It's always nice to bring home a lot of stuff from conventions, but it's hard to find the time to look through them. But the Consumer Electronics Show was so chock-full of interesting new gadgets, that some are worth a second look as the obscure, but interesting, gems of the show. Here's a look at some of the gadgets engineers might appreciate for their novelty, simplicity and cleverness.
Many of the big consumer electronics vendors simply showed refinement after refinement, such as bigger or sharper or thinner flat-panel TVs. But Samsung Electronics actually showed up with an invention that could liberate the couch potato from the couch. The company invented a way to make digital TV sets into portable TVs that could maintain reception with over-the-air HDTV broadcasts even while the TV is moving. Hence, you could put one of these TVs in the backseat of a car and get reception as you drive around town.
The invention, dubbed A-VSB for Advanced Vestigial Sideband, uses the sideband feature of the signals broadcast by TV stations for digital TV in the U.S. If broadcasters support this by making relatively minor upgrades to their local TV station equipment, they can insert a tracking signal into the broadcasts that allow a moving TV to keep a signal while it's in motion. Samsung says the technology works with the ATSC HDTV standards in the U.S., Mexico, Canada and South Korea. The technology could debut this year, says John Godfrey, a Samsung spokesman.
Another sleeper on the floor was WildCharge, a Scottsdale, AZ, company that was pitching a wireless charging pad that can deliver up to 90W of power. You just put your devices on the pad and they simultaneously draw power from the pad. A 15W mini-version sells for $40 and the 90W WildCharger sells for $100, starting sometime in the first half of this year. The company says it emits no harmful radiation and doesn't drain your batteries even if you just top off the battery in a device. You just plug the pad into the wall. It's especially useful for the geeks who are tired of carrying around chargers for laptops, PDAs and cell phones. SplashPower, a rival, tried to do this earlier but has yet to launch a product.
There were a lot of GPS navigation devices on the floor. But tucked away across the street in a nearby inn was Dash Navigation, a Mountain View, CA. Dash will launch a GPS device in the second half of the year priced around $700. It hopes to command a premium in part because it intends to offer useful services such as alternative route traffic information in real time. If you're stuck in a traffic jam, the Dash device will sense your car slowing down and calculate if it's better for you to get off at the next exit or stay on the highway. You can also send route information to your Dash device from any computer, so you no longer have to print out map routes. And Dash will find you the cheapest nearby gas or recommend a restaurant, based on results from Yahoo! Local Search services. It debuts in Northern California in the first half of 2007.
Of all the nervous executives who got up in front of a crowd of press at the Cherry Picks event to pitch the press for exactly six minutes, the funniest was a fellow from Orabotics Research, which was showing off its HydraBrush battery-powered tooth brush. This tooth brush has eight rotating heads positioned so that you can hit as much of your mouth as possible with a single stroke. The company says the brush can do 810 strokes in a minute, massaging your gums at the same time it brushes your upper and bottom teeth. In the demo, the executive proceeded to brush his own teeth in 40 seconds, a fraction of the usual amount of time. It is available in the fall for $129.
Dick Tracy watches have finally hit the market. Sony Ericsson and Fossil created the MBW-100 wristwatch so you can connect to your cell phone via a Bluetooth wireless connection. You can use the watch to look at text messages. The watch can beep an alarm if you leave your phone behind. It does so by monitoring whether you move out of the Bluetooth range — 10 meters or so — of your mobile phone. It's available now for $399.
Gamers are always looking for more feedback from their games. Graphics have hit a limit. Nintendo is showing that the feedback of the Wii controller can enthrall gamers. Now the Novint Falcon is going a step further as it promises 3D force feedback for a game controller. It's like a 3D mouse that is suspended by a frame that knows exactly where you've positioned it in a 3D space. You can push the mouse forward like a 2D mouse, or move it up and down in space. It also sends tactile responses back into your hand. If you push at an object that is supposed to be icy, it feels slippery. If you push at an object that is supposed to be molasses, it is squishy to the touch. It sells for $239 at www.novintfalcon.com.
Lastly, if you're worried about how much electrical power all of the gadgets in your house are using, you can plug them into the Kill A Watt EZ device, which in turn plugs into a wall outlet. It tells you how much electricity the device uses and gives an estimate of how much money it will cost you in a week. Now you can find out the consequence of charging six battery-powered devices or that big 50-inch plasma TV. Could be too much information. The device sells for $59.95 at www.p3international.com.