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Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Switch: The six wackiest gadgets (so far) at CES 2015

Hayley Tsukayama (c) 2015, The Washington Post. LAS VEGAS — Smart home products, home security systems and plenty of gadgets to help improve your health were on display as International CES, the world’s largest consumer electronics show, kicked off its annual event this week in Las Vegas. The official convention begins Tuesday, but companies traditionally make several big announcements to the media during preview days ahead of the show.

On Sunday, chipmaker Nvidia announced a new generation of its Tegra chips and two new car computing platforms to help further research into self-driving cars that can easily recognize objects around them, such as people, dogs and even emergency vehicles. Also on the car front, Chevrolet teased the press with a very quick glimpse of the new Chevy Volt, which will get a full introduction next week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

But the early stars of the show were definitely the products and companies featured during “CES Unveiled,” in which dozens of exhibitors gave guests an early feel for what will be big at the convention this year.

In the spotlight for 2015? Security products of all stripes, from smart home camera systems to personal trackers and high-tech alarms for both your physical home and your home network. Cybersecurity and tracking are expected to be among the biggest stories coming out of this year’s show, in light of high-profile breaches last year that have made cybersecurity a more pressing concern for average people.

But while the overall mix of products was a bit more serious than in years past, there were still some really out-there gadgets on display. Here are some of the wackiest products on tap:

The Melomind

Stressed out? The Melomind, from a company called MyBrain, is here to help you relax. The headband measures your brain waves in the same way a standard electroencephalogram (EEG) does and then uses that information to create custom music to help you relax and decrease your stress levels. The product pairs with an app on your smartphone or tablet to play the songs — the Melomind itself does not have headphones or speakers.

For best results, the company said, Melomind should be used in regular sessions — three to five minutes a few times a week, though 15-minute sessions are ideal. It wasn’t possible to get the full effect of the Melomind’s soothing powers on the show floor, unfortunately, though the unit was fairly comfortable. The headband is up for preorder for $299 — MyBrain plans to the have the Melomind to U.S. retailers by the end of the year.

The Baby Glgl

This smart baby bottle comes from the French company Slow Control, which made a splash at CES 2013 with a smart-fork that makes you mind what you eat more closely. With the Baby Glgl — so named to mimic the sound babies make while eating — the firm is targeting parents who also want to mind how their babies are eating. The Glgl is essentially a plastic sheath equipped with an inclinometer that works to calculate the right angle for a bottle to reduce air bubbles. If the angle is too steep or too shallow, lights at the bottom of the Glgl will flash red; get the angle right, and the lights turn green.

The company says it’s looking to reduce symptoms of colic for bottle-fed babies — a proposition that may sound welcome to anyone who’s ever tried to calm a crying, gassy infant. The bottle is scheduled to come out this fall for 100 euros, which is roughly $119.

The W3D gaming smartphone

Snail Games is already a big name in China, but the firm isn’t nearly as well known in the United States. Aiming to change that, the company is on hand to show off the W3D gaming smartphone — a long, thin, Android-based device that has phone features as well as traditional game controls for serious mobile play. The concept sounds like one Sony tried unsuccessfully to pull off with the Xperia Play, which featured PlayStation-style controls on a panel that slid out from users’ smartphones. But the W3D has a bit more polish than that 2011 phone and is expected to have more games at launch. It faces a tough battle in the video-game market but wins points for style.

Snail was also showing off its somewhat hilariously named “OBox” console, which is also Android-based and supports both 4K and 3-D displays. Snail expects both devices to be on sale in the United States later this year; the company wasn’t yet sure about pricing.

The Ring

The Ring is a finger-worn controller for your smartphone and other connected devices that will make you feel like a wizard. Made by a Japanese company called Logbar, this somewhat bulky piece of functional jewelry is designed to be worn on the index finger and lets users draw gestures in the air to do things such as start the music playing on their phone, take a smartphone picture or even turn the lights on and off. To use Ring, wearers have to hit a button on the side of the ring before making the gesture; the ring then communicates with the smartphone via Bluetooth.

The temptation to crack a “Lord of the Rings” joke is almost overwhelming, and the idea of a small universal remote that you can wear is an interesting one. But hold your horses: Ring is due to come out in March with a hefty price tag of $270. And, if you want one, you’ll have to be patient. The device is already sold out, according to a representative from Logbar.

The Axxess CE Air2

This levitating Bluetooth speaker was an early attention-getter at the show, having been nominated for the International CES 2015 Innovation award. Apart from fascinating your friends (and likely infuriating your pets), the compact speaker also can attach to your fridge if you’d prefer to have it off the base. The company promises five hours of battery life and a transmission distance of 10 meters. The company didn’t list the price alongside its demo.

It’s probably safe to say this is more of a novelty piece than a must-have. But it looks pretty darn cool.

The 3DRudder

Developed by architects looking for a way to show three-dimensional space, the 3D Rudder is a virtual-reality controller that you work with your feet. The motion controller, which can be used for gaming and other virtual-reality applications, lets you navigate through a 3-D map by tilting and rotating your feet. You can also zoom in and out by putting pressure on the toe of one foot and the heel of the other.

The experience is a little dizzying at first — the controls on the demo unit at CES were very sensitive, making it all too easy to go into a tailspin. But once I got the hang of it, the controller was surprisingly intuitive. The 3DRudder is an Indiegogo project and is going for an early price of $110. The standard unit will be $130. It is set to ship in May.

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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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