The International Consumer Electronics Show is nothing less than a gadget-lover's dream.
Every year thousands of companies from all over the world flock to Las Vegas in the first week in January to show off the products they hope to sell in the coming year. What began as a trade show featuring the latest high-fidelity stereos 40 years ago has become an annual electronics circus.
Connected cars, 3-D printers, high-definition televisions, Bluetooth speakers, robots and toys hawked to retail buyers and the thousands of reporters who clog the 2 million square feet of exhibition space.
NPR technology correspondent Steve Henn is in Las Vegas to cover the show, and he shared some of the highlights of the blowout so far with NPR's Audie Cornish.
Hygiene And Health
The show hasn't even technically started yet — it runs from Tuesday through Friday — but small tech companies previewed some of their products for reporters Monday morning. "The place was just full of little companies that were pitching their latest and greatest gadgets," Henn says. "These aren't the Samsungs and Sonys of the world — these are really closer to startups."
Among the offerings was an Internet-connected toothbrush that measures how long and perhaps how thoroughly you've brushed, in an effort to improve your oral hygiene (although Henn thinks it might be more useful for checking to see if your kids are telling the truth when you ask "Have you brushed your teeth?" as they run out the door to school).
There was also a robot called Mother that sends you reminders to get more sleep or take your vitamins; a cash register called Clover designed for small businesses; and toys that you can control with your iPhone.
Then there's an Internet-connected sleep monitor made by Withings, a French smart-device company that gained fame a couple of years ago for its Internet-connected scale.
Raphael Auphan with Withings explained that the device is placed in the user's bed to detect movements, heart rate and breathing rate. It monitors sleep stages and aggregates the information on a phone app.
What happens if you're doing, well, other things in bed that you don't want to be monitored? "If you're ever [in a] moment of sensuality and you don't want to have anything monitored, you basically caress the device on the side and it will switch off," Auphan said.
Some of the more major companies are already presenting their own developments. On Monday, Google announced a partnership with carmakers Honda, GM, Audi and Hyundai and mobile chip manufacturer Nvidia to form what they're calling the Open Automobile Alliance.
The idea is to let Android app developers know what tools they have to work with. "Lots of people really endanger themselves and others by trying to text or get navigation directions from their cellphones," Henn says.
The alliance partners "want to create a common set of standards that will be built into all of their cars that will allow Google's Android software to work seamlessly and safely within automobiles," he says.
And on Sunday, GM announced that AT&T will equip new Chevrolet models with a 4G cellular connection.
It's a sign of the times: Tech companies are finally trying to break into the automobile industry. "For years, the car was this area that was more or less cut off from the digital revolution," Henn says, "and that, I think, is about to change."
Another area of interest this year? Wearable technology. For example, Henn is expecting an announcement from Intel, which has so far struggled in the mobile technology business, explaining its business plan for wearables and "how these watches and glasses could change how we live," he says.
But smart watches and glasses aren't the only things to look out for, Henn says.
"One of the show organizers told me about a company that apparently is putting a temperature sensor in clothing, and then the clothing changes thickness depending on how warm or cold it is outside."
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And I'm Audie Cornish. Now to ALL TECH CONSIDERED.
And we're heading today to Las Vegas for the technology industry's annual extravaganza, the Consumer Electronics Show 2014. NPR's Steve Henn is there. Hey there, Steve.
STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Hi.
CORNISH: So this is a gadget lover's dream. What have you seen so far?
HENN: Well, each year, a group of smaller companies get together before the show actually opens and put on a press preview. And so last night, I was invited into this crammed conference room in the Mandalay Bay on the Vegas Strip, And there were hundreds of reporters there and the place was just full of little companies that were pitching sort of their latest and greatest gadgets. So these aren't the Samsungs and Sonys of the world. These are really closer to startups. And they had some, you know, pretty amusing stuff.
I saw an Internet-connected toothbrush. You know, that's perfect for the highly connected helicopter parent. There were robot cash registers and toys. But I have to say my favorite was an Internet-connected sleep monitor made Withings. This is the company that became famous a couple of years ago for selling the first Internet-connected scale. You know, and I'll let Withings' Raphael Auphan explain.
Tell me what we're looking at here.
RAPHAEL AUPHAN: So Withings is launching today a smart sleep system called Withings Aura. And the smart system is a combination of a sleep sensor, which is placed in your bed and which is going to monitor all your movements, heart rate and breathing rate. And based on the movement, heart rate and breathing rate, it's going to detect sleep stages, whether you're awake, whether you are in deep sleep, light sleep or REM sleep. And all this sleep data will be viewable in a mobile application.
HENN: It seems like it would measure things other than sleep that one does in bed. So how do you make sure that this information isn't overshare?
AUPHAN: So there's one thing that we took into account very early on in the product design is to make sure that the user at any time in any kind of emergency can switch off their (unintelligible). So if you have a moment of sensuality and you don't want to have anything monitored, you basically caress the device on the side and it will switch off. It will switch off this...
HENN: You caress the device...
AUPHAN: Yes, right.
HENN: ...to turn it off.
AUPHAN: Exactly. To turn off the device and turn on other things.
CORNISH: OK. Steve, there...
CORNISH: ...asking the key questions. So where are you now?
HENN: Well, right now I'm at the registration area at the Venetian. You know, this event really kicks off today. There are going to be big announcements about connected cars and wearable computers. And, you know, of course, the Consumer Electronics Show isn't complete without, you know, a lot of releases of new high-definition television sets.
And right now, it's just getting started. A lot of the display space hasn't been built out yet, so there are construction crews coming in. And if you're lucky and you know the right people, you can sort of get a little behind-the-scenes tour as folks get set up. So I'm hoping to do that a bit later.
CORNISH: And, Steve, there actually has been some news on the connected car front at least. Can you talk about what are the developments there?
HENN: Right. So, early this morning, Google, Honda, GM, Audi and Hyundai, as well as the mobile chip manufacturer Nvidia, announced that they were forming something that they're calling the open automobile alliance. And basically, they want to create a common set of standards that will allow Google's Android software to work seamlessly and safely within automobiles. And what they want to do is create sort of a common platform that will allow app developers to build connected devices that really function well.
The other big piece of this is that for these apps to work, the cars have to be connected. And so there was another announcement today with GM and AT&T announcing that all of GM's models would soon offer 4G, you know, the highest speed wireless broadband connection, direct into cars. And so I think what we're beginning to see is that, you know, for years, the car was this area that was more or less cut off from the digital revolution and that is about to change.
Obviously, Apple and Google and Microsoft, with its Ford Sync system, are really interested in breaking into the automobile and making that as connected an environment as any other part of your life.
CORNISH: And what else are you looking forward to?
HENN: Well, one of the things I'm really interested is wearables and how they're going to develop. Intel has struggled in the mobile technology space. It has a major announcement. I think they're going to try and lay out their business plan for wearables, which will be interesting, and their vision of how these, you know, watches and glasses could change how we live. But it's not just watches and glasses. One of the show organizers told me about a company that apparently is putting a temperature sensor in clothing and then the clothing changes thickness depending on how warm or cold it is outside.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Steve Henn at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Steve, thank you.
HENN: Oh, my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.