License article

CES 2018: a suitcase that follows you and other stuff you don’t need

CES, the tech showcase held each year in Las Vegas, highlights what are meant to be the latest and greatest advancements in technology. Things meant to make you go "whoa" many times over, at least according to this year's official CES billboards.

But as one observer remarked, this year's felt more "no" than whoa, with wacky gadgets you don't need and voice recognition robots that failed to understand commands or didn't respond at all.

For the most part, the show seemed to be about artificial intelligence or voice recognition being integrated into everything, from TVs and cars to fridges and toilets.

All of this felt like very incremental updates to technology. It just didn't excite.

Don't get me wrong: the future of technology looks bright. I just wish companies would stop making things we don't need that don't solve real-world problems, or putting artificial intelligence technology and Wi-Fi into devices that don't really require it.

At least three different companies demonstrated suitcases that follow you as you make your way from, say, an airport's check-in to your boarding gate. But as Joanna Stern from The Wall Street Journal discovered, they didn't seem to work very well, with them running into walls or not being able to keep an eye on you.


Then there were the "smart" undies from Spartan, the $US45 ($57) radiation-blocking boxers for tinfoil hat-wearing types concerned about the radiation being emitted from their phones in their pants pockets. It's also about to start selling a radiation-blocking baby suit.

Meanwhile Moodo, a company that traditionally sells fragrances and their dispensers to casinos and those who service restrooms, unveiled a device that can be loaded with up to four different canisters of fragrances. Called the Smart-Home Scent DJ ($US189), it can be controlled from your phone to emit the fragrances of your desire whenever you wish.

There were four "world-first" smart toothbrushes on show as well. Colgate's looked the most interesting, featuring real-time sensors and artificial intelligence algorithms to detect brushing effectiveness in 16 zones of the mouth.

Sometimes I feel the inventors of these technologies are just making what used to be simple even harder. I mean, how hard is it to brush your teeth? Really.

Alas, the new Colgate toothbrush touts "real-time feedback" designed to improve brushing habits to "help prevent problems before they start". Considering Medicare doesn't cover dental, the $US99.95 investment in this product might just be warranted.

Then there were the TV brands, including Samsung, Sony, LG, Panasonic, TCL and Hisense showcasing their latest innovations. LG demonstrated a 65-inch concept TV you can't buy that can roll up into a rectangular box (I'm not sure why I would ever want this as a feature, it's not like you can put anything on top of it after it's rolled up). LG, like the others, also unveiled its 2018 line-up, with artificial intelligence and the internet of things dominating its presentation as well as Samsung's.

Meanwhile, Hisense showed a short-throw 150-inch "Laser TV" projector as well as announcing that it was introducing OLED TVs to the Australian market, which have been around for a few years now.

Hisense also demonstrated "1000 zone local dimming" technology in its 2018 ULED range, which improves contrast range and enhances picture detail. It works by dividing an LCD panel into 1000 different zones, which can be dimmed and brightened independently of one another, meaning blacks are going to look a lot blacker and not grey.

Samsung unveiled something similar, called Micro LED, in a 146-inch TV it unveiled called The Wall, which uses individually lit LED pixels.

Are you saying whoa yet?

To be fair, there were some things that had me uttering "interesting…" or "neat", such as Intel's collaboration with German company Volocopter on a drone-like vehicle you can sit in, designed to let you travel short distances autonomously, and a Chinese phone manufacturer's technology that enables a smartphone to read your fingerprint using the screen rather than a standalone fingerprint reader.

And then there was the tech that helps elderly people, such as the $US800 hip airbags from one company and $US30 per month subscription shoes from another that can detect falls. While the shoes alert loved ones about a fall and your exact location, the airbags deploy to cushion falls, preventing fractures in those prone to falling.

A device you can attach to your bicycle to turn it into a hybrid electric bicycle in 30 seconds also seemed useful.

But it seemed clear that ever since Microsoft and various other tech giants began to drop out of CES, primarily due to it not suiting their product roadmap unveiling cycle, it has lost a little bit of its flare.

The more interesting tech is now usually reserved for companies to announce themselves. Apple exclusively reserves its product launches for itself to unveil, while Samsung typically leaves its smartphone disclosures to Mobile World Congress.

The author travelled to CES as a guest of Hisense.