Brace yourself for a year in which apparently normal people start barking orders into their phones, their watches and their spectacles while they walk along the street.
The International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2014 begins this Tuesday in Las Vegas and the annual gadget fest will give an indication of how some of us might be living in the near future. Some 20,000 new products are set to go on display to the delight of more than 150,000 conference visitors.
A centrepiece of the event will be the Samsung Smart Home, a vision of domestic bliss in which household appliances respond to the voice of the homeowner with a level of obedience unmatched by even the most loyal of family pets.
“Going out!” the forgetful resident can yelp into a Samsung smartphone or Galaxy Gear smart watch on departing through the front door - and the home lighting and all selected appliances will miraculously switch themselves off.
“Goodnight!” the lazy geek might purr at the remote control, turning the television off without having to press the off switch. According to Samsung, that same instruction will ensure that “lights [are] dimmed and gradually turned off” to ensure a minimal workload on the way to bed. A “Home View” feature allows homeowners to view remotely the inside of their properties by using cameras built in to Samsung appliances, such as a television or fridge.
A Smart Home app would be usable across Samsung’s personal devices (such as smart watches, smart phones and tablets) and would use remote computer servers to interact with the company’s wide range of Internet-connected household appliances, including fridges, washing machines, televisions, vacuum cleaners and air conditioning systems.
The idea of the intelligent home has been around for a long time. The notion of a fridge that could communicate on whether any of its contents were past their sell by dates was being discussed 20 years ago.
James Chandler, head of mobile at Mindshare UK, said that the ubiquity of smart phones and the resultant growth in developing apps meant that there was a greater purpose to intelligent white goods because homeowners can connect to them remotely. He cited the Ninja Blocks security system (an idea backed on the Kickstarter crowd funding platform), which uses a sensor to detect movement in the home or garage and sends an alert to the owner’s phone.
“In the past you could have had loads of data being produced by a smart TV or a fridge but nothing would be happening with that data,” he said. “Now I have a smart phone in my pocket I can get a message that I have had a break in or the boiler has broken down and I can make a call instead of waiting until I get home at night to discover what’s gone wrong.”
Samsung has pledged to make its system compatible with household devices produced by other companies – although this has been questioned by observers who note that the Korean giant is notoriously competitive. Consultant Martin Garner of CCS Insight said: “In each category the rival companies are rather fearful of Samsung. The onus is on Samsung to demonstrate that they can make this work.”
Rivals in the field will be exhibiting at CES, notably Archos, which operates a Smart Home tablet powered by Android, and LG which has a HomeChat system linked by SMS text messages.
CES 2014: The best gadgets from Las Vegas so far
CES 2014: The best gadgets from Las Vegas so far
With a pair of robotic toys named Bo and Yana (that's Bo playing the xylophone on the left) Play-i are hoping they can teach children how to code. Whilst there's plenty of similiar initiatives, Play-i are hoping they can reach young children, offering the mobile bots alongside a visual programming language that can be used by kids as young as 5. They fit together simple instructions (such as 'when blocked, turn right', or 'when shaken, play sound X') to teach Bo and Yana to respond to their environments, learning the blocks and mechanics of coding along the way.
The Pebble is one of the most venerable smartwatches out there but consumers have often complained that the device feels somewhat cheap and flimsy. The answer is the new Pebble Steel, an up-market model made from quality materials that comes with either a leather or steel-link strap. The e-ink interface remains identical but has now been covered with scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass. Expect increasingly attractive devices like the Steel as wearables become less of an oddity and more of a fashion statement.
Continuing to prove that drones can be fun for all as well as weapons of war, French company Parrot have released the MiniDrone - a compact version of their popular AR Drone quadrocopter. Portable enough to fit into a backpack with ease (the wheels on the side are detachable), the MiniDrone is controlled by a paired smartphone app over Bluetooth and has internal gyroscopes to keep it stable even when your hands are off the controls. Prices aren't yet known but it could be a perfect gift for the budding drone-pilot in your family.
Panasonic made its name with its high-quality TVs, but at CES it has also showed off a high-tech blowdryer with a flashy name to match. The "Nanoe" will actually wet your hair as it dries it. Pansonic claim that the device takes "mositure from your hair and in the air, and uses it to create tiny, moisture-rich particles that are small enough to penetrate the shafts of your hair".
