Tech Wants to Ride Along, from LG’s Lifeband to Ford’s C-Max Solar

LG Lifeband Touch

LG Lifeband Touch

The company tiptoes its way into wearable gadgets.

image courtesy of LG Electronics

OLED Display on Lifeband Touch

OLED Display on Lifeband Touch

Can show caller ID, activity data, and control music heard on the HRM Earphones.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

HRM Earphones

HRM Earphones

LG's forthcoming earphones will keep track of your heart rate while you listen to music.

image courtesy of LG Electronics

A New Learning Curve

A New Learning Curve

LG's G Flex smartphone is designed for a more natural fit when taking phone.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

Borrowing From the G2

Borrowing From the G2

LG's rear-button designed first appeared on the G2 smartphone and continues with the G Flex.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

Shaped for Humans

Shaped for Humans

LG believes the curve design will rest more comfortably inside pockets.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

Panoramic View at a Smaller Scale

Panoramic View at a Smaller Scale

In theory, the G Flex will offer similar panoramic video viewing to LG's curved televisions.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

LG Curved OLED TVs

LG Curved OLED TVs

This year curved screens are the hot "thing" with televisions. The range in sizes means more options for consumers.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

Ultra HD Finds a Shiny, Curved Niche

Ultra HD Finds a Shiny, Curved Niche

Curved TVs can also show 4K, Ultra high definition movies and shows.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

Samsung Galaxy Gear

Samsung Galaxy Gear

Having another go at smartwatches, Samsung hopes to get more mileage out of the Galaxy Gear than its prior efforts.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

It Also Gets the Weather

It Also Gets the Weather

The Galaxy Gear has a few apps of its own but it gets its fair share of data from the host smartphones.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

Sprouting like Trees

Sprouting like Trees

Samsung plans to seed the market with its curved OLED televisions.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

Curved Samsung TV

Curved Samsung TV

A few years ago, competition in TVs was all about being thin. Now it's about putting screen curves to work.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

IMAX-style Views at Home?

IMAX-style Views at Home?

These big curved screens are supposed to give the audience more of the feel of being in a theatre.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

Getting into the Scene

Getting into the Scene

In some models, curved Ultra HD televisions will be able to show 3D content without the use of glasses.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

A Flotilla of New Tablets

A Flotilla of New Tablets

Samsung did not forget its usual bread-and-butter: new tablets for 2014.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

Galaxy Note 10.1

Galaxy Note 10.1

This update of the Note 10.1 promises a magazine-style interface and the ability to multitask across two apps at once.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

New Sphero Rolls Out

New Sphero Rolls Out

Orbotix debuted its Sphero 2B, a customizable and programmable robot controlled via smartphone. It should be available in the fall.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

Ford's C-Max Solar Energi

Ford's C-Max Solar Energi

This project is an attempt to untether plug-in hybrids from the energy grid.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

Powered by the Sun

Powered by the Sun

The solar panels and concentrator on the roof gather the energy needed to run the car.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

Ready to Perform

Ready to Perform

The 2015 Corvette Stingray will collect data on the vehicle's performance on the road.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

How's My Driving?

How's My Driving?

Drivers will be able to review and share video and data from their drives.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

Volt Gets Mobile Boost

Volt Gets Mobile Boost

Chevrolet is giving the Volt plug-in hybrid, and its other cars, 4G LTE connectivity this year.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

Toyota i-Road

Toyota i-Road

With its narrow profile, the electric i-Road might let drivers squeeze through traffic.

photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth

Who doesn’t want to check their heart rate while listening to music?

Invading more parts of people’s lives is an ongoing goal for gadget developers. And now, more than ever, they want to come along for the ride in devices you can wear or drive.

Plenty of updates of existing devices were on display at this month’s International CES 2014. There is a certain rote aspect to the yearly wave of new TVs and mobile tchotchkes. Sure there were novel gadgets such as new Sphero robots, from Orbotix in Boulder, CO, controlled by smartphones. After a while though, the big CES exhibitors start to resemble old dogs desperately trying to impress their masters with yet another new trick. A few gadgets, though, showed some effort to break into fresh territory—at least from the device makers’ perspectives (see slideshow).

