NICK EICHER, HOST: Well, next up, CES. The Consumer Electronics Show.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: Technology is advancing at such a dizzying pace these days that it’s often hard to keep up with all the latest innovations. But CES has become a huge “one-stop-shop” for getting a glimpse at what may be around the corner in technology.
EICHER: CES 2019 concluded earlier this month in Las Vegas, featuring 4,500 exhibitors from 155 different countries. They ranged from tech and automotive giants to tiny entrepreneurs. Over four days, the massive trade show hosted nearly 180,000 visitors who could experience everything from smart home appliances, to massive 8K televisions to goofy gadgets.
REICHARD: Here to give us a rundown on the highlights from CES 2019 is WORLD Radio technology reporter Michael Cochrane.
So, Michael, was there any kind of theme this year? Because I remember last year those voice assistants like Alexa were a big thing.
MICHAEL COCHRANE, REPORTER: Yeah, they were featured widely again this year in more and more products. But those voice assistants are getting smarter all the time. Google announced an upgrade to its Google Assistant that allows for real-time voice translation. You just speak or hold a conversation near a smart speaker or device with Google Assistant and it translates it into your chosen language instantly.
But if there was anything like a theme in this year’s show that I picked up on, it was in the area of display technologies for phones and TVs.
REICHARD: You mean like improvements in resolution and things like that?
COCHRANE: Actually, the current state of the art in TV display resolution – 8k high definition – debuted at last year’s show. This year, manufacturers are unveiling consumer versions of these TVs. But the latest display technology is all about flexibility – display surfaces that can bend and even roll up.
REICHARD: Whoa, that sounds futuristic. You’re saying your TV could roll away when you’re not using it? I can’t stand seeing appliances and wires and things.
COCHRANE: Exactly! LG introduced what it’s calling the “world’s first” production roll-up TV. It has a 65-inch 4k display when fully extended for regular TV viewing. But then it can retract completely into its base which contains the audio system and speakers. LG’s approach addresses the problem of TV’s getting bigger and taking up more space in a room.
REICHARD: What were some other popular or impressive products on display?
COCHRANE: Well, even though this was technically a consumer electronics show, auto manufacturers featured prominently. And one of the most popular exhibits was Hyundai’s walking car.
REICHARD: A walking car?
COCHRANE: Yes. It’s called the Elevate. Billed as the Ultimate Mobility Vehicle, it replaces conventional axles and suspensions with four robotic, articulating legs with wheels on the end. It can drive like a car on the highway but then can extend the limbs and walk over obstacles that even an Army tank couldn’t negotiate. The major design driver for the all-electric vehicle was emergency response for fire and search and rescue crews, but with different body types it could be used in a number of different ways.
REICHARD: That’s fascinating! What was another popular technology at the show?
COCHRANE: Well, it’s interesting that another exhibit that really wowed a lot of people was also in the transportation section. Bell – you know, the helicopter manufacturer – had a full size version of its five-person flying taxi.
REICHARD: That would have gotten my attention, too!
COCHRANE: It’s an amazing-looking futuristic concept. One journalist called it a cross between an electric helicopter and person-sized drone. It’s powered by six ducted fans that are horizontal for vertical take-off but then rotate 90 degrees to a vertical position for forward flight.
REICHARD: Is this just a gee-whizz concept or do they really propose to put these into commercial use?
COCHRANE: Bell is saying that they plan to have a commercial air taxi service up and running by 2025. And they’re just the latest aircraft company to unveil air taxi concepts. Boeing, Airbus and even Rolls-Royce have already introduced some very detailed concepts. So, who knows – flying cars may yet become a reality.
REICHARD: Well, were there any just plain weird or fun gadgets on display at CES 2019?
COCHRANE: OK. One company showcased an electronic exercise treadmill for cats.
REICHARD: You’re kidding me.
COCHRANE: Really. It’s a large ring that can be set to rotate at different speeds, controlled by a smartphone app. The thing that entices your cat to get on the treadmill and run is an LED light that flickers just out of reach. You know how cats go crazy when they see a laser pointer dot. It’s the same principle. The app can let you watch your cat through a live camera feed when you’re not home. It even records your pet’s run data like a fitness tracker.
REICHARD: What will they think of next?
COCHRANE: A lot! There were so many more things we could talk about, but here’s one you might appreciate: a machine that automatically folds your laundry.
REICHARD: Now that’s interesting!
COCHRANE: It’s called Foldimate. You just manually insert the item of clothing by clipping it into the conveyor. About five seconds later the machine dumps the folded item onto a tray. The company claims you can fold a whole load of laundry in five minutes. The prototype at CES was only folding t-shirts, but the company claims it can also fold collared shirts, trousers and even some sizes of towels.
REICHARD: How soon can I actually buy one of these gadgets?
COCHRANE: It’s supposed to be available later this year but with a $980 price tag! Which convinces me that folding laundry by hand can actually be enjoyable as long as you’re listening to The World and Everything In It while you’re doing it!
REICHARD: Absolutely! Michael Cochrane is our Ph.D. science and technology reporter. Thanks, Michael!
COCHRANE: You’re very welcome, Mary.