Meet Belty, the ridiculous but strangely popular showstealer of CES Unveiled

A smart belt that slims or expands to adjust to granular changes to your waistline. Because why not.

Nick Statt Former Staff Reporter / News
Nick Statt was a staff reporter for CNET News covering Microsoft, gaming, and technology you sometimes wear. He previously wrote for ReadWrite, was a news associate at the social-news app Flipboard, and his work has appeared in Popular Science and Newsweek. When not complaining about Bay Area bagel quality, he can be found spending a questionable amount of time contemplating his relationship with video games.
Nick Statt
3 min read

Make room for Belty, a smart pant-holding device that slims or expands to adjust to granular changes to your waistline. It is not a joke. Nick Statt/CNET

LAS VEGAS -- Rarely does does a new technology product break the mold and truly stand out amid a chaotic contest like the annual Consumer Electronics Show.

Here at CES 2015's first big showcase -- called CES Unveiled -- there's nearly every cutting edge product category under the sun being pitched by companies you may have never heard of and may never hear from again, from pocket-size drones and palm-size robots to new iterations of headphones, speakers, smart bikes and anything that can fit a screen.

And every single one of those gadget makers wishes they could do what Belty did Sunday night, which is turn heads and, in this particular instance, get camera operators to zoom in uncomfortably on the waistlines of complete strangers.

The "smart belt" prototype, out later this year, from Paris-based startup Emiota is admittedly hideous. It's even more strange a sight to see eager photographers snap shots of the contraption when strapped to the waistline of trenchcoat-wearing Emiota co-founder Bertrand Duplat. Yet the device is a standout hit. Onlookers here at Unveiled can't help but stop, either to gawk at it being worn, pontificate on its use or simply revel in the untested reaches of wearable technology.

Belty drew scores of curious onlookers unashamed to photograph the device up close. Nick Statt/CNET

Duplat wanted a device that would help track lesser known fitness and health features, like daily changes to your waist as you go about your day, exercise and, of course, gorge yourself. The device is a hulking, heavy-looking snake of metal resembling something a superhero might design three or four iterations from the crime-fighting-ready version. It will slim and expand itself on your waist using built-in motors depending on if you're sitting down -- or if just ate way too much. Duplat even cooked up a clever one-line pitch, telling passersby that "the belt experience hasn't changed in centuries," until Belty.

The popularity of a motorized smart belt, either out of genuine curiosity or incredulous cynicism, says volumes about CES in 2015. The participants of the annual tech extravaganza, media included, have become engulfed by a desire to seek out and deliver to the world something new, even as barely 12-month-old marvels become this year's has-been's and also-ran's.

Yet having ingested year after year of carefully crafted presentations from large tech companies, the things that pop out at here are either ridiculous or unnecessarily showy and tend to come from never-before-seen companies, like Emiota, offering products that are not subtle or practical in a way tech with true staying power tends to be. Products like Belty, while desired by possibly zero mainstream consumers, turn heads because they seem to be more representative of a parody of where tech is heading rather than a shining example of where it should go.

On the bright side, Emiota appears to have the right idea about wearable tech in general, putting aside its coining of the term "awarable" to describe its smart belt. Emiota's founders are confident that wearable tech will succeed not by adding something to our lives, but by modifying what we already wear. That means shoes, glasses, watches and, yes, belts make the perfect categories -- and the market has more or less been playing out exactly like that as the smartwatch race heats up in 2015 and smart glasses, like Google's Glass headset, take the backseat until they're less obtrusive.

In the words of Emiota co-founder Carine Coulm, the belt is after all "the only place you can add a lot of weight" to the device, making it a good place to load with sensors and other components. Let's hope Belty's next iteration, however, is slightly less heavy, and a little more attractive.