so you can enjoy movies and games in virtual reality (when someone gets around to making a VR movie).

 

Hug a robot – LG certainly garnered its share of attention at CES with this talked about robot. Hub Robot is Internet of Things meets WALL-E. LG took a basic home device, backed with Amazon’s Alexa technology, and put it in an actual robot which connects and controls home appliances and interacts with the family. Hub Robot will show a range of emotions through digital facial expressions and with AI it will adaptively become your future butler.

AI drives Toyota – Unveiled at CES was Toyota’s Concept-I car with the promise of integrating Artificial Intelligence. The AI assistant is named Yui, and it adapts to the driver’s habits, creating a kind of bond. It will take over for self-driving too.

Processor brings VR to your phone – The US computer chip maker Qualcomm has been working with Samsung to produce the new Snapdragon 835 chip. The 835 is smaller, more compact and lightweight than its predecessor, the 820, with a performance boost of up to 27% and 40% lower power consumption. Get ready for many hours of media streaming, continuous 4K video capture and virtual reality gaming.

ASUS ZenFone AR doubles down – No other smartphone promises both Virtual Reality (with Google’s Daydream platform) and Augmented Reality through Google’s Tango technology. To do both features justice, ASUS has crammed in 8GB of RAM, three camera sensors and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 processor, all wrapped up under a 5.7-inch AMOLED display.

 

Sound and vision

HDR future looks bright(er) – CES ushered in a raft of new TV products including Panasonic OLED TVs and Samsung QLED TVs but it was LG that announced a 10-strong OLED line-up for 2017 stretching from 55-77 inchers. Supporting two types of HDR (HDR10 and Dolby Vision), LG worked closely with Technicolor on both its 2017 OLED and UHD TVs and was the only exhibitor supporting Dolby Vision HDR. No surprise then, that it was first to include Dolby Atmos sound bars across its full range of OLED TVs too.

The skinny on LG’s OLED W-Series TV – Shifting its smarts and inputs to its Dolby Atmos soundbar has enabled the “wallpaper thin” screen design that makes LG’s flagship TV seem more like a window into another world. Picture quality that’s thinner than a credit card literally out of the box!

Sony joins the OLED party – As expected, Sony finally joined the OLED party at CES 2017 with the Bravia A1E which has a unique way of producing sound. Instead of speakers or a soundbar, which is the common way many slim TVs give you sound, the A1E literally vibrates the TV panel to produce sound. In other words, the sound comes straight from the screen! The A1E comes in 55-, 65- and 77-inch models.

Take your own 3D photos – ZTE’s Axon 7 Max is the only smartphone to have two rear-facing stereoscopic cameras and the ability to take 3D photos. Tap into the camera, click on the 3D-photo function, and you can create a hologram, with actual depth and definition between objects in the images. As fun as ZTE’s 3D photos are though, until there’s a critical mass of people with access to the technology, it may well remain a niche gimmick.

Film is retro and sexy again – With the new Kodak Super 8 camera, budding cinematographers can film on original colour negative film but also record high quality digital vision and audio at the same time. The film cartridge door has a built-in window on the side. New accessories such as the top handle and removable microphone, the pistol grip and flip-out LCD screen, have been designed to integrate ergonomic and practical features to the art of filmmaking.

Capture your world in 3D – Sennheiser showcased its new AMBEO Smart Surround compact earphone for immersive 3D audio recording. This breakthrough product lets consumers both capture and listen to binaural audio recordings on their smartphones with unprecedented simplicity. Binaural audio delivers an incredibly immersive 3D experience, placing the listener inside the soundscape and replicating the direction of sounds and spatial characteristics whether it is a concert hall, a rainforest or a bustling city.

Whole-house Hi-Res streaming – The Arcam rPlay is a nifty little box that upscales puny resolution streaming audio to hi-res and adds multiroom capability to any audio system. It uses DTS PlayFi, Apple Airplay and UPnP (Universal Plug & Play) to stream content to your audio system, up to 24-bit/192kHz. Wireless audio streaming comes via services such as Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer, Pandora and Amazon Prime. And if that isn’t enough there are thousands of internet radio stations to choose from. DTS PlayFi will soon be compatible with Alexa via the rPlay.

Best in class audio – The diminutive RIVA WAND Series wireless multi room speaker took out the CES Editor’s Choice Award, calling it “An inventive take on the future of home audio”. With over 16 hours of playing time, WAND series speakers take audio to the entire home, indoors and out. With 50 Watts of power delivering high-quality sound to each speaker from any networked or online source including Wi-Fi, DDMS, Spotify Connect, AirPlay, DLNA, Bluetooth and Chromecast built-in, RIVA is on to a good thing. At US $249 each so are you!

TV goes screenless – Xgimi took out a CES Innovations Award with its Z4 Aurora Smart LED 3D projector that transforms any surface into a 300-inch screen with “unparalleled brightness and clarity”. Built-in Harman Kardon stereo means Aurora also produces excellent sound quality and its Android operating system allows users to download apps and games and wirelessly stream 1080P/2K/4K movies, XBOX, PS4 gaming consoles for a truly connected, superior viewing experience.

Game on with Project Ariana – Razer’s Project Ariana is an exciting option for gamers looking for something more immersive. Instead of just brightening up a keyboard, this is a 4K projector that expands your game outside of a monitor. Why stop at a screen when Project Ariana will put you in the game! Razer hopes to make this a reality by the end of the year. In a sea of laptops, mice, monitors and game streaming services, Project Ariana stood out.

