2017’s techies

Along with all that Christmas cheer and New Year’s revelry and resolutions in the air, there’s something else. The electric anticipation of what new technological innovations await us right around the turn of the year. You see, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2017) was on last week and it’s one of the world’s biggest consumer tech expos held every year. Here are the highlights.

Automobile

Nvidia kickstarted CES 2017 with an autonomous self-driving car system, the Drive PX, with a computer-assisted driving system called AI Co-Pilot. The system is all set to make its way under the hoods of several major manufacturers’ cars.

What took the CES cake was the Tesla competitor Faraday Future FF 91 electric SUV, which beat the world record 0-60 kmph in an astounding 2.39 seconds. In just a few days, over 60,000 early bookings have already been made for the FF 91.

Honda also unveiled a self-balancing motorcycle, which shifts its internal weight to maintain balance when the bike is standing still or moving at a very low speed. It automatically shifts from the rider-assist mode to balance mode when needed. The company also revealed an electric car with an ‘emotion engine’, an AI that learns from the driver’s behaviour, suggesting music and driving recommendations; the same thing any backseat driver would do, but in a soothing electronic voice.

Gaming

Razer stole the show with their new Project Ariana and Project Valerie concepts. Arana is a video projection system that extends your game view way from the screen onto the walls and surrounding systems. And Valerie is a concept gaming laptop with not one, but three 17-inch 4k screens, forming one large 12k screen. Razer will have definitely put enough graphics horsepower into Valerie. The specs say it will be as thick as normal 17-inch gaming laptops.

The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are quite expensive, and Google’s affordable Daydream VR and Cardboard dominate the market. This CES sees prototype-affordable VR headsets from HP, Dell and Acer, based on Microsoft’s Holographic Platform. They ensure that gamers on even the most basic laptops can use VR.

Nvidia also launched their GeForce Now game-streaming service on PC and Mac. It allows you to subscribe and play any game, irrespective of how low your system specs are.

Also revealed, the Shield TV, which is based on Android and let’s you use GeForce Now as well as Amazon and Netflix streaming services.

Disability

This year, CES 2017 offered a lot of tech to deal with various disabilities.

Hyundai demonstrated an exoskeleton to help people walk.

There was also robotic companion Leka, which can teach children with learning disabilities.

The Dring Smart Cane, a walking aid, sends alerts if the user has fallen. It’s also got a step and GPS tracker, so you know if grandpa is at the local mithaiwala buying stuff he shouldn’t be buying.

Neofect, a South Korean company, is working on a special mechanical glove to help the rehabilitation process of patients suffering from strokes, or accident victims. With a gamified experience, the device motivates them to fully actuate their muscles.

Wheelchairs were also given the tech treatment in the form of the Whill Model M, which is motorised as well as all-terrain, with a mode for staying put even on slopes.

Wearables

After last year’s slew of smartwatches and smart clothes, there were very few wearables in 2017.

For gamers, HTC debuted the Vive Tracker, which converts your movements into a game; it can be attached to any cricket bat or tennis racket you have lying around.

Of the few smartwatches at the show, most notable are the New Balance RunIQ, Misfit Vapor, and Casio’s Android Wear WSD F-20 watch. They’re all bristling with the usual sensors for health, though Casio’s F-20 has a snow sport tracking, GPS and colour maps, and a monochrome mode. All sport circular displays.

A great example of wearable tech solving real problems is the Willow Smart Breast Pump. It’s small enough to slip into a bra and it holds itself in place using motorised tech. It leaves the user’s hands free to do other things, instead of being stuck in one place thanks to the cumbersome wire. The Willow also sends relevant information on its reserves to a companion app.

For those who love micromanaging their health, the Notch3D motion sensors take things up a notch. Essentially, they are six wearables you can attach to any part of your body via elastic bands to collect any amount of data you want from its array of accelerometers and gyroscopes.

Processors

AMD’s much awaited range of Zen processors, Ryzen, was curiously absent from CES 2017. Several motherboards with the AM4 socket, however, were unveiled. AMD has claimed that the Zen can beat Intel’s i7 flagship desktop processors at a better price point.

