The 2016 Consumer Electronics Show is barely under way—there’s still plenty of news to come on TVs, smartphones, and other high end products—but we did make a few telling discoveries on Day One. Here’s what they taught us:
A Connected Home Can Help With a Sleeping Baby
CES is getting to be a connected-home show as much an electronics venue. Case in point: The Onelink line from First Alert. The company is a stalwart of the home safety business, making smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and so on for the past 50 years or so.In the fall, Onelink introduced smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors ($119) that connect to Wi-Fi in order to alert homeowners in case of danger. Now the company is adding a whole suite of other products. There’s a $249 thermostat; a $99 environmental monitor that can detect temperature and humidity, along with low levels of CO; and something called the Envirocam, which is meant to watch over a sleeping baby. It’s a camera, a thermometer, and a device that’s meant to send an alert if the baby stops breathing—the pricing should be just north of $250 once it’s set.
All of these devices can be controlled through a mobile phone—as long as it was made by Apple. There are a lot of connected home competitors at CES, and one thing to watch is where they come down on the emerging ecosystem wars. Onelink is in the iOS camp, working with Apple’s HomeKit. Among the other big ecosystems out there are Google’s Weave, the Lowe’s Iris system, and Samsung’s SmartThings. We’ll be watching to see which of these gather the most business partners and, of course, the most consumers.
Drones Can Do More Than Hover Like Hummingbirds
Drone-maker Parrot wants to help you live out those Superman fantasies you entertained as a child. Most consumer models hover like hummingbirds. But the new 1.5-pound Disco wing-shaped drone is more of a soaring machine, flying at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour, and taking HD video all the way.
It’s controlled via Parrot’s Wi-Fi Skycontroller, which gives a first-person view from the aircraft and connects to the Disco from up to 1.25 miles away, an impressive distance for a Wi-Fi signal. Don’t know how to fly a plane? Parrot says don’t worry—the Disco has an autopilot feature that helps maintain altitude and keeps the aircraft on course. The Disco launches (yes, that’s a pun) later this year; no price has been announced.
Virtual Reality Is About More Than Headsets
You’ll find plenty of virtual reality headsets at CES this year, but the accessories could be equally important for the technology’s future. And there are plenty of them coming on the market.
One of the big questions surrounding the experience has been, How do you move about in a VR world without blindly running into coffee tables? The engineers at 3DRudder have come up with a novel solution. They’ve invented a footpad that lets you roam about while seated safely in a chair. The $175 device is round and roughly the size of a hubcap and it pivots beneath your feet, using gyroscopes and accelerometers to map your movements.
The unit operates much like a hoverboard. Press down with your toes and you move forward. Press down with your heels and you move backward. But, when you press down with the toes on one foot and the heel on the other? Well, you fly, up, up, and away—literally taking the virtual reality experience to a whole new level.
There’s just something liberating about controlling the movement with your feet. It’s like touring the world with Peter Pan. But, of course, we have yet to see all the things virtual reality can do, so it’s hard to say which of the innovative accessories will win out in the end.
A Washer/Dryer Combo May Actually Work Well
While companies like Samsung and LG are constantly innovating in the laundry room, there hasn’t been much, if any, attention paid to one of the least-loved appliances: the single-machine, washer-dryer combo. Until now.
Marathon Laundry, founded by a former Apple veteran, has re-engineered this sad workhorse. Because most other machines rely on a condenser dryer, it’s like trying to dry clothes on a humid summer day. And many people complain that the results are a never quite fully dry load.
The Marathon machine has a fully vented dryer, so clothes should quickly emerge “toasty dry,” which is actually one of the machine’s four settings—Consumer Reports, of course, will withhold judgment until we get a unit in our labs.
But the Marathon does seem promising. The machine has a touch screen with a super simple interface: 1. Choose the water temp, 2. Select the intensity of the wash cycle, and 3. Set the dryer temp. The machine remembers past cycles so individual household members can do laundry their preferred way. Or you can save a recurring cycle such as the one for the super dirty soccer clothes that come home with the kids every weekend. The machine is Wi-Fi connected and can download software upgrades as needed.
One downside: While it looks big in the exterior, the machine’s 2.7 cubic feet capacity puts it in the compact category (average capacity is about four cubic feet, and some machines these days go up to over five).
CR can’t wait to try it out. The machine is available online for pre-order and should be found at stores starting in June. And at $1,199, it’s well-priced for the category.
Brewing Beer Just Got Easier
Quirky products that began life on Kickstarter are scattered around CES, and one of the most appealing this year could be the Pico automated home beer-brewing kit, from a company called PicoBrew.
There are two things to know about it. One, it’s about as easy to use as popping a coffee pod into a Keurig machine. Two, you can order the pods (which are big, like bigger than a breadbox) from an online marketplace that includes Dogfish and Rogue as its contributors. Yes, you can make your own Dogfish at home now.
The marketplace also sells pods based on recipes from about 80 other microbrewers, and 350 hobbyists. The machine costs $699 on pre-order ($599 if you order during CES), and the pods cost around $20 to $60, yielding about 5 liters of beer. Not super cheap, but this product is not only fun, but also rather practical. It turns your kitchen into a 450-variety beer emporium. And now wedding gift shoppers have a great alternative to the automatic bread-making machine.