CES emerging tech wrap-up
Cool tech ideas highlight CES 2006
By Rafe Needleman
January 9, 2006
CES was all about new technologies. But if you got off the main floor at the show, you could find stuff that's beyond new--ideas that aren't yet in products. As expected, we got good peeks at the future in a few areas. We also stumbled across some very creative pie-in-the-sky ideas. Robotics
There were dozens of innovative robot products and ideas at CES. Lego introduced a smarter version of its popular MindStorms construction kit, but technologically, the standout was WowWee's PEA bot
. The 18-inch toy robot balances on two wheels just like a Segway. In fact, it's the first product to license Segway's technology.
Most people discount robots as either toys or killing machines (cruise missiles are flying robots), but there's a growing middle ground for truly useful domestic robotics, inhabited primarily by products from iRobot. At CES, the company introduced the Scooba
, a floor-washing robot, to complement its vacuuming line of Roombas. These products might actually do a better job at their tasks than humans could. Which is just fine with us. Energy
We expected to see a lot of fuel cells at CES, and we were not disappointed. One of the most compelling products was the Jadoo
system, which has been out for two years. This system employs metal hydride (hydrogen in a metal solution) for fuel and is designed to power 12-volt devices such as video cameras and emergency radio rechargers. On the consumer side, there were single-use fuel cells from Medis
; these are designed as emergency cell phone rechargers.
Where's your methanol-sipping laptop? Both Panasonic
and Toshiba are working on them. Toshiba is said to be closer to shipping, but the Panasonic technology, which might not arrive until 2010, is more compact.
More than one person I met at CES wanted to know when energy would be transmitted over the air, like radio waves. I didn't see any free-space power technologies at this show, but once upon a time, there was talk of building solar satellites in orbit and beaming the power down to Earth on microwaves. Perhaps we'll see smaller versions of that technology next year. Although I rather hope not. New networking technologies
Several emerging communications technologies are worth paying attention to, but like the inane Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD battle, each new networking idea has a competitive counterpart.
In the home control market, there's the standards-based ZigBee, which is battling it out with the proprietary Z-Wave
. While we'd like to give the nod to standards, the truth is that there are Z-Wave products on the market right now, and ZigBee is still in standards committees.
There's also a battle brewing for short-range cable (USB) replacement. In this battle, while the nonstandards-based Cable-Free USB
technology will be the first to market (Belkin was showing its wireless USB hub at CES), the competing standard, Wireless USB, is supported by Intel, which will give it considerable weight in the market--when it finally gets there. Internet TV
I sat on a panel at CES about the future of television. And while I would never want to discount the cleverness of the bigwigs in the traditional broadcast industries, the fact is that the Internet makes broadcast obsolete. Who needs cable or satellite when you have broadband? Indeed, at CES, ITVN
was showcasing its Internet set-top box. While there's not a ton of content for it today aside from porn, technologically this is the way content should be delivered. Look for more products like this soon and for the cable companies to (hopefully) accelerate their IP (Internet protocol) television initiatives as well. New ideas
The geek's pick of CES this year was the Celestron SkyScout
. Point it at any star in the sky, and it will tell you exactly what you are looking at. It can also take you on "tours" of the night sky.
Philips had a technology demonstration of its Entertaible
, a horizontal touch-screen 30-inch display used as a board game console. It's just the thing for leisurely games of Monopoly and Life. Take that, Xbox!