The gates of Sin City recently welcomed tech fiends to the CES trade show. The sprawling event showcases the best and most exciting new technology developments worldwide, from early prototypes to finished products. Here are the most interesting things we saw:
1. The 'breathing' iPhone
A head-turning invention was British company Intelligent Energy's 'breathing' iPhone. Drilled full of holes to bring in oxygen, the phone contains a hydrogen fuel cell that can be combined with removable cartridges to power the phone for an entire week without a charge. The power comes from the chemical reaction between the oxygen and hydrogen, so it needs access to air to work - although apparently pockets won't suffocate it. It's not the most practical solution (the cartridges are bulky and have to be replaced every week) but it's an interesting alternative to the current all-too-weak power packs in our treasured devices.
2. Everything VR
2016 has long been predicted as "the year of virtual reality". HTC showed off their much-improved headset, which was delayed from its planned release in late 2015 due to a "technological breakthrough." Having tried the earlier version, we can confirm it was worth waiting for.
The Vive Pre includes a mode called 'chaperone', facilitated by the new camera on the front of the headset. This allows you to wear the headset but still see what's going on around you - an innovation that's much cooler than it first sounds. When you switch it on, you see electric blue outlines of the people and things in your vicinity, and a quick tap adds even more visibility, meaning you can see a very clear outline of the chair you're about to crash into. This ensures people don't accidentally trample on their pets or break their toes while in the virtual universe.
Another VR trend was games that get you fit. It's great to see games that have a positive effect on the people who play them - maybe one day rather than being stereotyped as overweight and underactive, the gamers of the world will be the fittest of us all.
From an investment perspective VR is an innovation area we really like. Investing directly is difficult, but there will be a need for video processing, motion sensing and processor technologies as essential component parts. This is where listed names like Ambarella, InvenSense and ARM Holdings are set to be early beneficiaries.
3. Service robots
Science fiction has been promising us service robots for as long as we can remember. Finally, that promise is starting to come true. There's the Tennibot, which can chase your lost tennis balls; WinBot, which makes light work of cleaning large windows and patio doors to a sparkle; and even GrillBot, a robot that does the task no one likes: cleans your filthy barbecue.
But while there are lots of specialised robots on display, we haven't yet seen anything resembling Red Dwarf's multifunctional, humanoid servant Kryten - maybe that's one for CES 2020!
One of the more tiresome tech trends of 2015 was 'hoverboards' (Segways without the vertical part). CES was awash with these, and many booths had representatives using them to move around the show and harangue passers-by. With so many companies producing them, it's difficult to know which ones are safely manufactured, and most airlines have banned them due to their tendency to spontaneously ignite.
Hoverboards sparked one of the most interesting moments of the CES show - a dramatic booth raid. US marshals swept in and dismantled one of the trade show stands, ripping down posters and seizing stock. The unfortunate vendor was Changzhou First International Trade Co, which was selling what is apparently a direct copy of California-based Future Motion's product, the Onewheel. The story spread like wildfire and thanks to the Streisand effect, thousands more people are now aware of both the Onewheel and its ill-fated knockoff.
5. Next gen cars
Before the show, there was a lot of excited chatter about a hitherto unheard of company called Faraday Future. Touted as "the new Tesla," the firm was rumoured to be a front for Apple's long-awaited smart car project, but turned out to be backed by China's Netflix-like LeTV.
The company released a series of teasing videos and tweets, promising "the dawn of tomorrow" and "a new concept." Then the launch came, and they unveiled a Batmobile-style electric race car called FFZero1.
Faraday claims the vehicle can reach over 200 miles per hour, going from 0 to 60 in three seconds. It will have a glass roof, air cooling tunnels built in, your smartphone slotted into the steering wheel and even augmented reality graphics added to the road in front of you. The driver wears a helmet that provides water and oxygen, and the car collects their biometric data.
The FFZero1 was received with disbelief and disappointment. Many pundits don't expect most of the features to ever reach the market, with Faraday admitting that a production model was still several years away.
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