Saturday, January 12, 2013

CES 2013 - The Future in Our Lifetime

I'm just back from a week in Vegas, where I attended the Consumer Electronics Show, for the second year in a row.

AT&T Developer Conference

On Monday, I attended the AT&T Developer Conference. Some of the tracks were very interesting, including AT&T announcing support for WebRTC - an HTML5 standard that allows screen sharing and video conferencing from within your browser (currently supported in Chrome 23 and FF 18 - IE and Safari are still no-shows); or the extended support for NFC and security; or the announcement of a free developer tool called ARO (Application Resource Optimizer) that scans mobile app's code, and recommends optimized use of network, space and other resources.
But I really liked the hackathon winner: Ruggero from Italy developed, in 24 hours, a headband that "reads your mind" and if it feels you're otherwise engaged (i.e. talking, or stressed) it redirects all incoming calls directly to voicemail. He said he'd be working on the other side of it - not letting you call certain people (your boss, your wife) if it feels you're in an agitated mood. He appeared in stage with a single cat ear on his headband :). Here's his pitch:
The event was finished with several club party, and a killer The Killers concert.

Here are some of the pictures I took during the conference:

And then, it was time for the real CES...

3D Printing hitting the big time

I saw 3D printers last year at CES, but this year they were everywhere, they were printing tons of intricate products, and they were more affordable (relatively speaking).

This innovation, more than anything else I saw, gives me a hope for seeing the future, as predicted by Star Trek's replicator, in my life time: A future in which we could all just print what we need at home (from screws, to electronics, to cloths, and maybe - one day - food). We'll just be paying for the materials (whether it's resin or proteins) and the designs. Some companies already put in place a service model, allowing you to send them your design, and they ship you the final product. One of them was Sculpteo which won a 2013 Innovation Award for their iPad app that allows you to design items like an iPhone case - from your tablet.

Everything's Connected

Another trend that developed over the year is to connect everything to the web. Samsung announced the Galaxy camera: a 21x zoom digital camera, running Android 4.1 (including all apps), connected over 3G/WiFi - a reversal of a typical Android phone with camera. Others showed watches, pedometers and speakers that were connected. I liked Monster's approach to making Bluetooth pairing simpler. We all had those awkward pairing experiences. With the Monster Beats speakers you use your phone's NFC to tap the speaker - and you're done. iPhone users need not apply (at least until the idiots in Cupertino decide that NFC is "magical, wonderful and amazing").


Robots were everywhere in the show, whether dancing like Michael Jackson, sweeping the floor (a-la Roomba) or giving you a back rub.

For $299, you could buy robots similar to ones used by the police and the army. Put a tablet/phone on them, and you can control the robot from another tablet/phone, see other rooms, and communicate with people remotely. Some models can even climb stairs, and some can take AK47 rounds and continue to function:

Another type of robot I got to see up close was the smart flying AR drone. I first saw them in this TED lecture video a year ago (a must watch). Now I actually got to see them in action. They can fly in intricate formations, flip in mid air, carry out exact tasks, and map indoor locations.

But to my eyes, it was easy to imagine how easy it'd be to replace the camera with a gun.
Bringing to mind this TED lecture about the ethics of using robots in battle.

My "best in show"

What struck me was how about 80% of this year's CES was exactly the same as last year's. The same cables/boxes/speakers/headphones/phone cases/etc. manufacturers were there - with the same stuff they showed last year, and the year before.
TVs were bigger and sharper. 3D was 3d-ier. Tablets and phones were slightly faster. Laptops were thinner. But mostly, it was boring to stroll through more of the same.

Still, here are my favorites of this year's CES, other than the aforementioned 3D printers:
  1. ASUS Taichi - a dual 1080p monitor ultrabook. Close the laptop lid, and you get a tablet. And 2 people can use it at the same time! Problems I foresee: battery life with 2 monitors, the external monitor getting scratched, and the price point (rumored to be $1600 for the 13")
  2. AfterShokz - open ear headphones, using bone conduction technology to get the sound directly into your head. They're safer (your ears remain free), the sound is clearer, and they do not harm your hearing. There were several companies showing this technology, but these cost just $69 on Amazon (or $99 for the Bluetooth model)
  3. Liquipel - one of the many water repelling technologies I saw demonstrated. Coat anything with this stuff, even a tissue paper, and water won't be able to touch it. Allows immersing your phone/device in water for up to 30 minutes.
  4. SafePlug - a power socket that does not allow electricity through, unless the plug inserted has a a specific RFID tag. Think of a baby pushing a fork into this socket...and nothing happens. As a side effect, all such sockets in the house can be remotely controlled from an iPad app. I'm hoping they'll call me when they decide to build the Android app :)
  5. Basis - a watch that includes a pedometer and a heart and sweat sensors. Along with a cool-looking app, it'll monitor your health, exercise goals and sleep behavior. It costs $200 and looks a bit thick for my taste - but I'm sure next year's model will be thinner :)
  6. Panasonic 20" 4k tablet - to call this monstrosity a tablet is to call a MAC truck a compact.
    At 20", running Windows 8 for 2 hours of battery life at 4k resolution, this would probably be used by designers, architects and showroom personnel
Here are some of the photos I took over the week (pardon the quality, they were snapped mostly on my phone, as I got tired of carrying my camera):
And that's it for CES 2013. Already registered for next year's. See you in Vegas, 1/7-10/2014!

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