This year’s Consumer Electronics show is done and dusted. The booths are being packed up, the toys are going back in their boxes for another year. The most interesting, high-tech and mindblowing gadgets we saw? Drones, cars, and the true debut of virtual reality in the real world.
Intel put on an excellent display using the Typhoon H’s centre-mounted RealSense depth-measuring camera, making the hexacopter follow its pilot around an obstacle course by sensing the RealSense markers on his helmet, and avoiding crashing into any nearby objects even when the operator tried to make it. When it’s launched — pardon the pun — later this year, the Yuneec Typhoon H should retail for US$1800. In Australia, we should see them landed for under $2500. With its autonomous control software and onboard 4K camera, it should make for strong competition to DJI’s stable of Phantom and Inspire camera-toting and general purpose drones.
The Parrot Pot is a solution to a problem that hasn’t even really been addressed up until now for the layman. The pot has a bevy of sensors — temperature, humidity, fertiliser level and light quality — that let you monitor your plant remotely from your smartphone via Bluetooth 4.0, and then water it through the integrated reservoir and battery-powered water jets, which will run for up to 9 months. A database of 8000 different plant species means that the 2.2-litre Pot should keep your exotic ficus alive no matter how clumsy you are.
Created in concert with Valve — one of the biggest names in gaming, and custodian of what has to be the gaming platform of choice — the HTC Vive Pre is the latest iteration of a virtual reality headset that should be an excellent (and likely cheaper) alternative to Oculus VR’s rather expensive Rift. This might just be the gadget that saves HTC. Vive Pre is smooth, realistic, lightweight, and includes depth and motion tracking, giving you that proper real-world simulacrum that good VR is. The Rift and the Vive Pre are going to be tough competition for each other.
The Glyph headset was one of the genuine surprises of this year’s CES — it’s not especially new, but it has evolved significantly since we tried it out last year. It uses a bright, high-resolution LED display shining directly into your retina — sounds safe, right? — inside a pair of powerful headphones, in some kind of futuristic melding of regular over-the-ear ‘cans and a tiny laser projector. It’s not virtual reality, Avegant went to pains to tell me, but just a very private screening of your favourite media files from an attached player.
The first proper, mainstream, general everyday user-focused version of the Oculus Rift is out soon, and it’s a significant improvement on the original DK1 development kit that I myself own, and the DK2 that I’ve used a lot at Gizmodo. It’s a genuine competitor to the HTC Vive Pre — which I also test-drove — and you can really tell that Oculus has put massive resources into developing what is a fantastic display, one of the most highly detailed, contrasty and low-persistence that I’ve seen. Sure, it’s outrageously expensive for Australians, but it’s great nonetheless.
There’s something instantly likeable about VW’s BUDD-e, the Kombi-remake-of-sorts that combines a massive 101kWh lithium-ion battery and twin electric motors driving both the front and back wheels in a chassis extremely reminiscent of the Type 2 microbus. It’s friendly, but it’s also very high-tech, with a wraparound LCD dashboard, highly adjustable seating, a limo-esque giant display in the back, and a fridge in the bumper. Gesture control and voice recognition make the BUDD-e a modern car to drive, if its retrofuture styling might suggest otherwise.
Samsung Pay is coming to Australia some time this year, and the smartphone maker already has at least two banks on board with its efforts. From my quick demo, it’s very easy to use — just swipe up on a locked screen, then scan your fingerprint for verification — and it’ll store an entire carousel of credit and debit and loyalty and membership cards, as long as the vendor has signed up with Samsung. To get traction, Samsung will probably have to open the platform up to the popular Galaxy S6 rather than just the Note 5 it’s currently on, but we hear that’s in the works too.
Segway’s personal robot is a year off at least — the company will begin shipping development kits to its software partners in the third quarter of this year, and will be sharing initial runs of beta devices with a very small, very closed group right at the end of 2016. But a glimpse of the potential of the modular hardware and smart software — we’re talking a object-avoiding, face-recognising, voice-interpreting robot that can carry out tasks for you — is enough to get me excited about what Segway could be doing two or three years from now.
OK, so the Family Hub is… an internet fridge. This is not a Cool Thing, I can get that. But the Family Hub takes the cake for being the smartest fridge I’ve ever seen before, and by a significant margin. Using the same Tizen open-source software as Samsung has demonstrated capably on the Gear S2 smartwatch, Family Hub can call up Google Maps, can keep track of the age and expiry dates of your perishables with a barcode scanner in the front, and internal cameras can give you a snapshot of what you’ve got in stock. Samsung is talking with local partners on an Australian launch that just might include the option to shop for groceries online right from your fridge door.
I’m in two minds about Faraday Future. Sure, the FFZERO1 is merely a concept car, and doesn’t have to back up the claimed 1000 horsepower and claimed 500km of range with any kind of real-world results. Sure, the company is years behind Tesla Motors and GM and Volkswagen’s more realistic and production-ready vehicles. But it’s great to see another entrant to what sometimes feels like a sluggish market of green car manufacturers, and even better when that entrant has an incredibly gorgeous Batmobile to get its message across.