Off-the-beaten-track at CES 2013

Forget the big brands and glitzy devices. There's a lot of interesting stuff on the periphery of the Consumer Electronics Show.

LAS VEGAS--Samsung. Panasonic. Sony. Intel. Qualcomm. All have big booths pitching smartphones, smart TVs, smart tablets, smart cameras -- you name it.

But my first day at CES 2013 was spent wandering around exploring things from companies you've likely never heard of. And there's some interesting stuff out there!

Most of my time yesterday at CES was spent wandering the South Hall. What I'll cover below are things that caught my eye. Not all of these are necessarily new products, and this will be far from a comprehensive roundup within product categories. But I hope you'll find it interesting.

Take your phone underwater
One of my favorite finds was an inexpensive pouch from DiCAPac that lets you use your smartphone even if you're in water.

Sure, you've got waterproof cases out there like the Armor series from OtterBox. But at around $100, it's overkill for what I need: something light to protect my phone when I go paddleboarding, on the off-chance I might fall off.

Similarly, the Griffin Survivor is expensive at $80. The LifeProof, now down to around $45, is less expensive. But at $20 to $25, the DiCAPac cases beat them all.

DiCAPac waterproof case Danny Sullivan

Do they really work? Well, my phone is working fine, after I dropped it into that fishtank above, while in one of the pouches. With luck, I'll never put it to a torture test, however. I'm not planning to use my phone in the water. I just want protection if I accidentally drop it. That's also another plus about the DiCAPac pouches. They float.

Hopefully I'll avoid dropping my phone at all, given that the pouches come with a long neck strap. As for why I'd even want a phone while paddleboarding, that's mainly for pictures. It's nice to get a shot of a great sunset or sea lions or other things I might spot. And again, this is where the pouch so far works well. You can tap the pouch down to your phone's touchscreen, and all the controls really work.

Will the pictures be blurry, shooting through the plastic? DiCAPac says it should be fine. We'll see.

There are similar products out there. A short walk away, the SEaLABox was being offered. And after returning from the show floor, some searching came up with AquaPac, which has similar looking pouches. A Wired review of waterproof case also led me to Ecases from Cascade Designs. I especially like the iSeries with a waterproof headphone jack. That might let me hook a cheap pair of headphones up to my iPhone or iPod, so I can listen to tunes while paddling away.

Mind over matter
Of course, I might never drop my phone at all if I could develop telekinetic powers. That's not so science fiction, any longer. There are a number of devices out there where using your mind, you can move matter -- or at least transmit signals to electronics that will then move themselves.

NeuroSky, which provides EEG sensor technology to enable mind-over-matter devices, had a booth with products from a variety of partners, including The Force Trainer, to help young Jedis (and hopefully not young Siths) develop their powers.

But it was the Puzzlebox Brain Controlled Helicopter that was the star attraction. First there was a remote control helicopter craze. Then there was the Parrot smartphone controlled helicopter. This is 2013. If you're going to fly, you fly with your mind!

Steve Castellotti, flying the Puzzlebox helicopter with his mind Danny Sullivan

Steve Castellotti, CTO of Puzzlebox, let me have a go. You have to concentrate on something, anything, and the more you stay focused on that task, the more the helicopter will stay airborne. It automatically tries to hover in the same place, so you're not trying to fly it around the room. You're just trying to keep it aloft.

For the record, singing the lyrics to Katy Perry's California Gurls in my head worked pretty well, but repeating the spelling of antidisestablishmentarianism over and over worked the best. I'm glad memorizing the spelling of that word back in fifth grade finally paid off.

I've Fallen & I Can't Get Up 2.0
Many people have seen the classic "I've fallen and I can't get up" commercials, where an elderly woman summons help through a pendant that lets her call a monitoring and assistance service.

Well, the next generation of assistance services are here, where technology will know if you've fallen and get help without you even asking.

GoSafe by Philips Lifeline Danny Sullivan

That, at least, is what Philips Lifeline says it offers in its pendant. It can detect if you've fallen. It knows your location. And it'll make that call for you, when you can't, apparently.

Perhaps somewhat related, having trouble hearing on the phone as you're getting older? Hard to hit those little keys? Would pictures help you dial the right number? Well, just across from Philips, the Sonic Alert booth had those needs covered:

Sonic Alert phones Danny Sullivan

Everybody wants to track your fitness
Speaking of health, how about staying healthy by monitoring your activity. Yeah, yeah. Fitbit. I still don't have one. Since I inline skate for exercise rather than run, I've never felt it's going to track my activity well.

But if you're like me and have avoided the Fitbit craze, look out. Booth after booth at CES seemed to be offering some type of activity tracker.

One that stood out was from Withings, the company that makes the wireless scale that I keep thinking is overkill. It will be releasing its Smart Activity Tracker . And you know that scale, sending data to my smartphone? Suddenly, that's looking pretty cool. Fitbit itself has a new band-based tracker called the Fitbit Flex that's coming.

What really caught my eye were the ibitz "family fitness keys" from GeoPalz. How could they not. Look at those colors!

ibitz family fitness keys Danny Sullivan

The versions for kids link to a game on their smartphone. They need to stay fit to keep their virtual characters fit. Kind of smart. For adults, there's more traditional tracking, plus options for monitoring your kids.

