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CES 2020: Robot Vacuums That Don’t Repeat Mistakes, and Other Little Fixes to Life’s Annoyances

Washers that can tell cotton from wool, inflight air purifiers, and craft ice makers unveiled at CES 2020

2 min read
LG's R9 robot vacuum, with an overlay indicating it is sensing it's environement
Illustration: LG

Maybe we won’t see a breakthrough new technology at CES 2020. But it’s nice to see consumer electronics companies thinking about our pain points.

LG, kicking of CES press day, was all about AI, or, as the company brands it, ThinQ. Its long-term vision was a grandiose, familiar one in which all the objects that use electricity in your house will talk amongst themselves to make your life perfect.

LG’s nearer term applications of AI to household appliances were more interesting. For one, the company promised that this year’s models of its robot vacuum, the R9, will learn from mistakes—when it gets stuck in a tight corner or under a cabinet, say, and you have to retrieve it, it won’t go there again (kind of like my cat).

In another useful application of AI, LG plans to introduce washing machines that will detect the type of fabrics in the pile of clothes you shove in, automatically setting the appropriate wash cycle settings. (I reached out to the company for information on sensors and other details, and will update when I get an answer.)

And in LG’s final clever little move, the company will adjust icemakers in some of its refrigerators to allow them to produce the large, extra clear, spherical ice cubes popular for craft cocktails in addition to faster-melting standard cubes. Fancy ice cubes aren’t going to change anybody’s life, but as long as you have a built-in icemaker, why not have options?

Panasonic’s really useful bit of new technology nearly got lost in a press conference that featured Olympian Michael Phelps and costumed Star Wars characters roaming the audience: it’s an add-on for its inflight entertainment systems that circulates electrostatic nanoparticles of water. This gadget, executives indicated, will reduce the circulation of viruses, bacteria, and allergens. If such a system will cut the number of times I get sick after a flight, it can’t be installed soon enough.

Bosch, meanwhile, is rethinking the standard car sun visor, replacing it with an LCD screen and AI vision system that tracks the driver’s eyes and blocks the sun. Carmakers aren’t going to install driver-facing cameras and processing power just to run a virtual visor, but with such technology soon moving into vehicles to monitor driver alertness, a smart visor will soon be less of a leap.

Looking further ahead, Bosch executives indicated that the company plans to extend its image analysis systems to the backseat, where they can detect children left in parked cars and notify parents or emergency responders—an option that could potentially save lives.

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Deep Learning Could Bring the Concert Experience Home

The century-old quest for truly realistic sound production is finally paying off

12 min read
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Image containing multiple aspects such as instruments and left and right open hands.
Stuart Bradford
Blue

Now that recorded sound has become ubiquitous, we hardly think about it. From our smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, radios, disc players, and car sound systems, it’s an enduring and enjoyable presence in our lives. In 2017, a survey by the polling firm Nielsen suggested that some 90 percent of the U.S. population listens to music regularly and that, on average, they do so 32 hours per week.

Behind this free-flowing pleasure are enormous industries applying technology to the long-standing goal of reproducing sound with the greatest possible realism. From Edison’s phonograph and the horn speakers of the 1880s, successive generations of engineers in pursuit of this ideal invented and exploited countless technologies: triode vacuum tubes, dynamic loudspeakers, magnetic phonograph cartridges, solid-state amplifier circuits in scores of different topologies, electrostatic speakers, optical discs, stereo, and surround sound. And over the past five decades, digital technologies, like audio compression and streaming, have transformed the music industry.

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