Emerging technology preview
Robots, fuel cells, and even more new wireless standards
By Rafe Needleman
December 16, 2005
This year at CES, there will be an entire pavilion devoted to emerging technologies--prototypes, betas, start-ups, and whole new product categories. CES as a whole is based on new technology, but this is where the way-out-there stuff will be found. We'll be looking at a few emerging areas in particular. Robotics
Robotic toys keep getting smarter (Wowee's Robosapien
) and weirder (the Alive Chimpanzee
). But household utility robots are becoming genuinely useful, too. iRobot's vacuum-cleaner Roomba
improves with each version. Also at the show, Honda will show off its Asimo
robot, always a crowd-pleaser. Sony usually has a good display of robot house pets
and midget Qrios
as well. We look forward to a bot throw-down in the CES taxi line. Energy
All the new features on laptops and cell phones make them thirsty little gadgets in terms of energy. And batteries just can't keep up. In a year or so, you may be able to slake your gadgets' thirst for power by topping off their tanks with liquid fuel to power micro fuel cells. The first gadget-powering fuel cells you're likely to see are external single-use batteries such as those made by Medis
. But most major electronics companies are experimenting with built-in fuel-cell power
to completely replace batteries.
CES should also highlight new solar technologies, such as Konarka's roll-up solar panels
, which can be laid on building rooftops like tar paper. New wireless technologies
If you've just wrapped your mind around Wi-Fi, WiMax, and Bluetooth, prepare to have your head explode at CES, where new wireless technologies such as ZigBee
and Wireless USB will be on display--hopefully with real products to showcase them.
ZigBee is a low-power wireless technology that will be used first for home automation--controlling light switches and thermostats. It's a competitor to the wired X10 standard. It's especially innovative because it is a mesh
technology. Each ZigBee device in a network hands off data not meant for it to other devices on the network. This allows low-power devices to communicate with other devices outside of their immediate radio range.
Wireless USB is a short-range, high-speed network that may take off as an interconnect standard for things such as storage devices and display screens. Its secret sauce is its use of ultra-wide-band technology to send a lot of data over a broad spectrum of frequencies, instead of just a narrow band as most current data radios do. Internet TV
The television is no longer a dumb box. It's becoming, instead, a smart platform for new media and applications. TiVo is testing a podcasting service
, for example, and telecom carriers such as AT&T are trying to get into the interactive TV business. Almost all of the new IPTV concepts depend on the Internet, and with the Net as the foundation of IPTV, almost anything is possible, from interactive programming to commerce to highly personalized content. The killer IPTV app hasn't been invented yet, but we keep looking for it.
A similar thing is happening to the phone system: VoIP
puts your phone company on the Net, and the possibilities are endless. Skype
recently added video calling, for example, and we expect to see more VoIP innovation at CES.