CES 2010 is drawing rapidly to a close, and I’ve got tons of big things to write about, but right now I wanted to share some more cool gadgets I saw in Las Vegas. Even in years like this one that are somewhat down in the innovation department, there are always some shiny new toys to get excited about. While there wasn’t one overwhelming choice among CES visitors this year, there were some interesting contenders.
On the play end of the spectrum the best toy I saw was easily the Parrot AR.drone. At first glance the AR.drone does not look much different from other cheap remote control helicopters, but on closer examination it is actually quite sophisticated. Calling itself a “quadricopter” the AR.drone uses four separate sets of blades offset from the center of the craft, making it far easier to fly than similar devices. But what really makes the AR.drone project stand out is the open nature of the “platform” that includes on on-board WiFi system for controlling the device via an iPhone, two on-board video cameras for streaming footage of what the drone is seeing, and even better, an open source developer platform for creating applications (including augmented reality games) for the AR.drone. A lot will depend on what software developers are able to come up with for the AR.drone, but such a cool toy with such a forward looking concept is really exciting.
Another device, not really fair to call a toy at all, is the new version of the Chumby, called in true geek fashion, the Chumby One (as opposed to the Chumby Classic). It can be a little hard to describe a Chumby if you’ve never seen one before but basically it’s a small portable screen that serves up Internet widgets via WiFi. The Chumby is one of those things that at first might not seem to have a lot of practical value, but as the Internet becomes essential to everything we do, even in odd places around the house, including the kitchen, the bedroom, etc., devices that allow you to access it without pulling out a laptop or even a mobile phone will have increasing value. Plus there’s the fact that the Chumby is just a very fun thing to play around with. That was not lost on the developers at Sony Electronics, who have essentially implemented the Chumby platform on their own device, the Dash. It’s a bit slicker and sleeker than the Chumby One, but the Sony Dash has most of the same functionality and also brings the Internet to you in interesting places. It will be very intriguing to see how such a fun concept gets developed over time by two very different entities and communities in Chumby and Sony.
Also less a toy and more a cool implementation is the MiFi portable WiFi hotspot. These types of things have been around for a while, but the tiny size and seemingly excellent broadcast power of the MiFi make it pretty compelling, especially having seen it in action in such a high stress wireless environment like CES. Novatel Wireless had the MiFi for demo in the “Blogger Lounge” in Las Vegas and they acquitted themselves quite well. Something like the MiFi could come in handy in many unlikely environments, where wireless access is necessary for a small group but would be extremely difficult to implement in a traditional manner. Plus theMiFi is just a cool looking little piece of hardware.
I’ll be looking in later articles at many of the ways companies are trying bring the power of the Internet to the TV, but there was one small but excellent example of fun innovation in the connected TV space at CES this year, which the implementation by LG Netcast TV’s of Skype. A simple idea, but one that really makes sense, as anyone who has tried to coordinate a Skype video call with less tech savvy relatives can attest. It is only a step in the direction Internet connected TV’s need to go, in my opinion, towards fully realizing their potential, but it is one that the mainstream audience can really make sense of and it will help push things in the right direction I expect.
Finally, another piece of tech that I would be very happy to have in my own suitcase returning home from Las Vegas is one of the CPU liquid cooling setups from CoolIT. I’ve generally been skeptical of liquid cooling for my PC’s in the past, generally satisfied with what I can accomplish for less money with air-cooledheatsinks, even when overclocking my rig. Nonetheless, the performance that the CoolIT staff demonstrated at the show form their self-contained liquid-cooling units was very impressive as was their ease of install and cost. I particularly liked the ECO A.L.C. unit that is small, compact and very quiet. It could be used in a relatively smallHTPC case very effectively, and since it arrives pre -assembled the chances of a leak is much reduced. At about $75 retail, it compares very well with many of the more high performance air coolers.