Walking into CES for the first time felt a little like walking into the Louvre. So many eye-popping wonders, so little time. But unlike that museum, this showroom was mostly filled with objects begging to be touched and tested, ranging from beds to telescopes to water fountains that can spell your name.
My eye was immediately drawn to a small podium in the mix of giant fabricated worlds. Matthew Wight, a senior graphic designer for WowWee, was standing patiently next to what looked like the coolest toy ever. Roboraptor, a 32-inch robot dinosaur, has three emotional states (aggressive/hunting, nervous/cautious, friendly/playful) thanks to sophisticated artificial intelligence. With realistic biomorphic action, he can move with a controller or in autonomous mode, in which he’ll roam freely and engage with people through his infrared vision system and touch sensors in his tail and head (he even plays tug of war!). Because so many people asked for demos, poor Roboraptor was on his last drop of battery power, so his backward stomp looked more like a moonwalk. But even at low strength, I would pay a lot more than $100 for such a friend. That’s the approximate price Wight said would be affixed to the toy once the next generation is rolled out (the one he had was sent from a Toys R Us in Hong Kong, as the company is out of stock). If dino-bots aren’t your thing, WowWee makes robot pandas, snakes, dogs and a sweet mechanical companion named Robosapien who knows kung fu and can fart, dance and rap. I wish my human friends were that cool.
Across from a cage where Parrot AR Drone 2.0 aircraft were doing a synchronized flight to EDM, I spotted an iPad attached to a bright orange toilet scaled for tiny backsides. I knew instantly what the iPotty (about $40, iPad obviously not included) so ingeniously does. If your kid is having trouble learning to think outside of the diaper, this device relaxes/teaches/entertains with potty training apps (CTA Digital marketing associate Lois Eiler said, to my shock, that there are at least 20 such apps). And for grown-ups, CTA is working on a stand that holds an iPad and a coffee mug or a roll of toilet paper (about $50, toilet paper obviously not included). Both products will be available on Amazon this March.
In the South Hall, tech cases and helmet cams ruled the day. At the Speck “booth” (in quotation marks because the two-story setup is bigger than my house), showgoers were frantically snapping pictures for a scavenger hunt that would win them free smart-phone cases. Others went for the direct line to winning, playing a dance-battle video game in front of the entire showroom. It was just one example of unique spectacles that drew attention to unrelated products at CES. Another was the ballroom dance duo on display in the Nikon area, where an array of cameras was set up so passersby could snap Patricia and Miguel in action.
Wandering around, I saw robots that clean pools and ride bicycles and treat patients (though everyone was using the iRobot Remote Physician as a prop for cheesy photos rather than a life-saving tool). I stopped by Garrett Metal Detectors to ask how the technology has changed over the years and what sort of demand there is now, and the old guy manning the booth gritted his teeth. I’m guessing he’s had to explain how a metal detector fits in with 3D televisions a few times.
“Look at the value of gold; look at all the unemployed,” he said. Good points. And what’s more fun than treasure hunting with your unemployed friends?
The answer might just be using their photos to make stuffed animals and iPhone cases. That’s the realm of minime, a company that sells the accessories and the machine that uses heat and suction to mold flat images into 3D faces that can be slipped inside everything from key chains to Christmas ornaments. The minime rep said the machine comes with six molds in different sizes. “We even have a flat nose, for Asians. It covers everybody,” she said. The process takes 40 seconds, and the business model is perfect for those charming mall kiosks.
There were many niche products scattered around and made by companies I’d never heard of, like Tat’z Nail’z , which uses a patent-pending digital printer to apply custom designs (even photographs!) to fingernails. For anyone who loves a dancing stuffed animal, Party Animals elevates the genre with a port that can plug into any device that plays music, so the critters boogie along to your favorite songs (the demo I saw involved a dog, a panda wearing a Santa Claus hat, three cats and a teddy bear shaking it to Neon Trees’ “Everybody Talks”).
There were innovations in well-known categories, like karaoke machines and TVs. LG had some incredible 3D systems on display. Wearing the stylish orange glasses, I watched wood shavings, candy, fruit, rubber darts and a girl on a swing fly out toward my face with crystal clarity. It was the visual equivalent of the Behringer iNuke Boom, “the world’s biggest boombox” at 8 feet and an output of 10,000 watts.
My two favorite parts of the day were a mix of the old-school and the holy-crap-school. A friend and I got a photo taken with a new Polaroid. I shook it, just for kicks. And across the room at the 3D Systems booth, I watched printers create whimsical objects before my eyes. It was truly amazing.
So was CES. There were hot chicks and nerds and mad scientists and suits, all basking in the glow of human imagination. Next year I’ll go for more than one day, and I’ll bring a sleeping bag.