CE Week 2013: Beyond Gadgetry

I think this is my third year attending CE Week’s NYC event, and of course three is a charm. Sure there were the usual big consumer electronic vendors showing off their gear– attention shoppers: Sharp has a 90” flat screen LED TeeVee-—but there were also a few atypical products that could be signs of the next wave of consumer gadgetry. More on that below. And thankfully, this year CE Week decided to recognize the fact that NYC has its own artisanal gadgetry. Go New York!

It was great to see that watches are getting a makeover as manufacturers are able to pack more computing and sensing power into smaller rectangles. I received a demo of Basis, a groovy health monitoring watch. Over the last few years, of course, many consumer-oriented bio-devices have reached the marketplace. Basis, though, has a nicely evolved and stylish time-piece that monitors heart, temperature, perspiration and motion, storing all the data points until they’re uploaded to the Basis cloud. It can track an exercise regime as well as decide whether you’ve had a good night’s sleep, and remind you when you’ve fallen short of your calorie-burning commitments. I also saw a bio-sensing prototype from WearIT, which has similar ambitions to Basis, but is in a very beta state at this time.

Max Virtual, a startup out of Delaware, has built its audio-enhancing products around bone-conducting technology. Think of their Cynaps cap as a stylish hearing aide for those who find hearing aides clumsy and perhaps a bit stigmatizing. The rim acts as microphone, and two sound transducers are buried in the hat’s inner collar. I tried their hatwear, simulating a modest hearing impairment with hands cupping my rather large ears: the Cynaps technology transfers the sound of human voices as promised.

In my wanderings, I spotted other technologies and applications– in greater quantity than in previous years– besides speakers, headsets, Internet TVs, WiFi Hi-Fi and the usual A/V hardware. Good for the CEA folks for thinking outside the stereo receiver box. This year they even had a few local NYC gadget startups in their own special NYC Pavilion, where a visitor could get a good sense of the local DIY-hacker culture.

I especially liked NYC-based littleBits, which sells electronic kits for the post-Internet generation: teeny light dimmers, motors, LEDs, and motion sensors that can be connected to create whimsical and vaguely practical things. No soldering and thankfully, no programming is required. Great for teachers. In a similar genre, there was Tangeez, which makes circular, connectable light-emitting pucks.They had a undefinable spiritual quality, with their diffused LED lighting, and possibly could be used as a replacement for candles as mood setters. Then perhaps you could place your Tangeez pucks on artisanal magnet-based furniture and really have something: check out RockPaperRobot.

Before leaving, startup-ville, I stopped by Radiator Labs, which has a neat solution to a non-digital problem: how to implement zone heating with industrial-age steam systems. If you live in a very old house, as I do, you often curse the cold when steam heat is pumped into unoccupied rooms. The crew at Radiator Labs has developed a sensor-embedded insulated blanket that– Holy Boltzmann, Holy Boyle– keeps the heat concentrated in radiators, which then allows the house furnace to pump energy to rooms that really need the BTUs. When you’re ready to use an unheated zone, you can signal the blanket’s built-in fan to vent the heat. The zones are controlled wirelessly from a centralized thermostat.

I had a final appointment at Kenwood’s booth to experience their in-dash AppRadio3, which combines traditional stereo, GPS, car information, Internet access, and the most important apps of all, Twitter and Facebook. The car industry refers to this technology under the marketing catch phrase,”the connected car”. Fortunately, the Kenwood team had a car on hand so that I could experience AppRadio3 in situ.

Overall, Kenwood’s gadget would make more sense for traveling sales types and other road warrior execs. As a heavy user of mass-transit, I was a little troubled by AppRadio3’s less than advanced speech-rec capabilities. But it will, for example, read incoming tweets, Facebook statues, and emails and I think it can link up with your iPhone’s Siri– by Bluetooth–to connect you via audio to web content. In other words, you’re not completely dependent on vestigial fingers and hands. However, its glowing, info-rich flat screen seems too distracting for my tastes and for certain demographic — 18-25 year old males–could lead to less than desirable consequences.

That’s it for me. Looking forward to CE Week NYC next year.