CES wraps up week of big screens, 'smart' speakers, tech to improve lives
LAS VEGAS — Laundroid stood out in a sea of robots at the world's largest electronics and technology show last week in Las Vegas.
What distinguished the laundry-folding robot wasn't its bulk — about the size of a refrigerator — its sleek, mirrored design, or its price tag, a whopping $16,000.
It was the vision of its inventor, Shin Sakane, who wants technology to perform difficult or tiresome tasks (such as folding laundry, which nobody likes) that would improve people's lives.
"We have four kids, and my wife also hated to fold laundry," said Sakane, founder of Seven Dreamers Laboratories in Tokyo. "Actually, this was her idea."
CES wrapped up in Las Vegas with much of what was expected. Televisions got larger, with Sony, Samsung, LG and others showing off 80-inch-plus 8K screens. Cameras got smaller. Orbi launched a pair of eyeglasses equipped with four high-definition video cameras to capture 360-degree video.
Here's Adil talking about Orbi, glasses with a 360 camera built in pic.twitter.com/VdHUUDGli0— Aaron Aupperlee (@tinynotebook) January 8, 2018
Computers got faster and more powerful. Intel released microchips ready for artificial intelligence and virtual reality. The promise of a 5G cellular network and its ability to handle the massive amounts of data required by self-driving cars and AI created a lot of buzz.
Speaker systems added Alexa or Google Assistant connectivity. JBL unveiled LINK View, a speaker with a screen so you can not only ask Google to find and read you a recipe for dinner but show it to you as well.
Everything got "smarter." When someone at the show was asked why we need a smart shower, she replied, "Why not?"
But scattered among the throngs of people, gizmos and gadgets were products that could truly improve lives.
"The good news is they celebrate all kinds of innovation here," said Brian Martin, a CES veteran who attends the show each year looking for trends and game-changing products to pass along to the ad agencies where he leads new business and marketing initiatives.
Martin said he sees innovation taking place in health and medicine. He found a device the size of pen that people can rub on bug bites to take away the itch and irritation.
"That's pretty cool. That seems like everyone could use it," Martin said.
Philips debuted a device developed largely in Western Pennsylvania to improve the quality of sleep. SmartSleep is a headband you wear to bed that uses subtle tones to enhance your sleep and gives you the benefit of a full night's rest even if you have only five or six hours.
E-Vone announced a line of shoes for senior citizens that alerts a family member or caregiver if grandma or grandpa falls, and Hip'Air brought a belt with airbags inside that are designed to inflate if someone is falling to cushion the landing.
Ember had a big 2017 with its mugs that keep coffee and other beverages at your desired temperature. They are definitely a "make life cooler" — or hotter, depending on your setting — type of product.
"But that's just the beginning," said Daniel Gober, marketing coordinator for Ember.
Ember is working on using its temperature control technology to keep vaccines at the proper temperature while transporting them, Gober said. Many vaccines are ruined during transport, a problem Gober hopes Ember can solve.
There were personal blood-alcohol trackers from BACTrack to help people make more responsible decisions while drinking; LiDAR from Velodyne, which will allow self-driving cars to see twice as far; and FIXD, a device that plugs into you car's on-board diagnostics port and will not only tell you why the check engine is on but how much it will cost to fix it and what might happen if you continue to ignore it.
CES is enormous. The show swallowed the 2.75 million square feet of exhibit space at the Las Vegas Convention Center and the ballrooms, meetings rooms and hallways throughout Las Vegas. More than 3,900 companies exhibited. More than 170,000 people attended. And 7,000 journalists were there to cover it. There were more than 860,000 tweets about CES.
Companies use CES to debut their latest products to sell. And they will sell them.
The Consumer Technology Association, the trade group that organizes CES, predicts revenue from technology sales in the United States will reach a record $351 billion in 2018, according to a forecast released at the show. Smartphones will lead the way with $62.9 billion in revenue. Sales of smart speakers, like Amazon's Echo or Google Home, are expected to grow by more than 90 percent.
Sakane will start selling Laundroids by the end of the year. It took him and his team of designers and engineers 13 years of tinkering to get to this point.
The robot isn't perfect. It takes about 15 minutes to fold one shirt or pair of pants and costs too much, Sakane said. As Laundroid's artificial intelligence improves, Sakane hopes to bring folding time to about five minutes per item. As more Laundroids are produced, he hopes to bring the cost below $2,000.
"People spend more than 9,000 hours folding laundry," Sakane said, noting that equals about 375 days, a little more than a year of their lives. "So we thought if we automate this process, we could create very valuable time and days for people's lives."
Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com, 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.