Ready to buy? Well, you can't. You can pre-order, and if enough people do, then the device will actually ship. So far, practically no one has ordered. Well, it was just announced. The product looks pretty cool; I hope it makes it.

Sports cameras everywhere!
Years ago, I got a Contour video camera that attached to my goggles, letting me film while I'm snowboarding. It drew looks, because there were so few people who had ruggedized cameras like that.

These days, we're well into the GoPro generation, it seems. With an array of devices to attach GoPro cameras to virtually any type of sporting equipment, GoPro seems to have become the standard in the space. Or at least my kids sure feel that way. For them and their friends, GoPro is cool. And I certainly do see GoPros far more than any other camera on the slopes.

If GoPro is king, perhaps this is the year where the rabble has turned out to try and unseat it. This year at CES, it seemed as if I was running into a GoPro competitor around every aisle.

And 170 degrees field of vision is so 2012. For 2013, it's all about the 360, or so the people at Geonaute would hope you believe. They've got a Geonaute 360 sports camera that shoots from all directions, so if you ever wanted to pretend you were a Google StreetView car, check it out:

Geonaute 360 Danny Sullivan

Price? Release date? Sadly, the Geonaute site is lacking this. But maybe after CES, they'll provide some updates.

But who wants yet another camera sticking up off their helmet? The folks at Liquid Image have cameras built right into goggles:

Liquid Image camera googles Danny Sullivan

Mmm. But then again, the folks at iON have a barrel-like format that reminds me of my old Contour, which I loved in how it could tuck it away against my googles, rather than stick off my helmet:

iON sports cameras Danny Sullivan

I actually didn't see these on the CES show floor but rather at the Pepcon Digital Experience event on Monday. Alas, there's no yet a way to attach them to your goggles, but I'm told that's coming.

Of course, maybe you'd prefer a Vivitar action camera:

Vivitar action camera Danny Sullivan

Or a Polaroid one:

Polaroid action camera Danny Sullivan

Or this GoPro clone:

Iron X Action Cam Danny Sullivan

Well, if you really want that one, sorry -- I didn't stop long enough to catch the maker's name, and I can't find anything about it on the web. I mainly took it as yet another example of how action cameras were everywhere. I half-expected to find a "My Little Pony" action cam. Actually, it's probably out there, if I look hard enough.

Seeing all of these, I kept wondering if they'd eventually go the way of the dodo, when someone comes up with a way to make our smartphones do the same job. Turns out, Hitcase has a product at CES aiming to do that. I didn't see it, but CNET writer Amanda Kooser did and has a review .

And yes, GoPro was at the show with a big booth and cameras looking as compelling as ever. It even survived the CNET torture test of dunking it in liquid nitrogen .

3D Printing, movie posters as the new QR codes and more
But wait, there's more! Like the MakerBot booth being overrun by those curious to see some of its 3D printing creations:

MakerBot creations Danny Sullivan
MakerBot makes the Las Vegas sign Danny Sullivan

Can't afford the MakerBot Replicator 2X that was unveiled at CES this week ? Well, $2,800 is pretty pricey. How about effectively renting? The Sculpteo booth was touting how you can submit your own 3D models through the cloud for printing with its facilities. There's even a Made In 3D contest happening now to get you motivated.

Meanwhile, Paramount Pictures is super-excited about an app it has for the upcoming Star Trek Into Darkness movie. Developed by Qualcomm Labs and aided by buzzwords that range from "context awareness technologies" to "geo-location recognition" to, oh, just go read the press release.

Cynicism aside, the app was pretty amazing in that when you pointed the phone with the app open at the Star Trek movie poster, it registered the poster within seconds of pushing the scan button, adding points to your app. It was like scanning a QR code, only the entire poster was the QR code -- and a pretty one:

Star Trek Into Darkness app Danny Sullivan

Maybe this app will turn out to be fun. You can sign up here to be notified when it's available. Of course, app or not, I'm going to the next Star Trek movie. Who wouldn't?

Meanwhile, candy anyone?

Anything can be made to look like candy Danny Sullivan

Candy-themed headphones aren't new -- CNET had a review of them back in 2009. But still, candy! The display above is just one of the many examples of odd, strange or wondrous things you find off the beaten track at CES.

Blade Runnerize your home
One of my very favorite finds were the "LED balls" that Samsung LED Signs sells:

LED Balls Danny Sullivan

Logos spin around and around inside the balls. Presumably, you could have the LEDs make all types of pictures. For some reason, it reminded me of something out of the movie, Blade Runner.

For those with $1,000 to $1,600 to toss around, these might be the ideal conversation piece for the living room. But it's more likely that business trying to attract customers may want them. They sure pulled me in.

And no, despite the Samsung name, Samsung LED Signs apparently isn't connected with the big Samsung electronics group.

I'll leave off with this last bit of high tech from the wilds of CES that I guarantee won't make it into any other press write-up from the show:

Antennas Danny Sullivan
That's right. Antennas. They're making a comeback. You read it here first.

 

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