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Aki’s eye: Rise of the robots

Aki Anastasiou - the ‘Greek Geek’ - reports back from the Consumer Electronics Show recently held in Las Vegas.

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is the springboard for future technologies and gives us a hint of what consumer technology trends we can expect in the year ahead. This is where the first DVD, flat-screen TV and VCR were all launched.

The show is huge; this year, it attracted over 170 000 visitors and 3 800 companies that exhibited in a space of approximately 40 soccer fields. The show was dominated by the smart home, virtual reality, healthcare, drones and a glimpse into the future of cars – everything is getting smarter.

What I found intriguing at CES is how robotics is slowly creeping into our lives. Hollywood has showcased many future worlds involving robots in movies like I, Robot and Wall-E and these are slowly becoming plausible scenarios. We’re not quite there yet, but with the next generation of smart sensors and artificial intelligence becoming more human-like, the innovation acceleration curve is set for massive growth. Apart from the vacuum cleaners and window-washing devices that work autonomously, the robot that stood out this year came from the makers of the Segway. The Segway Advanced Personal Robot is a hover board on steroids, or a personal transporter. It also has multiple cameras and sensors as well as the ability to add extra items – such as arms – when needed. Think of it as a butler or assistant of the future. The Segway Robot is still very basic, but what makes it exciting is its potential. It has been designed as an open platform, which means developers can now innovate services around the technology.

Drones

Drones were everywhere. From tiny ones that fit into the palm of your hand to one designed to transport people. For the most part, the drones at CES were essentially really cool toys with fantastic cameras. The Lily Camera drone is extraordinary: you switch it on, throw it in the air and it automatically starts to fly. It’s designed to follow you and record whatever you’re doing in high definition. Did I mention it’s also waterproof.

The Lily Camera drone The Lily Camera drone
One drone that had everyone talking came from Chinese manufacturer Ehang: the Ehang 184 is a one-man autonomous quadricopter that flies you to your destination without a pilot. It’s still in prototype mode and faces many regulatory issues. Great idea, but I’m not sure I would feel comfortable in it.

Ehang 184 Ehang 184

Cars

Self-driving cars get everyone talking, but the reality is that we’re probably a decade away from them going completely mainstream in the consumer world. Semi-autonomous was the buzzword this year. Vehicles are becoming even more connected and smart sensors in the cars are making us drive safer; the technology will assist the driver in the same way autopilot assists in aviation. Where the trend is going is in electric cars. As battery technology improves, we’re set for electric car sales to surpass those powered by fuel ones halfway through the next decade, and that’s a game changer.

Smart homes, smart everything

The Internet of Things has stamped its mark in the home. It’s matured to a point where it works well and has become useful. There were a plethora of locks that will allow you to access your home digitally. Traditional kitchen appliances are in the process of getting digital enhancements. The coolest appliance this year was Samsung’s Family Hub Refrigerator. It has a 21-inch HD screen on the door, with three cameras pointing to the inside of the fridge. Every time you open and close the fridge, it takes snaps of the contents and can display them on the screen. You can access these via an app just in case you’re out shopping and can’t remember what you need. The screen also displays a calendar and photos, and can even stream content.

Samsung’s Family Hub Refrigerator Samsung’s Family Hub Refrigerator

Healthcare

Healthcare is probably going to offer one of the most significant technological breakthroughs for consumers. Sensors and big data are driving the revolution of digital health in our homes and personal lives. This year, devices that measured most aspects of our bodies gave us a glimpse into an industry that promises to check in on your health as often as you check your e-mail.

The Withings Thermo is a WiFi-connected temporal artery thermometer that has 16 built-in sensors that measure the temperature via the temporal artery on the side of the head. The sensors take 4 000 measurements in two seconds, then run the data through an algorithm to give you a precise reading.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality is the one technology that has massive potential, but is a still a bit fragmented. The problem with VR is that it’s not easily accessible to consumers – yet. You have the very expensive headsets and the very cheap ones. The experience on the high-end devices is exceptional and only once you try a VR headset do you understand that the potential is massive. What makes the VR experience is how immersive and personal it is. And that’s the unique selling point of VR. If you’re prepared to pay, the Oculus Rift VR will cost you $600 when it launches at end of March.

Oculus Rift VR Oculus Rift VR

 The weirdest product at CES 2016

There were over 20 000 gadgets launched this year. Some were really smart, and some left you thinking, ‘who will ever use that?’ There were activity trackers for dogs and even a smart pet bowl that sent information to your smartphone alerting you what your dog has eaten. But the gadget that takes the prize for the weirdest idea is Oombrella. This digital umbrella with WiFi sends you updates on the weather, alerting you if you will need the brolly. If you forget it at a restaurant or anywhere else, it will send you an alert so you never lose an umbrella again.

Oombrella Oombrella
With economies and consumers globally being hamstrung financially, there was a sense that the really good stuff is being held back at CES. Having said that, what’s evident is that we’re fast moving to a world where everything is being connected to the internet.

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