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CES: A Curated Collection of Weird

Parsing the Wild, Wacky From Las Vegas’s Annual Gadget Gathering 1/19/2016 10:00 AM

By now, you’ve read about the top-line trends of this year’s CES: The sensor-ization of just about everything. The virtual reality abundanza. The increasingly gorgeous, increasingly gigantic 4K/ Ultra HD TV screens, this year tricked out with a three-letter acronym — HDR, for High Dynamic Range — the stuff that makes the picture brighter.

 

This week’s column thus checks in on the usual rash of weird and/or interesting stuff, strewn across 2 million-plus square feet of show floors.

 

Starting with the WowWee robotic dog, CHiP, with built-in artificial intelligence “to give owners the most authentic pet experience — without the mess of a real dog.”

 

It was cute, it could fetch a ball, and it could sync to a phone, but I’ll take the mess of a real dog any day, thank you very much. (Available in third-quarter 2016 for $200.)

 

If you live in a drought state, as many of us in the American West do, there’s the Hydrao smart showerhead. It lights up in different colors to show how much water you’re using. It’s water-powered (appropos!), $100, and available early next year (or on Kickstarter in September.)

 

TECH TIE-UP

How about a connected shoe, with an insole that’s both a heater and a shock absorber — with an app that automatically tightens the laces? Oh baby oh baby. That’s from Digitsole; pre-sales start next month at a “special” (unspecified) price.

 

Here’s one for anyone sick of doing laundry: The “Laundroid” robot, from Seven Dreamers, designed to fold laundry. Put in a shirt, close the door, wait five minutes, open the door, voila — it’s folded.

 

It can do t-shirts, collared shirts, skirts, shorts, trousers, and towels. (Sorry, you’ll have to find, pair and fold your socks on your own.)

 

Chronic pain? Make it go away with Quell’s “wearable pain relief” gizmo. Attach it just below the knee, click a button, and it lights up a “wearable intensive nerve stimulator,” every other hour, to block pain signals and provide “widespread pain relief.”

 

And for this year’s batch of pure Dick Tracy, there’s the OKTO ring, essentially a handset disguised as a ring, complete with speaker and microphone. “Just cup your hand over your ear and start talking.” Uh, ok — but why? We already know what an ear does to a screen. Ewww.

 

If your 10 digits are already bejeweled, you could always plunk an OKTO onto Naran Inc.’s wireless robotic finger, that can “push buttons just like a human finger.” (Huh?)

 

For the nutritionally-obsessed, there’s the “SmartyPans,” a $299 cooking pan that uses voice commands, weight and temperature sensors, and an app (of course!) to ply you with nutritional info about what you’re cooking. Here’s how it works: You tell the pan what’s going in — Shallots! Butter! Garlic! — and it tells you calories and nutritional value.

 

If you, too, are at the age and stage that involves eldercare, and are ceaselessly on the lookout for massive technological simplification (including asking 3D printer people if they could make a snap-on cover for an Xfinity remote that exposes only the buttons for volume, channel and power), check out the Nucleus tablet. Billed as a “smart home intercom,” it nonetheless looks useful for anyone bedeviled by buttons, swipes and passwords. Push the face of the person to call, it calls. Or, just say it out loud — “Nucleus, call George.” Hello, George.

 

Likewise for the “Grand Pad,” a tablet specifically designed for seniors. Lots more apps and buttons than the Nucleus, but tested to work with people over 75.

 

Tired of waking up to any kind of alarm sound? Done with alarms that awaken by slowly turning on the lights? Here’s a swell alternative: The Sensor-Wake, which brings your nose into your awakenings.

 

Bonus: A toast-scented capsule is included with every clock! Buy before June, get the clock and three capsules for $89. Available scents: Croissant, espresso, seaside, lush jungle, chocolate, and peppermint.

 

And for the musically challenged, the “Best of CES” area featured a big white piano, connected of course. They call it — you guessed it — the Smart Piano. It’s tablet-or smartphone-controlled, with LED lights on the keys to illuminate the notes to be played.

 

2016: THE YEAR OF VR

That’s a sampling of the wacky stuff at this year’s CES. One closing comment: If you’ve not experienced virtual reality yet, do it this year. It’s astonishing and riveting. But know going in that it’s a solitary existence.

 

For anyone watching you VR from the real reality, well … watching people engage in VR gives new meaning to the word “awkward.” As in VR partakers often look like they’ve had way too many adult beverages.

 

Seriously: You really don’t want an audience when VR-ing. Trust us.