Report from CES

In our ThingM newsletter last month I included a report of our experiences at the Consumer Electronics Show the week before. Here it is:

For most of the consumer electronics world, the Consumer Electronics Show is about incremental change to existing types of devices. The TV's are a little bigger, the memory cards hold a little more, video camera prices have dropped a bit, etc. That's critical for the health of the industry, but we went to CES to look for revolutionary technologies, rather than the evolution of existing technologies. We found several things that we felt were especially interesting:

  • Microsoft's entry into software for cars and homes. In his keynote Bill Gates talked about the introduction of technology into cars and homes. As broad ideas, they're not new (not even for MS), but we feel that Microsoft's attention, and Bill Gates' personal management of the development of their product with Ford, is significant. It means that the big companies are recognizing the value of computers outside traditional productivity applications.
  • We had a great conversation with Helen Greiner, CEO of iRobot. Her company released the Create robotics experimentation platform, which they developed and released in record time. It's a great companion to Tod's book, and makes some of the hacks in that book easier. It's also important, because it defines a tantalizing bridge between the home appliance market and the DIY market. The era of kitchen tinkering and appliance repair largely ended with monolithic, impenetrable electronics. iRobot is recognizing that innovation doesn't just come from labs, but from living rooms, and kudos to them for making it much easier for everyday tinkerers.
  • Speaking of smart homes, genuine research or thought about how to integrate technology into home life has far to go. There was an embarrassing House of the Future setup that owed more to Disney's 1950s Carousel of Progress vision than how people actually live today. Giant LCD screens attached to walls, glowing with Microsoft blue interfaces is not the way to go, folks.
  • One class of domestic robot that hardly gets any attention is the massage chair. There are hundreds of brands, they fly below most media radars, and the designs won't win any awards, but they're evolving into genuinely useful and--according to our personal tester--comfortable items. To some extent, this is how it should be: objects shouldn't have to scream "look, I'm technology!" to be valuable tools for living.
  • WowWee, the Canadian company that made the Robosapien, has a bunch of new domestic robot toys on the way. In our conversation with them, we were really heartened that they're embracing hackability. Although they aren't including a serial port on their new devices, they're labeling all of the internal circuitry and trying to not prevent people from attaching things to their electronics. We even heard that they initially wanted to make their new robotic panda with a WiFi card inside it, so that it could be controllable remotely, but decided it would be too expensive. This means that for the next generation, it won't be.
  • Possibly the coolest technology we saw was the digital pen by EPOS an Israeli company. Right now it's a pen and small USB receiver that digitizes handwriting without requiring special paper or a special pad (you clip the USB unit to any writing surface). However, the ultrasonic high-resolution triangulation technology they use works either in 2D or in 3D and opens up a whole host of interaction possibilities. Arbitrary flat surfaces can be activated as interaction devices, which is tremendously powerful. The multi-touch interaction on the iPhone becomes possible with just about anything.

I've also made a Flickr set of my photos from the show, where you can see what I thought was interesting, including the embarrassing smart house.

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This page contains a single entry by Mike Kuniavsky published on January 24, 2007 11:14 AM.

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