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At CES' Eureka Park, tinkerers swing for the big time

CES has a new startup section, and it's packed with garage tinkerers trying to live out their dreams. A few of note include lens maker Kogeto, rubber-ring maker TxtRng, and robotics company Ologic.

Paul Sloan Former Editor
Paul Sloan is editor in chief of CNET News. Before joining CNET, he had been a San Francisco-based correspondent for Fortune magazine, an editor at large for Business 2.0 magazine, and a senior producer for CNN. When his fingers aren't on a keyboard, they're usually on a guitar. Email him here.
Paul Sloan
2 min read
Amp, a robot that plays streaming music. Paul Sloan/CNET

LAS VEGAS--Most of the attention at CES, naturally, is on the big guns: Microsoft, Samsung, LG, Sony, and on and on.

And then there's Eureka Park.

This is CES' first big attempt at creating a place specifically for startups. It takes up a couple of big rooms in the Venetian Hotel. I walked around this morning, while many of the exhibitors were just setting up. There are 96 in all, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

A range of businesses are here, and some, like Kogeto, which makes the Dot camera lens I wrote about, have some impressive technology and clearly could become big products.

Eureka Park is also packed with with tinkerers: one- and two-person outfits that have traveled to Las Vegas with the hopes of getting discovered, no matter how quirky their products might seem.

Marni Peters with her texting ring Paul Sloan/CNET

A ring for texting?
Take TxtRng, which Marni Peters launched with a $30,000 investment from her father. These are rubber rings you put on your thumbs. The nipples are styluses, and the idea came about when Peters was trying to help her mom text on a touch-screen phone.

I've tried the rings out and, to me, they're silly. But Peters says some older people love them, as do some teens who have tried them. She says people use them not just to text, but to use handwriting programs on iPads and to play games.

"A lot of people look at my ring and say, 'I don't get it," concedes Peters, who traveled here from Gastonia, N.C., and is hoping to land distribution deals at CES. "And a huge portion of people say, 'I hate my phone.' And this makes their experience become so much better. They can hit the keys and navigate the screen any way they want."

Robots galore
Robots are big here too, and Ologic founder Ted Larson has brought his robot toys here from Sunnyvale, Calif., as he tries to get attention and raise cash.

Turn your smartphone into a robot. Paul Sloan/CNET

"We really need money," he told me.

He's got the Amp robot (above), which is outfitted with speakers and plays streaming music from your phones, as it rolls around the house. That one he's hoping to get into production and sell for between $300 and $400.

More likely to succeed, though, is the toy robot he calls the Oddwerx Animal. It turns your smartphone into a robot. Using an app and Bluetooth connectivity, your phone communicates with the robot on which the phone sits.

If Larson gets enough money, he'll make these and sell them as a kit for about $99. The kits lets you set up your robot so it uses tracks, legs, or wheels.

The app uses the camera, and it recognizes objects or faces. The robot is designed to ask for a toy, if it spots one it wants. At one point, as I was talking to Larson, Oddwerx Animal turned toward me and took my photo.

That's one way to get attention.