GadgetFest Crowd Names EcoDog Best in Show

11/5/09Follow @bvbigelow

The moderators of San Diego’s 9th Annual GadgetFest kept saying during Tuesday night’s showcase for new technology products that past winners have gone on to even greater glory and success. That may or may not be good news for the Motorola Droid that goes on sale tomorrow at Verizon stores nationwide. After making a cursory appearance at CTIA and perhaps elsewhere, the Droid debuted its impressive features and ended the evening as runner-up.

GadgetFest moderators Ken Rutkowski and Andy Abramson reminded the audience that Grand Central, a GadgetFest winner three years ago, was acquired shortly after the 2006 event by Google (and has since been transformed into Google Voice). They also pointed to Motorola’s Q Phone, Sling Media’s Slingbox, and the Truphone as paragons of GadgetFest virtue. All three devices were introduced at GadgetFest instead of the CTIA or other major trade shows, according to CommNexus, the San Diego wireless industry group that sponsors the event.

So expectations were high. But the Droid, with all its iPhone-slaying hoopla, finished the GadgetFest competition in a dead-heat with EcoDog, a local cleantech startup that trotted out Fido—a device that helps homeowners sniff out savings in their electric utility bill. The GadgetFest judges ultimately proclaimed EcoDog this year’s best in show after the Vista, CA-based company received perceptibly more-boisterous applause from the audience in the Irwin M. Jacobs Qualcomm Hall at Qualcomm’s San Diego headquarters.

At the end of the show, while the judges were deciding how to resolve the tie, one of the moderators asked EcoDog founder and CEO Ron Pitt if he had anything more to say. He replied, “My product is the only product up here tonight that saves you more money than it costs.”

So what are the up and coming gadgets that got previewed at GadgetFest? Here’s a rundown, just in time for the Christmas shopping season:

—TelCentris, the San Diego-based provider of unified communications services, presented an update to its VoxOx system, which aggregates voice over Internet technology, text messaging, instant messaging, serial conferencing, file sharing, and e-mail onto one user interface. As TelCentris executives explained to me in July, the company makes most of its money by operating a CLEC, or Competitive Local Exchange Carrier, that provides voice and data services and is not one of the traditional telephone companies. The CLEC enables TelCentris to collect money for each inbound call from outside networks.

—Qualcomm demonstrated its new personal television for Flo TV, a handheld mobile TV with a 3.5-inch screen. The gadget, which goes on sale Nov. 13, is a dedicated television—unlike the mobile phones sold through Verizon and AT&T that are equipped to receive Flo TV’s satellite-based programming.

—SilverPlus, an Orange County startup founded in 2007, demonstrated a wireless base station that works in the home with a wristband or pendant wireless devices to help seniors better manage their health care and personal living needs. The system can remind a patient to take their medication, turn lights on or off, and automatically call paramedics under certain circumstances.

—Nokia used a lightweight Nokia booklet, a mini-laptop using the new Windows 7 operating system, to demonstrate what it calls a “traveler mobility suite.” It’s unclear to me if this is different from the device that Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo unveiled in New York with Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer in mid-October. Nokia says battery life for the booklet is 12 hours, even while using its wireless Internet connection. The wireless connectivity also can be easily turned off, which makes it easier for users to continue working on the device during takeoffs and landings.

—Climate Minder demonstrated its wireless irrigation control system for agriculture—not exactly a consumer electronics product. The system consists of a base station that connects to sensors in the field that monitor temperature, humidity, soil moisture, and other factors. The base station uses cellular technology to send alerts of changing climatic conditions, such as frost or heat, by text message.

EcoDog offers Fido, a monitoring device billed as “a home energy watchdog” that connects to the home’s breaker panel to monitor electricity use. The system uses the home’s own power lines to communicate data to a home computer. CEO Pitt described it as “a system that is designed around one thing and one thing only, and that is the bottom line of your [electric] utility bill.” Pitt said EcoDog’s first production run has been sold out; it is being sold primarily to new home builders and solar panel installers.

—The Droid, which was presented by Verizon, was impressive. But the audience raised questions about its meager 256 megabytes of on-board memory. The Droid comes with a 16 gigabyte SD card to help offset that limitation, and a 32 gigabyte SD card is available. The demonstration included fast downloads, and the device features a variety of Google apps, including Maps, Latitude, Voice Search, Gmail, and Calendar.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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