LG Electronics, which has its U.S. headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, plans to join the wearable devices crowd. At CES, the company unveiled its Lifeband Touch activity tracker and its HRM (heart rate monitor) Earphones. For now these gadgets are listed as “coming soon,” so some details might change.

Much like the other activity trackers, Lifeband Touch contains an accelerometer that can measure the distance you travel, which lets software calculate the number of calories you’ve burned. This data can be shared via Bluetooth with fitness apps on the user’s smartphone. Lifeband also displays IDs for incoming phone calls.

Lifeband is far from the first gadget for people to monitor their physical activity. Devices such as Fitbit and Nike+ FuelBand have already won a wide following among consumers. But the introduction of Lifeband Touch puts a major consumer electronics maker into the race for this market for the first time.

LG’s HRM Earphones piggyback on the wearable tracker trend, letting users monitor their heart rate while listening to tunes. That data can be passed along to fitness apps on a smartphone. The Lifeband can be used with the earphones to control volume and pick music tracks.

Wearable devices were the standout new technology among the usual parade of televisions and tablets at CES. Samsung, which has its American headquarters in Ridgefield Park, NJ, is still trying to convince folks to strap on its Galaxy Gear smartwatch, released last fall. The device includes a pedometer—which sort of makes it an activity tracker. The Galaxy Gear also has a 1.9-megapixel camera that can shoot stills and video. It also runs some apps, but it’s not very useful unless you also tote around a Samsung smartphone or tablet, the so-called host device. That’s typical for most of today’s smartwatches, which make some smartphone features available on their wrist-mounted screens.

It was Pebble Technology, arguably, that revived interest in putting communications and computing power in a watch. The smartwatch concept has been kicking around for more than a decade, as Matt Novak’s Paleofuture blog points out, but previous attempts to make this sort of gadget popular never caught on. Now the landscape is getting crowded, with Qualcomm, Sony, and other companies producing smartwatches. But even with the bulk of the industry on board, the idea of a wrist-mounted minicomputers has a lot of maturing to do.

Not everything at CES was about wearable devices; mobility was the overarching theme. Automakers at the tradeshow often try to marry their vehicles to the mobile movement with a simple equation: apps + car = a really big mobile device. But technology is also being put to work on vehicle performance.

The 2015 edition of GM’s Chevrolet Corvette Stingray will have a data recorder and dash-mounted video camera built in. The Detroit-based carmaker said at CES the system was developed with Britain’s Cosworth motorsports engineering company, the same folks who work with Corvette Racing.

The video camera will capture the driver’s point of view, and microphones inside the car will pick up audio. The system will also record vehicle telemetry, such as engine speed, and which gear the car is in. Inside the glove compartment hides an SD memory card slot for capturing video and data. Drivers can upload their performance info to the Internet via computer or, when the car is parked, play it back on an 8-inch screen inside the Corvette.

The performance data recorder is slated to be available on Corvette Stingrays that come to market in the third quarter.

Some innovations for cars shown at CES are still in development. Ford, based in Dearborn, MI, presented the C-Max Solar Energi, a concept hybrid car with solar panels built into the roof. The C-Max Energi is already available in gas-electric and plug-in varieties; the company is exploring other ways to power it up.

The solar concept vehicle draws energy from the sun instead of the electric grid. Ford said the roof-mounted panels and a solar concentrator were developed with the Georgia Institute of Technology and SunPower of San Jose, CA. The company said the concentrator is necessary to gather enough juice to help charge the battery. Since the Solar Energi is a concept vehicle, it is hard to say if anything tangible will come from the research.

And then there was the Toyota i-Road electric trike. This wee concept vehicle is more akin to a motorcycle than a car in terms of size and performance (it leans into turns). The i-Road is being readied for a car-sharing service in France later this year, but it remains to be seen if it will ever hit U.S. roads.

The Author

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth.