CES 2019 officially starts on Tuesday and press announcements will begin on Sunday. But I already know the news will be dominated by autonomous vehicles (big and small) that go beyond watching the road to watching what you are doing and feeling; robots that want to be your best friend, fetch your groceries, and even clean your toilet; and TV screens that are bigger, brighter, flatter, and/or more energy efficient than ever. And I’ll check out all of those new developments, or at least as many as I can, and report on them here, in View From the Valley.
Meanwhile, this week, besides figuring out how to cover the 250,000 square meters (2.7 million square feet) of CES exhibits, I’ve been making my personal “treasure hunt” list. It includes items, culled from a mountain of product announcements and invitations, that might make my life easier or at least more fun. There are also things on it that I think would just be interesting to try—or whose developers I want to ask, “What were you thinking?” Most of the companies showing these products are small (though that’s not a criterion for their inclusion on my list), and the chances of their products finding a mass market may be small as well. But it does happen, and I wish them all luck.
Here, in no particular order, are the tiny treasures I’ll be hunting for in the CES 2019 aisles. In most cases, the preview announcements did not include pricing; I’ll update this post as I get more information.
Healbe’s GoBe3 wristband
I have two wrist-wearables I use regularly—a basic step counter (my five-year-old Fitbit Flex is still on the job) and, when traveling, the ReliefBand 2.0 motion sickness blocker. No other wearables have, for me, been comfortable enough to be virtually unnoticeable or useful enough that I could get past the clunkiness for an extended period of time.
In this category, however, Healbe’s CES preview got my attention: it promises to track calorie intake, hydration, and stress along with the usual sleep and activity monitoring, and the company says that a study at the University of California, Davis, recently validated the calorie intake and hydration features at 80 to 89 percent accuracy. I know drinking more water would be really good for me (and water bottles that measure sips are too heavy and complicated). The GoBe2, already on the market, is pretty bulky; Healbe promises a “smaller case” for the GoBe3, so I’m eager to try it on my wrist and evaluate the “clunk” factor.
Embr’s Wave bracelet
Yes, it’s another wrist wearable. But Embr’s announcement of its Wave bracelet promised a function I haven’t yet experienced in a wearable—personal heating and cooling. The company says its bracelet keeps the wearer comfortable by recreating “the comforting warmth of hands by the fire or the refreshing chill of an ice cube on your wrist.” This is definitely one I have to try to believe. (I almost wish I were in the hot-flash years so I could give it a truly challenging task.)
Lecker Labs’ Yomee, a connected, automatic yogurt maker
The Keurig-ization of Everything (KoE) once again meets the Internet of Things (IoT) to spawn a kitchen gadget. Most of these go nowhere. Some have a short boom and then end up in garage sales, and none have yet to change the way we make things, as coffee-pod machines once did.
Yomee’s yogurt maker is the latest entry in the KoE-IoT category. It does have a few things going for it. For one, make-at-home yogurt was once a trend proving that people will do it (been there, done that), but most millennials have yet to try it. The gadget, at least in the preview pics, doesn’t look bad and doesn’t take up a lot of counter space. Lecker Labs says Yomee can produce the currently popular Greek-style yogurt. And, finally, the company says the pods dispose of themselves by dissolving in the milk, eliminating waste and avoiding a common complaint against the coffee-pod gadgets. (That last feature may not sound particularly palatable, but many commercial yogurts have a touch of cornstarch or gelatin, so it’s not that weird.)
I’ve got a lot of questions, though. How can Yomee produce Greek yogurt in a one-step process; don’t you have to strain it? Why on earth do I need to control the gadget from my smartphone? (The day Keurig asks people to juggle a coffee cup, water, pod, and smartphone app is the day it gets banished to the attic.) I’m guessing the pods contain the yogurt culture, but why would I use a pod instead of just a spoonful from my last batch of yogurt? And just how expensive are these pods going to be? Still, I liked making yogurt back in the day, and the Yomee is not ugly. Call me slightly intrigued but protective of my counter space.
Y-Brush, a toothbrush that brushes multiple teeth at once
I don’t always put in the minimum 2 minutes that experts say is adequate (barely) for teeth brushing, so I understand the thinking that led to this product—if you can brush more teeth at the same time, you can spend less time brushing. According to its press release, Y-Brush takes a tray—like those used for teeth bleaching or for a night guard—and lines it with bristles, and then vibrates the bristles. The company says the gadget takes 10 seconds to remove as much plaque as a normal 2-minute brushing. It looks pretty odd, though, and I’m not convinced that the product’s various sizes—which include two adult versions, one child option, and one “intermediate” size—will cover all mouths. It might find a niche market among caregivers, though—brushing another person’s teeth using a standard toothbrush can be a real challenge.
Lumen’s breath analyzer
The US $250 gadget that Lumen will introduce at CES 2019 determines whether someone’s body is using fats or carbs for fuel at any moment by analyzing an exhalation of breath. Based on that information, the accompanying app suggests a meal plan. The Lumen is aimed at people trying to hack their metabolisms through diet and exercise; that’s not me, but I’m intrigued by this move to gather health information through breath analysis.
Valencell’s blood pressure monitor for hearables
Valencell isn’t introducing a consumer gadget directly; the company’s sensors go into wearables made by others. For CES 2019, Valencell is promising a demo of devices that measure blood pressure without a cuff, including a sensor that could be integrated into hearing aids. Given that the demographic of those experiencing hearing loss overlaps with that of people who may need to control their blood pressure, putting a blood pressure monitor in a hearing aid absolutely makes sense. I expect Valencell will also be talking about what other kinds of sensors could be integrated into hearables.
B-Secur’s ECG authentication algorithm
B-Secur is another company presenting a technology it hopes to sell to gadget manufacturers rather than a gadget itself. The company promises to demonstrate a steering wheel that identifies a car owner via his or her electrocardiogram (ECG), and also provides alerts of possibly dangerous medical conditions. That’s something a fingerprint sensor can’t do.
TouchPoint’s BLAST stress reduction technology
Moving from ECGs to EEGs, TouchPoint is promising to hook up CES 2019 attendees to an electroencephalography (EEG) monitor to prove that its BLAST (b-lateral alternating stimulation tactile) technology, in the form of a vibrating wrist wearable, reduces stress in 30 seconds. Pulling off instant stress reduction on a noisy show floor will definitely be a challenge. If it works, I may stop by that booth more than once.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor based in Palo Alto, Calif., where she’s been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 30 years. Perry started reporting on California tech companies from IEEE Spectrum’s New York office in the early 1980s, before relocating to the Bay Area full time in 1986. She has the privilege of having a front-row seat as tech history is being made, including the early days of video games, the growth of the personal computer industry, the rise and fall of Xerox PARC, and the incredible startup boom in Silicon Valley today. She has conducted in-depth interviews with a host of tech pioneers, including Gordon Moore, Andy Grove, Robert Noyce, David Packard, Irwin Jacobs, Andrew Viterbi, Jim Clark, Ray Dolby, Alan Kay, Adam Osborne, Gene Amdhal, Gary Kildall, Gordon Bell, Steve Wozniak, Marissa Mayer, Elon Musk, and Nolan Bushnell.
Besides covering Silicon Valley and startups in print and in her blog, View From the Valley, Perry follows trends in consumer electronics technology around the world. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Michigan State University.