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.