 

New tech on the ground and in the air

Superfast 5G is a reality (almost) – AT&T launched 5G at CES. Having already reached speeds of up to 14 gigabits a second in lab trials of its 5G wireless technology, AT&T will beam its DirecTV Now video service to homes in Austin, Texas before mid-year using 5G. With partners including Intel, Ericsson and Qualcomm, AT&T tells us: “5G’s faster speeds, quicker response times and higher capacity will enable driverless cars, live maps and virtual reality.” Don’t give up your 4G phone just yet however as the first mobile 5G service won’t be available until 2019.

Ready, set, drone – We saw a slew of drones at CES, but UVify’s Draco HD stole the show because it’s designed for competitive racing. With speeds up to 160 kph, 360-Flip mode, impact resistant tough carbon fibre shell, easy-to-repair capability, high-quality live video feeds and assisted flight modes, drone racing is about to become an exciting reality!

Self-balancing bike wins at CES – Honda’s Riding Assist was awarded “Best Automotive Technology” at CES 2017. Unlike much of what you see at CES every year, Riding Assist is genuinely new and has the potential to make things safer for motorcycle riders by making it virtually impossible for the bike to fall over at rest.

Fastest car comes with robot valet – Shown off for the first time at CES was the Faraday Future FF91 and it goes like a rocket claiming 0-60mph (97km/h) in an alleged 2.39 seconds! Faster, it said, than a Tesla Model S (though Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, disputes the claim). A test drive also demonstrated the car’s ability to park itself completely autonomously. Drivers will one day be able to ask it to drive off and park using a mobile app – just like a robot valet.

Look ma, no hands – Nvidia’s CEO, Jen-Hsun Huang, demonstrated an autonomous vehicle equipped with the Drive PX2 AI (its Xavier supercomputer and artificial intelligence platform), in his keynote address at CES 2017. Already working with Audi, Bosch and ZF (famous for its gearbox technology), Nvidia Drive PX2 AI technology is set to be a reality in self-driving cars by 2020.

 

 

The world’s fastest router – Netgear’s Nighthawk X10 won a CES Innovations Award for being the industry’s fastest router (up to 7.2Gbps) for media streaming with ultra-smooth 4K streaming, VR gaming and instant downloads. Or did it win just for looking cool? Four patent pending external active antennas amplify Wi-Fi signals to maximize range throughout your house. With New Zealand’s puny UFB barely getting to speeds of 30 Mbps, we live in hope…

 

Health & wellbeing

Keeping your home safe and secure – At CES 2017, the family of Arlo Smart HD Security Cameras impressed with its own unique ground breaking features. The new Arlo Baby monitoring cam includes ambient sensors for monitoring temperature, humidity and air quality; built-in lullabies; a multi-coloured night light; a moveable stand and character accessories and a new smart siren.

Keeping abreast of technology – Willow’s smart breast pump is a thoughtfully designed device for mothers who want to avoid being chained to a wall outlet while breastfeeding and have more time to spend with their babies. It won the CES “Best Digital Health and Fitness Product” award for the bra-worn breast pump. In addition to being portable, with no outlet required, the device has a companion app that lets parents monitor their baby’s nutrition — ideal for when you’re sleep-deprived and dealing with a hungry newborn.

 

 

Robots stand up for paraplegics – Hyundai launched three medical exoskeleton robots. One is designed to assist elderly people with limited muscular power. The second exoskeleton gives paraplegics the power to stand and climb stairs. It adjusts walking pace, length of stride, and torso tilting via an app installed in a smartphone. Finally, the Waist Exoskeleton fits around a worker’s waist to help with lifting heavy objects to prevent back injuries.

 

 

 

 

 

Look who collared the Wearable Award – The CES 2017 Award for Wearable Technologies went to a dog collar! The LINK AKC Smart Dog Collar represents advancements in a burgeoning category that combines sophisticated smart home, wearable and mobile technologies with valuable personalised insights. You can set alerts to be notified if your dog gets loose. You’ll also be able to track your pet’s location with the app that could work for training some dogs.

A “Fitbit” for air quality – Over 200,000 people globally die every year as a direct result of air pollution so Plume Labs’ Flow Tracker couldn’t be more timely. Working inside and outside, it tracks particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide, ozone, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), temperature and humidity. You can clip it to your bag, bike or stroller. On the device itself, you can find a touch button and 12 colour LEDs to tell you the pollution status of the last 12 hours without having to look at your phone.

 

Ditch the chest strap – One for athletes is Polar’s Team Pro wearable tech that’s inserted into a team’s sports shirts and monitors players’ heart rates and tracks GPS positioning. The next step is connected sports clothing with capture points embedded into the fabric and a small sensor pod on the back collar which will land in March.

Great expectations – BloomLife is a wearable device, designed to be strapped around the belly, that lets pregnant women track their muscle contractions. The electronics are housed in a little pod, which connects to a disposable patch worn on the abdomen. Women can wear the BloomLife all day, for a few hours, or throughout the night, based on their needs. Given that the device is meant to track contractions, it’s most useful for the final trimester. By measuring the frequency and severity of contractions, pregnant women can have a better idea of their progress.

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