Mobile Projectors, Pet Trackers, & 3D Printers Chase Mainstream Appeal

Xconomy New York — 

It is that time of year again when gadget shops go into high gear, cranking out shiny new devices in anticipation of the big day.

A major event looms on the horizon that works the consumer electronics world into a lather—however, it is not Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, or even Festivus. No, this is the run-up season to January’s CES in Las Vegas.

That means shows such as Pepcom’s Wine, Dine & Demo, held last week in New York, will tease the latest wares from an array of consumer tech makers. Exhibition company Pepcom is not part of CES, but it does take advantage of the annual conference hosted by the Consumer Technology Association by booking its own events timed to stoke interest in this market.

Only a handful of gadgets caught my attention at Wine, Dine & Demo this time around, and they brought some reminders of devices that once showed promised but never saw wide adoption.

Rif6 presented the Cube, a small projector that streams visual content from smartphones, tablets, and laptops. The Cube can cast a 120-inch display on nearby walls, weighs less than one-third of a pound, and costs about $300. It debuted in the spring and is available through Amazon; Rif6 is in talks with other potential retail partners for a wider release. “We want to be the GoPro of projectors,” said CEO Yaniv Sarig.

There are other handheld projectors for smartphones on the market, and Samsung and Lenovo have even dabbled with phones that have built-in projectors. This is a slowly developing niche, despite early fanfare.

Can the Cube succeed where other projectors for smartphones have lagged? (photo by Joao-Pierre S. Ruth)

Can the Cube succeed where other projectors for smartphones have failed? (photo by Joao-Pierre S. Ruth)

Back in late 2009, LG launched a marketing effort for its eXpo smartphone with an attached pico projector as a tie-in with the release of James Cameron’s groundbreaking movie “Avatar.” Commercials showed off the combo of phone and projector that cast the trailer for the movie on walls. It seemed like the start of a new phase of mobile entertainment, but by the spring of 2010 the eXpo quietly faded to the background.

Sarig told me the Cube is being positioned as a lifestyle product for watching content in a wide view almost anywhere. In tiny New York apartments, for instance, the projector could take the place of flat screen televisions, he said. “People don’t have room for them anymore,” Sarig said.

It is almost a given that desktop 3D printer makers will appear at consumer tech shows nowadays, chasing a dream of getting their devices in most people’s homes. The expectation is largely the same regardless of which company: they believe desktop 3D printing can make the jump from the hands of hobbyists to the general public. Bringing that to fruition, though, may take more effort to win over the masses.

The 3D printing process in the NX1 kind of looks like the inside of a warp core (photo by Joao-Pierre S. Ruth)

The 3D printing process in the NX1 kind of looks like the inside of a warp core (photo by Joao-Pierre S. Ruth).

The thing about 3D printing is it can take a while to make anything, and frankly the materials can be messy to work with for novices. Nexa 3D thinks it can address the manufacturing speed issue with the NX1 3D printer. The company claims it is the fastest of its kind in the world, able to produce one centimeter of material per minute—reducing creation time from hours to minutes.

Nexa 3D is a late entry to this scene, with locals such as MakerBot Industries already prominent, so it does have a bit of a fight on its hands for market presence. The NXI is on preorder for about $1,500 with a crowdfunding campaign that kicked off last week.

The team from San Francisco-based pet monitor maker Whistle made a return appearance to New York, with a puppy and a new version of its device in tow. I first ran across Whistle two years ago at a similar event, and the company has been busy since. Last January, Whistle acquired Tagg from Qualcomm, giving the company a GPS system to incorporate into its device.

The latest version of Whistle, released in October, lets users see on a mobile app’s map where their pets are, in addition to checking on how much physical activity they get. Like the other products on display, though, consumer interest will determine whether or not this sector is just a lot of tail-chasing.

Users of Whistle can see where their dogs are, in addition to knowing if they are getting enough exercise (photo by Joao-Pierre S. Ruth).

Users of Whistle can see where their dogs are, in addition to knowing if they are getting enough exercise (photo by Joao-Pierre S. Ruth).