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CES Notebook: A Taste of Things to Come

Yearly electronics blowout should be heavy on touch screens and wireless communication, along with the occasional robot and ecofriendly solution
Celestron LCD digital microscope



JOHN PAVLUS

Click here for a full list of our coverage of the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show.

CLICK HERE to view a video companion to this piece

LAS VEGAS—The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is a maddening array of stimuli—flashy displays, buzzing processors and beeping devices—located in a city known for pretty much all the same hallmarks.

From the looks of last night's press preview, the two primary orders of the day are touch screen–enabled software and hardware, as well as wireless transmission of data.

On the touch screen end, there was a raft of new smartphones, as well as universal remotes to control various home media, like the Logitech Harmony One. Microsoft Vista-enabled software solutions also made a showing, including one from British outfit Ergo, which unveiled Invu, a visual search engine that culls results from sources like Google, Yahoo!, and even Flickr and then groups the hits into contextual subsets (a search for African mammals may separate entries on elephants from entries on giraffes). Webpages can then be marked up—provided you have a touch screen–enabled PC, like the Dell Latitude XT—by writing directly on the screen, and then sent to others via e-mail.

Wireless solutions were everywhere, transmitting data without cords from digital cameras to laptops or external media players or HDTVs. One device manufacturer partnered with Westinghouse to produce the Pulse-Link, which, with its ultra wideband high definition multimedia interface, streams video in 1080p from either Blu-Ray Disc or HD-DVD players to LCD TVs. Also on this front, the Logitech Squeezebox Duet enables users to play all the music on their PC from anywhere in their house using standard 802.11 wireless protocol.

Interspersed with the media transmission and transmogrification devices was a sea of iPod docking stations, far and away the most ubiquitous type of new tech toy, with varieties for every age group and demographic. Massachusetts-based Cue offers r1 radio, an iPod dock with a car radio–quality AM / FM tuner. The whole device is controlled by only three-buttons, so it's both elegant and retro (read: meant for an aging baby boomer). For the "I want an iPod nano dock I can put in my fish aquarium"–set, there is the iceBar, a waterproof dock that floats. For a little biomimicry, VestaLife provides a dock that resembles a shiny ladybug. And for stoner college coeds who just discovered Pink Floyd comes the Aquallusion iTube light.

Among several advances in robotic automation was the Wowwee Rovio, a GPS-enabled exploratory stingray on wheels that transmits surveillance video accessible from any PC browser via WiFi. Beyond that, in the coming days SciAm hopes to bring you some footage of "Boss," the Carnegie Mellon University–designed fully autonomous vehicle that won last November's DARPA Urban Challenge race in Victorville, Calif.

Giving a nod to environmentally friendly tech, the 603 Sun from Iqua is a solar-powered Bluetooth headset that can supply up to 12 hours of continuous talk time (more than most phones allow for) as long as it is exposed to ambient light. Similarly, the NRG Dock can, if its solar panel is placed in a window, allow users to charge iPods and cell phones without ever drawing power from the grid.

Finally, of particular interest to the SciAm CES team was the Celestron LCD Digital Microscope, which the Torrance, Calif.–company is sneak previewing at CES and unveiling at a science teachers' conference in March. The rig has three objective lenses (4x, 10x and 40x magnification) and sports a 3.5-inch (8.9-centimeter) LCD screen with a 4,000x zoom that ensures that next generation's high school students and college freshman will not be closing one eye to spy on a paramecium or their own cheek swabs in biology lab.

As overwhelming as they were, the wares on display at this year's CES press preview are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to new product announcements at the conference. Stay tuned for more—we'll be in Las Vegas covering the CES all week.

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