Intel has already launched their much-awaited Kaby Lake processors and at CES, people got a glimpse of their next generation CannonLake, using a much smaller size.

Qualcomm, the company responsible for the Snapdragon processor powering the majority of your smartphones, has launched the new 835 flagship processor. The Snapdragon 835 has massive improvements in speed and graphics, with a dedicated digital to analogue sound converter for audio purists, among a huge laundry list of features coming to a smartphone near you.

Robots

The age of R2D2, or Terminator, becoming a reality is almost here. Home helper butler robots adorned the show.

Meet Kuri, a little mobile speaker robot that can move about your home, recognise family members and monitor things when you’re not there.

And wave to the Amazon Alexa-powered LG Hub robot with cute blue eyes, which recognises your gestures.

Sound

CES unveiled too many sound innovations to cover them all.

Most notable: Sony’s HT-ST5000 flagship soundbar with Dolby Atmos surround-sound, which comes with Google Assistant support.

Also shown: the very cool-looking JBL Pulse 3, a Lava Lamp-like portable speaker that is also waterproof.

Bang & Olufson also showed off the wool-covered BeoPlay M5, with Chromecast support and multi-room play.

Audio-Technical also revealed Bluetooth headphones with their proprietary Pure Digital Drive technology. The ATH-DSR9BT ensures you get the clearest possible signal with no interference or loss in sound quality.

Televisions

Those big beautiful screens are always a highlight.

Xiaomi was front and centre with a TV that’s as thin as a smartphone. The MiTV 4 is just 4.9 inches thick and has no bezels, which means that the screen almost touches the edge. It comes with a 10-speaker Dolby Atmos soundbar. The MiTV 4 comes in 59- and 49-inch varieties. In true Xiaomi fashion, it probably won’t make it to India.

Sony launched a beautiful 4K short-throw projector that’s crazy expensive and can throw a 100-inch image on your wall to rival any HDTV out there.

Sony also revealed an OLED Bravia 4K TV with Dolby Vision support.

Samsung bet big-time on their new Quantum Dot LED TVs, QLED, which throw the gauntlet at other OLED TVs to beat them in quality. Samsung’s products have 100 per cent colour volume and a very high brightness levels. This means better picture quality guaranteed to blow your mind and not, well, blow up.

There were also a few affordable 4K and HDR TVs out there, but not a flood of them. Hopefully, 2017 should see more manufacturers taking efforts to bring HDR and 4K into the mainstream.

Home

The floor was flooded with AI-compatible speakers big and small from Amazon’s AI assistant, Alexa and Google Home.

What stood out: Mattel’s Aristotle, a speaker that acts as a baby monitor and tutor that reads out stories and helps kids with homework. Think of it as the assistant that grows up with your child.

Samsung unveiled the next generation of Family Hub 2.0 refrigerators with touchscreens and an assistant to help with recipes.

Also shown: a FlexWash washer-dryer laundry system that connects to an app.

LG unveiled a smart fridge powered by Amazon’s Alexa.

In an act of sensor overkill, L’Oréal and Withings unveiled a hairbrush, the Kérastase Hair Coach, with sensors to detect your combing style and correct it using a smartphone app.

Smartphones

Mobile phone manufacturers looked like they were holding out for Mobile World Congress (MWC 2017).

Xiaomi did unveil a white version of their Mi Mix bezel-less smartphone, which looks beautiful, as the 6.4-inch screen touches the very edges of the phone.

Huawei revealed the Honor Magic, a phone with an all-metal frame and lowing glass over its body.

Asus stole the show, however, with the Zenfone AR, using Google’s Project Tango Augmented Reality. It uses the phone’s 23-megapixel motion-tracking and depth-sensing cameras. Google Tango uses your camera to project 3D-educational objects or games onto your surroundings. The stand-out feature of the Zenfone AR is that it comes with an astounding 8GB of RAM.

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