The theme of 'everyday household object + smartphone app' is becoming an overly-familiar formula, especially when the the app in question can chivvy you into healthier habits. The Kolibree toothbrush (left) does exactly this for your dental hygiene, monitoring how long your brush and even where in the mouth you've covered. A connected app will time your daily routine and provide you with charts and data to compare with friends and family.
Whether you think the gadget in this picture looks creepy or caring will probably be a good prediction of how you'd feel about it tracking you round the house. It's the disturbingly named Mother from Sen.se, a company that specializes in connected devices. Each Mother comes with a number of senors the size of coin that can detect temperature, location and movement. They all feed info back to the Mother (which then reports to your smartphone) and can be used to record anything from how much you walk in a day to whether your plants need watering. Sen.se claims that Mother "offers the knowledge and comfort you want, when and how you want it, all while remaining discreet."
Typing on smartphones and other mobile devices is never convenient but a company named TrewGrip think they have a solution: 'rear typing'. Their eponymous gadget (left) wraps around your phone or tablet, repositioning a traditional qwerty keyboard into a vaugely steering wheel-like grip. A built in accelerometer lets you control an on-screen mouse by tiling the device around and the company promises a learning curve of 8-10 hours.
The little wheeled cylinder at the bottom of this picture might not look like much, but its makers - Orbotix - promise that the Sphero 2B is the best smartphone-connected toy on the market. Controlled by both iOS and Android handsets, the $99 device is rugged and programmable, with the makers hoping that users will learn how to think like a coder whilst they use it. Augmented reality games where the graphics pop up on mobile devices are available or you can simply engage in some traditional bumper car style fun with a pair of Spheros.
The new Aura from Withings (left) wants to help you wake up and fall asleep as gently as possible. Consisting of a soft pillow-sized pad that you slip under your sheet and a bedside lamp and speaker, the Aura monitors your sleeping patterns (including breathing and heart rates) before waking you at the right point in your sleep cycle with a gentle combination of light and sound. Coming to the UK in spring from £200, the Aura will connect to your smartphone, log your sleeping patterns and give you the best advice to catch 40 winks every night.
Curved screen displays for smartphones looks set to continue as a trend into 2014, with the LG G Flex (left) attracting plenty of attention. LG claim that the hand set (which curves from top to bottom) will better fit the contours of your face and offer users a more 'immersive' viewing experience. Whether or not it fits in your pocket quite so easily remains to be seen.
There's nothing that gets geeks more excited than the prospect of a smart oven (this wasn't even the only example from CES this year). With the new Discovery IQ Dual-Fuel (left) you get 10 different cooking modes that can be controlled remotely from your smartphone; you get cooking tutorials that you can download straight to the Android touchscreen on the hob itself; and - the clincher on the whole thing - you even get slow-closing doors.
The PrioVR (left) wants to take the idea of gamers using their body as a controller (as seem with the likes of the Kinect and the Nintendo Wii) and make it as accurate as possible with a full-body motion-capturing suit. Currently only the upper-body portion is available but the makers, Yei Technology, promise that the legs are on the way. Gamers use a pair of nunchuck controllers to move about, whilst the arm and head trackers capture where you're looking and aiming.
Aside from the Smart Home, the buzz at this year’s conference is around wearable technology, such as bracelets that monitor your health and measure your fitness. Analysts expect 1.5m wearable devices to be sold in 2014, the year when the wearable computer Google Glass is expected to be launched in the UK. Carrying a video camera in its lightweight glasses-style frame, Google Glass sells to US Google subscribers for $1,500 (£915). Again, users are encouraged to talk to the device. You may become accustomed to passers-by instructing their eyewear with the order: “OK Glass! Google…Take a picture!”
After a year in which the snooping activities of America’s National Security Agency have been exposed, CES exhibitors will need to convince the public that compiling even greater levels of personal data is a good thing.
The conference will see the unveiling of the latest versions of the super high definition 4K television sets being pioneered by LG and Samsung.
But perhaps the most quirky of all the intelligent household devices on show must be the “world’s first” smart toothbrush. Here is a gadget that collects sufficient data to enable you to have dental hygiene competitions with other members of your household, a possible incentive to children.
The Kolibree Toothbrush connects to an app on your smartphone to give details on your brushing time as well as measuring the efficiency and thoroughness of your brushing technique, scoring the user between one and five stars. The app includes a graph in which members of the family can compare the length of their brushing sessions and their ability to remove dental plaque.
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