Demo Spring 2011 kicked off at 5:30 pm Pacific Time on Sunday, 27 February, the same time as the Academy Awards telecast. So it’s not surprising that I had the Oscars on my mind as I watched the presentations at Demo Spring, a showcase for new technology that ran through Tuesday in Palm Desert, Calif. Or that I was inspired to name a few award winners of my own.
And the DemOscar goes to:
Special Effects: Swivel from FaceCake
Are shoppers more likely to buy clothes online—or in a store—if they can try them on virtually? Two companies introducing technologies at Demo Spring say they are—FaceCake Marketing Technologies and Zugara. Both let shoppers use gestures (captured by webcam or Kinect) to grab virtual clothes off of a rack and try them on; Swivel’s version, in my testing, was a lot more responsive and realistic than Zugara’s. Do they make sense? Neither gives you a clue as to how the item might fit, and fit is usually my biggest problem in virtual shopping; they do let you play with accessories, and perhaps there is something to be said for seeing a style pasted on your image, even if the pasting can be a little clumsy—the “Oh my, that’s definitely not for me” reaction comes a lot faster than it does when paging through images of models. I test the Swivel system in the video above.
Achievement in Sci-Fi: Cyclic Variations in Altitude Conditioning (CVAC) Systems
The CVAC system, a futuristic personal pod, takes a single user up to a simulated 20,000 feet or so in altitude and back down to the ground in a matter of minutes.
Company CEO Allen Ruszkowski says doing this a couple of times a day can replace exercise, reduce obesity, prevent diabetes, increase a user’s lifespan, and save the world. (OK, not save the world, but he did make the other claims). Given that my ears don’t like rapid altitude changes, I passed on the opportunity to test the $110,00 device, but those who tried it reported that the experience was unpleasant.
Green Goddess: EcoATM
I loved the EcoATM. It’s essentially a reverse vending machine for cell phones—put your cell phone in, and it spits money (or store credit) out. The company says that cell phones, these days, are used an average of 13 months before they are discarded, and while there’s a secondary market for used cell phones, not that many people are going to go through the trouble of selling old phones on eBay or Craig’s List; more likely, they’ll get tossed in a box or bag in a closet and, someday, will make it to a recycling drop-off. EcoATM thinks it can get these cell phones out of the closet and into reuse or recycling a lot faster and more efficiently. The company’s self-serve machines will be placed in electronics retailers and other locations, starting in California this year. A user puts a phone into a chamber, the system identifies the phone, examines it for external damage, tests it to see whether or not its in working order, and then offers the user a price, based on what it can bring on the secondary market. If the phone is obsolete, it offers to recycle the phone for free and plant a tree in your behalf. EcoATM founder Mark Bowles explains his system in the video above.
Best one-liner from a presenter: Cambridge Fertility Concepts
“My name is Shamus, and my job is to get millions of women pregnant,” said Shamus Husheer, cofounder of Cambridge Fertility Concepts, introducing the DuoFertility monitor. This monitoring system records a woman’s temperature throughout the day and night and sends it online for analysis. Husheer explains his technology in the video above.
Best original screenplay: OneGoodLove
One Good Love is a dating site for gays and lesbians; the company’s introduction at Demo abounded in Cinderella metaphors. As a tech journalist, it was certainly the first time I’ve heard an algorithm referred to as a “personal fairy godmother for love.”
Best Use of Props: Primadesk
To start off the demo for Primadesk, a company that provides tools for managing documents and photos stored in various cloud services from one spot, CEO Srinivasa Venkataraman walked onto a pitch-dark stage, and then turned on a flashlight to scan the room—his version of the way people today struggle to find their documents in the cloud.
Photo credit (top): The Demo Conference; other photo and videos: Tekla Perry
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.