2015 CES downloads 'the Internet of Things' for consumers
Every January, more than a 100,000 techies, geeks and nerds gather in Las Vegas for the annual International Consumer Electronics Show, where companies large and small show off their latest innovations.
Technology has become an extension of who we are. With our ever-present cellphones and a never-ending stream of selfies uploaded to social media, we are constantly connected to each other and the world. This year's CES theme was “The Internet of Things.” It featured new ways to communicate with everything from our friends and family to our household appliances, further entrenching those must-have tech-toys into our daily lives. After all, who hasn't been waiting for Facebook updates from their refrigerator?
The industry is changing rapidly as more small companies are making it from concept to product through crowd-funding, such as Kickstarter. The “if you build it, they will fund it” approach gives consumers access to technologies that otherwise would take decades to reach the market. The consumer is now the investor and has more say in what products make it to store shelves and into our homes.
Here are highlights of the latest trends and gotta-have gadgets from the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show. You might not need them, but technology isn't about what you need — it's about what you want.
In a 2013 study commissioned by Nokia, it was estimated that we check our cellphones an average of 250 times a day. That may all change as the future looks to the past in a new tech twist on the time-honored traditional wristwatch.
The Galaxy Gear Live: The Gear Live streams information via a Bluetooth connection to your Samsung phone and provides it on a 1.63-inch wristwatch screen.
Powered by the Google Android Wear platform, it pulls your info from Google Now, providing updates on all of your email, text, schedule and even turn-by-turn directions. All apps and information can be navigated and searched via speech command and queries. Perfect for people who are constantly looking up how short Tom Cruise is or trying to remember the capital of Nebraska.
For those with an active lifestyle, the Gear Live includes a built-in pedometer and heart-rate monitor.
While the Gear Live requires a connection to your cellphone, the Gear S provides the same connectivity with its own connection built-in, allowing you to make and receive phone calls directly from your watch. Take that, Dick Tracy!
A cellular plan from AT&T or Verizon is required for the S model.
$199 at Best Buy
Martian Passport Series: For the more fashion-conscious consumer, Martian designed a smartwatch with classic-wristwatch aesthetic.
A discreet LED screen at the bottom of a more traditional mechanical watch face provides readable text messages and caller ID. The watch has a built-in speaker and microphone allowing you to set calendar reminders, play music, use it as a camera remote and to make and answer calls via a Bluetooth connection.
It works with Android and iOS phones.
$299 at martianwatches.com
Keeping fit and connected
Lechal Shoes: Technological advances have taken shoes from blue suede to Bluetooth. With hundreds of companies offering digital fitness wristbands, a new company called Lechal is hoping to get its footwear in the door.
The shoes have built-in Bluetooth and GPS, providing the ability to track the distance run, calories burned and stamina through a smartphone app. The ability to provide directions via a small vibration in the shoe is what sets the shoes apart. The feature was initially designed as a way to provide the visually impaired with haptic feedback that alerted the user with turn-by-turn walking directions.
$150 for pre-order at lechal.com
Backyard Sports Sonic Boom Bat
For years, parents have lamented as kids have forsaken outdoor play in favor of the virtual variety. Taking its name from a popular '90s-era video game, Backyard Sports is reconnecting kids to the games that inspired the video games.
Their Sonic Boom Bat retains information on how many swings you take while playing real world Whiffle ball outdoors. That data is synced to an app-based game to unlock special power-ups. The game features big-name players as animated avatars of their childhood selves.
The free application is worth downloading if only to see the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen as an adorable little leaguer.
$25 at most toy stores by spring
3-D printing at home
This may finally be the year 3-D printing makes the leap from industry and artists to personal households. If you picture a Star Trek-style replicator cranking out tools, toys and appliance parts, you aren't that far off!
The 3-D printers use a melted plastic that is extruded via a tube while layering it on a moving platform. You can print everything from hard-to-find washing machine parts to a replica of Iron Man's arc reactor. The latter is more popular among the current techie consumers.
Initially priced in the thousands of dollars, some 3-D printers are priced within reach of general consumers.
