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Samsung cooks up crazy prototype gadgets like VR camera necklaces, helmet speakers

But we're not going to be able to buy these anytime soon. The gadgets and software come from its C-Lab that lets employees experiment.

Shara Tibken/CNET

This seems to be the week Samsung shows off cool gadgets we'll probably never get to buy.

First it demoed robots that sense emotion and voice-activated light switches. They're reference designs Samsung hopes customers will build using its Artik chips, not products it will sell on its own.

Then it displayed some crazy gadgets -- like a virtual reality camera you wear like a necklace and a communication device you stick on your helmet -- dreamed up by employees in Samsung's Creative Lab. The South Korean giant gives small groups of employees six months to a year to build their own product ideas, most of which will never be released by Samsung.

"Employees have some amazing ideas, but they have no use to our divisions," Chaehyun Yoo, assistant manager of Samsung's Creativity & Innovation Center, told CNET at Samsung's developer conference earlier this week here in San Francisco. "We didn't want those ideas to disappear" so Samsung launched C-Lab about three years ago to give employees time off their normal jobs to pursue their own interests.

Some of the teams will spin out as independent companies and launch their products on sites like Kickstarter. Others will never see the light of day. But Samsung used its developer conference to show off five projects C-Lab participants have been building over the past year.

VR around me

One, called AMe, is a virtual-reality camera you wear around your neck to film what's going on "Around Me." There are multiple color options, including black, white and rose gold.

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The AMe necklace lets you record video around you in 360 degrees.

Shara Tibken/CNET


"Our target is people who enjoy extreme sports like skiing or snowboarding, or a focus on the casual life like having a party with your friends," Jade Minchul, one of the AMe team members and product designer, told CNET.

The goal is for the prototype to record 360-degree video footage in ultra high definition, or 4K, and weigh under 350 grams. The group hasn't quite reached those targets, but it has two more months to develop the device. This one won't be for sale, Minchul said. The group doesn't plan to build it as a commercial product.

Talking ahead

The Ahead gadget sticks to any helmet and lets you listen to music, take and make phone calls and hear notifications read aloud.

Shara Tibken/CNET

Another prototype shown is a sort-of wearable device you can stick on to any helmet. Called "Ahead," it's a triangular gadget that lets you make and answer calls, listen to music and have notifications read out loud to you. It uses technology that projects sound into the helmet but minimizes the sound traveling outside, so everyone around you doesn't hear your music or conversations.

"It works with any type of helmet," Jay Kim, one of the Ahead team members, told CNET. "It can save lives."

Kim didn't say his group will never sell the device but said "we're not there yet." So far, plans are just for Ahead to be a prototype device.

VR motion

The third device shown this week is the Entrim 4D+ headphones that make you feel motion while watching a virtual-reality headset. Instead of just watching a race car making tight turns, you'll actually feel the car moving. The headphones work by sending an electrical signal to the nerve of your ear, which regulates balance and motion. IT tricks your brain into thinking you're moving.

The company unveiled the headphones last month at South by Southwest. Since then, the developers have made improvements. Before, you could only feel left and right movements. Now, you can also feel forward, backward and 3D rotating motions. Even more ways to feel nauseous!

Tamagotchi 2.0

Samsung employees also dreamed up a couple new software prototypes. One, called ItsyWatch, is an app for Samsung's round Gear S2 smartwatch that helps kids form good habits. It's almost like the old Tamagotchi virtual pet, but instead of a pet, the character is a little cartoon child that represents the kid using the app. As the child achieves more things -- like toothbrushing, exercising and eating healthy -- the character grows. The app can even work sort of like a walkie talkie.

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The ItsyWatch app for the Samsung Gear S2 makes it fun for kids to do things like exercise and brush their teeth.

Shara Tibken/CNET

"The child can say, 'Grandma, bring me candy,'" Hyesoo Kim, one of the ItsyWatch team members, told CNET. This app will only be a prototype, he said.

IOT controls

The final C-Lab project shown this week is called LiCON. It's an app that lets you control your various smart devices using your smartphone camera. You take a photo of something like an Internet-connected lamp, and the app brings up settings that let you turn it on or off or change to a preprogrammed setting like "movie time." You can also use the camera to launch product-specific apps by taking a photo of the device.

"The goal is to control IOT easier than [you can] now," Wonhee Lee, one of the LiCON team members, told CNET. The group plans to release the app sometime this year.