As the Consumer Electronics Show opens in Las Vegas, Madhumita Murgia previews some of early products unveiled
On the eve of the opening of the world’s largest technology show, CES 2016, hundreds of eager show-goers are crowded into a cavernous ballroom in one of Las Vegas’ many, identical-seeming convention centres.
Unlike the city’s usual offerings of slot machines and blackjack tables, the room is crammed with more than 200 exhibitors of 2016’s cutting-edge, futuristic or just simply crazy technologies, ranging from live 3D printed nails to pet-tracking wearables – the curtain-raiser for the largest CES in the event’s 49-year history.
The theme of this CES 2016 seems to be “smart” everything - within a few feet of each other, you can find smart scales, smart thermometers, smart suit steamers, smart pill packs, smart ski vests, and the world’s first smart shoe, the Digitsole .
British company Smarter, which previously made the iKettle, has unveiled three new products this year, all under £100 – including a smart camera for your fridge which takes real time photos of its contents (never again wonder whether you’ve run out of milk), and smart mats for your groceries which can tell how much salt is left in the bottle, or whether you need to buy more ketchup, just from the container’s weight.
“We expect 20,000 new products to debut at CES this year – and at least 75 pc, if not all of them will have sensors,” said Shawn DuBravac, chief economist of the Consumer Technology Association, which organises CES. “Sensors have really exploded in the last two years, so all analogue products are now being replaced by digital versions.”
Other examples of internet-connected devices debuting this week include molecular food scanner SCiO, which can help you track every calorie and ingredient in your meals; and Whirlpool’s smart dishwasher, which can be linked to your Nest thermostat. “This means you can set it to run only when you are away for home, or when energy costs are lowest,” DuBravac explained.
The Telegraph’s favourite smart device was the PicoBrew – a smart craft-beer brewer for the amateur beer enthusiast. Founded by ex-Microsoft computer scientist Bill Mitchell, the sleek machine has 3 patents, including a steam-injection heating system and special valves, that make it small, cheap and quick, speeding up the fermentation process to just three days.
The $599 tabletop brewer comes with about 80 different pre-mixed hops-and-grains recipe packs, and you can even create your own one through the app. The entire brewing process is controlled by your smartphone.
Beyond the Internet of Everything, drones took centre-stage. The Telegraph’s picks of drones on the showfloor include winner of the CES 2016 Innovation Award, Lily Robotics which makes a “throw-and-shoot camera” – a 2.8 pound camera drone ($799, shipping begins in February 2016), which follows the user via a tracking device.
Chinese drone giant DJI showcased its new Phantom 3 4K – its first-ever sub-$1000 drone with a 4K camera and WiFi transmission upto 1.2km.
And finally, popular drone-maker Parrot showed its giant Disco Drone – a 50-miles-per hour sleek fixed-wing aircraft with a 1080p camera onboard, weighing just 700 grams. When the show opens officially on Wednesday, there will be an Unmanned Systems marketplace, with 26 different exhibitors.
Just as beer-brewers and remote-controlled planes are getting smarter, so are our vehicles – CES 2016 has been ironically dubbed one of the country’s biggest car shows, with nine major automakers debuting designs or new partnerships this week.
That prophecy has already started to fulfil itself – GPU chip maker Nvidia kicked off the week’s keynote speeches with the announcement of its “supercomputer” for driverless cars. This new system apparently has power equivalent to 150 Macbook Pros, squeezed into a lunchbox-sized case and can tell apart cars, humans and street signs.
Its supercomputer is already being tested in cars by companies ranging from Volvo to BMW, Daimler, Ford and Audi, which managed to train its cars to read German road signs better than any other computer, and even humans could.
Following on from driverless cars, electric cars had their moment too: Californian-based, Chinese-backed startup Faraday Future unveiled its Batmobile-esque electric supercar, the FFZero1, described by head designer Richard Kim as an "extreme testbed" for the “future of mobility.”
The car, which will have driverless capabilities, has a modular design. Its fundamental VPA platform can form the basis of any type of car silhouette, ranging from a luxury sedan to an SUV.
Engineers can swap in different batteries and motors, allowing variable car ranges and horsepower on the vehicles. “You don’t need a 100 year legacy to know what the future should look like,” Kim said, in a dig at carmakers like Ford.
Despite the conviction that virtual reality will be an overriding theme this year, the Telegraph didn’t find many preview exhibitors devoted to the area. However, Facebook-owned VR headset Oculus Rift has announced it will open its pre-orders on January 6, and Taiwanese phone-maker HTC is expected to reveal major developments in its Vive headset this week, so the hype will likely build.
As 150,000 people converge onto Las Vegas from 150 different countries over the next days, in a gathering larger than the recent Winter Olympics, the year’s biggest and most innovative technology trends are slowly starting to take shape. Watch this space.
This article was written by Madhumita Murgia in Las Vegas from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.