M3D Micro Printer: The M3D is one of many products that started its life on Kickstarter. The 7.3-inch-cubed printer takes up just a small amount of space and can sit comfortably next to your computer. While many 3-D printers tend to possess an industrial design, the M3D offers a more consumer-friendly look that is simple and colorful.
$349 via pre-order at printm3d.com
3Doodler: The 3Doodler is another Kickstarter project, but it takes a different, more hands-on approach to 3-D printing. The penlike hand-held printer lets you “draw” with the plastic filament. While its end product is less practical and refined as other printers, it does allow for a much more creative and artistic approach to printing. The experience feels a bit like drawing a sculpture and will potentially open up a whole new medium to artists.
$100 via pre-order at 3ddoodler.com
Send in the drones
Zano Micro Drone: Like many tech “toys,” camera-carrying flying drones were originally used as observational tools for the military. Now, that same technology can be used to take the world's coolest selfies.
The Zano, a microdrone that fits in the palm of your hand, features an HD video camera for aerial photos and is controllable via your smartphone.
It is also “intelligent,” allowing it to fly autonomously as it avoids tracks and follows your movement while avoiding obstacles. It has a range of almost 100 feet and can travel at speeds up to 25 miles per hour.
$250 via pre-order at flyzano.com
A quick pic
Polaroid Cube: Wearable cameras are the fastest-growing market in digital photography. GoPro has become the go-to camera for outdoor adventurer and sports but a new/old name is making a splash.
The Polaroid Cube is a tiny 1.37-inch-square camera that packs a lot of power. The tiny HD camera attaches to your bike, surfboard or just about anything else. It has a built-in magnet to hold it in place and plenty of other accessory options. With a wide lens that provides 124-degree coverage, so you'll be able to capture every exciting moment of riding in a downtown bike lane.
$99 at amazon.com and Dick's Sporting Goods
KMI K-Board: Much of the composing and recording today is created on computers. Musicians often sacrifice the use of traditional piano-style keyboards in exchange for the portability of an impromptu studio. The muse can strike at any time, and while you can't lug a Steinway in your laptop bag, you can fit the K-Board. This portable USB keyboard provides a plug-and-play tool for playing and composing in your favorite music program.
The compact unit is packed with professional features, including pressure and tilt-sensitive keys, octave switching buttons and a pitch-bend pad. The sturdy little instrument is designed to survive occupational hazards, including coffee spills and getting run over by a tour van. It is a great tool for home-office composers, traveling musicians or future Brahms ... or more likely, the next Devo.
$59.99 at Guitar Center
Oral B Pro 5000 Bluetooth Toothbrush: In an ongoing effort to connect everything, and I mean everything to an app, Oral B has created a new high-tech toothbrush. The new Oral B Pro 5000 Bluetooth Toothbrush tracks how often you brush your teeth, what regions of your mouth you are or aren't reaching, and it motivates you with helpful reminders and rewards. This info is all provided via helpful charts on a smartphone app. All of this is built into a “3-D oscillating rechargeable battery-powered toothbrush.”
It can also be used to brush your teeth.
$129.99 at amazon.com
Robotbase Personal Robot: Robotbase is creating a mobile artificially intelligent robot that manages your household, business and even reads bedtime stories to your children.
The personal robot consists of a wheeled base and pole supporting a screen with an animated-cartoon human face. The robot has a range of abilities, including ordering lunch, offering fashion advice, posting to social media, monitoring the location of loved ones, and controlling your home automation.
The AI software also has the ability to recognize objects and human emotions.
The robot will even enter your room and wake you up in the morning, although I suspect it watches you sleep all along.
It's the perfect gift for anyone looking for a robotic version of Jennifer Jason Leigh's character in “Single White Female.”
For everyone else: “These are not the droids you're looking for.”
Visit robotbase.com for their informative and slightly terrifying video.
$2,000, but available for pre-order via Kickstarter for $1.195
One final piece of advice in this new era of connectivity: Keep an eye on your toaster, because it is keeping an eye on you, just waiting to join the rise of our machine overlords.
Joe Wos is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.