When you think of the companies at the annual Consumer Electronics Show, you tend to think of giants like Sharp, Samsung, Nokia, Fuji, and so forth.
That's especially true when it comes to digital imaging, a field dominated by the likes of Sony, Panasonic, and Toshiba.
But this year, CES is rolling out the red carpet to a wide range of startup companies, which will be showcasing their wares under the banner of "Eureka Park." All told, more than 80 young companies will be on hand, representing fields such as robotics, energy, digital health, gaming, and so on.
Eureka Park is CES' first "big attempt at attracting startups" in 10 years, said Karen Chupka, senior vice president of events and conferences for the Consumer Electronics Association, which puts on CES. "At that time, the effort didn't go well. It was too soon after the dot-com implosion, and too early before the next wave of tech and startup excitement."
But this year, startups are all the rage, and CES clearly wants to get in on the party, despite the hundreds of miles between Las Vegas and Silicon Valley. While CES initially hoped for 30 companies to take part, each of which had to be bringing something entirely new to market, more than 80 ended up signing on. "With the state of the economy and people going and starting on their own, the timing is good," Chupka said. "The last one was before the whole tech boom started."
One of the Eureka Park categories with the most companies expected to show up is what's being called "digital imaging."
This is, of course, very broadly defined, especially when looking at what the companies in the category actually do. Some are working on tiny projectors that can be embedded in mobile devices, others are working on new ways for mobile devices to shoot panoramic video, and still others are coming out with tablets aimed at kids.
Kogeto is a hot startup based in New York that's trying to create an entirely new space: 360-degree videos shot by smartphones.
The company has been selling its Dot device--an add-on for iPhone 4 and 4S--for some time. The little accessory makes it possible to shoot 360-degree video from anywhere.
As CEO Jeff Glasse put it, the device is designed to let its users do anything from shooting video while snowboarding--and then going back and looking at all the surrounding area around the ski run--to shooting video of the kids for grandma.
The company got going in its current format last June and now has about 15 full-time people. Glasse self-funded Kogeto from the get-go, but now it is looking for a $3 million A round.
That should help, as Glasse said that Apple is about to put Dot in all its retail stores nationwide. That means the company is having to rapidly ramp up production. At the moment, it is producing about 600 Dots a day, but Glasse said that number will rise to between 800 and 1,000 a day in order to satisfy the Apple Store needs.
For now, Dot is only available for iPhone, but Glasse said he hopes that by CES, Kogeto will be able to show off an Android version. As well, sometime in 2012, Kogeto will be rolling out what Glasse called Dot-casting--live broadcasting.
One of the technologies that will be breaking out any day now is what is known as pico projection. With this, small projectors are embedded in mobile devices, allowing users to screen videos, movies, and other information just about anywhere.
A lot of companies are playing in this space, and one of the newest is called Mezmeriz.
Spun out of Cornell Research, Mezmeriz is working on pico projection technology that takes advantage of the company's work in material science, said CEO Brad Treat. Traditionally, this type of projection system has been built on technology called MEMS (micro-electromechanical system) that is made out of silicone. But Mezmeriz is taking a different approach.
According to Treat, the company's technology utilizes high-strength carbon fiber instead of silicone, and that gives its projection system some significant advantages, he said. Among them are better power efficiency, angle of deflection, fatigue strength, and drop strength (the ability to survive being dropped).
The biggest advantage, Treat added, is that devices using Mezmeriz projection technology will have a very wide projection angle, and that could mean that users will be able to set up much closer to walls or tables or other "screens" than other such systems. And that is what could change the game, Treat said. "You can turn any surface into a screen, a tabletop, my hand, my shirt, every surface can become a screen," he added. "It really opens up the possibilities."
Though Mezmeriz will be appearing in Eureka Park, Treat said the company won't be showing its technology there. In fact, he explained that the company is appearing at the request of the National Science Foundation, one of its funders.
Although it seems the iPad has an insurmountable lead in the tablet space, that doesn't mean there's no room for other manufacturers of the small computers.
But Apple's success means that companies wanting to make a name for themselves in the field are probably best off looking to create something that has a focused target audience rather than the wide mainstream appeal of the iPad.
One company following that approach is Karuma, a Singapore-based outfit that is making a tablet aimed at kids.
Known as the PlayBase, the tablet is small--just over 325 grams, and just 9.7 millimeters thick. It has a metal rear housing and a built-in stand. It's also meant to be easy to hold due to a curved back and sides. The device runs on Android, and has a 7-inch LCD display. It comes with 8 GB of storage, but that can be augmented with up to 32 GB of Micro SD.
This is clearly a budget tablet, and meant to take on the low end of the market. Some feel it's aimed at kids, though adults looking for a cheap iPad alternative may find it attractive.