Last week, throngs of entrepreneurs, journalists, and nerds stormed Las Vegas, Nevada for the annual Consumer Electronics Show, a science fair of the latest, greatest, and soon-to-be-outdated-est technologies, gadgets and electronics services.
Sometimes, like when the camcorder and compact disc player were revealed at CES in 1981, the products on display are revolutionary and world-changing. Other years, like 2013, the most interesting products are the small gems that surround overhyped, iterative technological advances. CES 2014 saw a mix of the two, with banner product announcements from companies like PlayStation competing with the next wave of 4K televisions, curved displays, and one-use gizmos.
Michael Bay made the first headlines of the expo when he went blank during a Samsung keynote, blaming a teleprompter gaffe for muffing his lines and transforming from pitchman into an exit-seeking missile. He was there to hype the Korean brand’s new line of curved television sets, which are said to provide an even more theatre-like experience to television viewers at home. This is thanks to screens of up to 110-inches and ‘an algorithm that analyses regions of images and automatically adjusts contrast for a greater sense of depth – giving an almost 3D like effect without glasses.’ Though curved screens on mobile devices could prove to be a transformative technology, we’re not sure we’ll be shelling out $152,000 for one of these TV sets anytime soon.
Bay’s 4K implosion proved to be the biggest crossover headline grabber of this year’s CES, but that doesn’t mean the show was without its highlights. Below are some of the most interesting things we saw picking through the silicon at CES in 2014.
Ekso Bionics / Ekso
California company Ekso Bionics was on hand to showcase one of the more life-changing technologies of the year. Among the smart watches and other wearable devices, Ekso Bionics' robotic exoskeleton stood out as a highly functional, transformative technology. Using battery-powered motors, the mechanical skeleton allows people with leg injuries to stand up and walk with a natural gait, thanks to load-bearing systems that are activated by sensors when the users' weight shifts. Though it comes with a hefty $110,000 price tag, the Ekso uses technology to help give people the ability to walk again, which is pretty incredible.
Valve / Steam Machines
No, not machines powered by hot air, although that is perhaps a fitting description of some CES pitches. Instead, we’re interested to see the progression of physical hardware for gaming company Valve’s innovative PC gaming service Steam. Valve announced that 13 different hardware suppliers are building Steam Machines, utilising the brand’s open source SteamOS to move the system into the console world, starting with 300 beta prototypes that have already been shipped to Steam users. The machines vary in look, size, and function, and range from $499 to a staggering $6,000. With gaming continuing to blow up—it was just announced that Grand Theft Auto 5 outsold the entire music industry in its month of release—we’ll keep an eye on the progression of the Steam Machines.
Oculus Rift / Crystal Cove
Another gaming release came from Oculus Rift, makers of the virtual reality headset that is poised to change gaming as we know it. If you were at Most Contagious you got a chance to wear a first-generation Rift, but the latest iteration, dubbed Crystal Cove, sports a crisp 1080p OLED display and has reduced the amount of blur when users move their heads from side to side. What’s more, the headset has introduced the ability to move within virtual worlds by tilting your head certain ways, an ability not found in previous prototypes of the headset. It’s an iterative advance, to be sure, but one that puts the Oculus Rift even closer to hitting retail. The prototype has been widely acclaimed as the best product seen at CES this year.
Car-related tech dominated alongside gaming at CES this year, thanks to announcements big and small from major manufacturers and tech companies alike.
Toyota revealed a potential game changer when it announced it is preparing to launch the first mass-produced hydrogen-powered fuel cell car as early as 2015. The company is planning to spend $200 million installing fuel cell powering stations in California by 2015, and hopes to build from there. The cars feature three times the range of current electric cars and the hydrogen fuel cells can be refilled in under five minutes.
Technology is also continuing to make a big push inside the car.
Audi announced its intention to ‘turn science fiction into science fact’ via an Android-powered tablet dubbed Audi Smart Display, and revealed that Audi autos will soon feature AT&T LTE service. Hyundai revealed that its 2015 Genesis will allow Google Glass wearers to connect to the in-car Blue Link system via a Glass app. Earlier in the week, Audi, GM, Hyundai and Honda, along with Google, announced the Open Automotive Alliance, a commitment to develop carware on the Android platform.
Meanwhile BMW showcased a faster, smarter self-driving car capable of finding its own parking space, and Chevrolet announced an integrated Performance Data Recorder that uses video and data to create a fun visual display of a drive.
The Little Things
Like last year, some of the things that most caught our eye were the little things that don’t necessarily look like much on their own, but add up to big possibilities. June by Netatmo, for example, is a sun-sensing bracelet that can let the wearer know when it’s time to get out of the sun. Another small but potentially mighty piece of tech is Green Driver, an app that taps into infrastructure technology to notify drivers when the stoplight they’re stalled at is about to turn green. These two pieces of tech may seem like they simply do things we should be able to do on our own, but they represent the types of small functionality that, when baked into a system like Google Glass for our car, will truly redefine our connected future.