THE FUTURIST Mag's Best in Show Picks From CES 2012

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Patrick Tucker's picture

The international Consumer Electronics Show is just winding down in Las Vegas and I wanted to share my picks for the most innovative, impressive, best-designed, or most future relevant of the gadgets that I saw. More than 20,000 products were scheduled to debut at the show this week. Not all of them will be making it into the future. Here are a few that might be around in 2030.

Best Robot

At least three companies showed up with robotic floor and vacuum cleaners to rival those of iRobot's Roomba. I also spotted two robotic air purifiers. The Moneual robot air (left) purifier had a vaguely RoboCop inspired look to it. The Ecovacs A330 Intelligent air-purifier (center) uses 45 different sensors to detect the source of bad air. It sets to work when a new toxic source is detected so it can purify the area around your cat's litter box as soon as the box starts to stink, even if you're not home to tell it do so. You never need to walk into a smelly house again, at least theoretically. Ecovacs is a Chinese company so it has an advantage in reaching out to the world's largest consumer market of the next ten years.
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But my favorite bot on site was the TOSY SketRobo (right), which will take your picture and draw you a sketch of yourself (for release in September). I love this because it represents a real step forward in visual recognition capability for consumer robotics. Getting bots to make sense of what they see has long been one of the biggest challenges in the field and one of the main obstacles to more common use of robots. Most AI cars see with the aid of big SICK LMS-200 laser range finders. This robot's eyes (though still infrared sensors) are far smaller and the picture it draws isn't bad either, so nice actuator control.

Best Interface

As noted in my previous CES post 2012 is supposed to be the year of the interface. We're going to find ourselves interacting with computers in a lot of different ways in the next decade, well beyond thumb texting. The Micosoft Kinect, part of the Xbox 360 game system (released last year), uses three infrared sensors to measure movement, allowing users to operate the computer via gesture and voice.

The European group SoftKinetic had a similar device at CES that uses just one infrared sensor. Here's me playing the game; what I see is on the left and what the machine sees when it looks at me was on the right.

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I was also impressed by the KIA display. KIA, of course, makes cars. I stepped into this extracted interior and was told that if I were falling asleep at the wheel the car would wake me up. So I closed my eyes, slumped over, shook, drooled, and affected the mien of someone with restless leg syndrome. "Not so much" the Kia rep told me, ( I assume he was referring to me bad acting.) So I closed my eyes for a few seconds like I was actually going to sleep, not performing in a silent film. Sure enough, a loud *ding* caught my attention. There are two small cameras in the console that watch you as you drive, and, it seems, they're rather sensitive. This was the first time I had ever interacted with a computer by falling asleep.
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I have to say that the best interface I experienced in any of the live demos was for the Zomm Lifestyle Connect. As I mentioned previously, the Zomm is a light, Bluetooth enabled device that dialogues wirelessly and transfers data from (also enabled) heart monitors, glucose monitors, and other medical implants. It goes into action upon signal disruption and immediately calls a “personal safety concierge” who then contacts the wearer. In the event of a real emergency, the concierge can also call the wearer’s loved ones, doctors, etc. Why did this win out? Because the Zomm Life Connect is the first mass consumer product I've seen since the Cochlear implant that's truly geared for the cybernetic age.

Best Design

Ford Evos
For motorists who subscribe to an Italian aesthetic when it comes to cars, the Ford Evos is breathtaking. Of relevance to the futurist, the Evos is full of cutting-edge software and connects the driver to his or her "personal cloud." Like some sort of KIT made real, the car learns about your life, where you live and work, and then adjusts performance on an ongoing basis to better accommodate and serve thee. The Lithium-Ion battery has a 500 mile range when charged. The seat monitors your cardiac activity while you drive and the Evos watches the road and reads the position of other cars while in traffic, acting as it's own co-pilot. SmartPlanet blogger Andrew Nusca spelled out the specs in this blog post from the car's original debut in August.

Most Important For the Future

LifeTechnologies
The Life Technologies Ion Proton™ Sequencer can read your genome (all three billion base pairs) in one day for $1000 according to Mel Davey software group leader for Ion East. Human genome sequencing isn't new but that time frame and price point is. "A genome sequence for $1,000 was a pipe-dream, just a few years ago," said Dr. Richard Gibbs, Director of the Human Genome Sequencing Center at the Baylor College of Medicine (in a press release on the Life Technologies Web site.) "A $1,000 genome in less than one day was not even on the radar, but will transform the clinical applications of sequencing."

The Ion Proton looks toward a very near future where a lot more people will be able to have the nuances of their genome revealed, which further portends a health boom for consumers. More importantly, the amount of available information on genetics and congenital illness is about to increase exponentially as more people get their genome read and thus contribute to the knowledge base on genetic disorders. That will further accelerate the development of new and perhaps genetically-specific cures. That's why this was my favorite invention at CES this year.

In the next two decades, most of us won't remember the gadgets and iPhone accessories that Samsung or Nokia tried to push on us in in 2012. But if the human race is living a lot longer and healthier, it may be because of the device in the picture above.