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THE NEXT BIG THINGS: Best of the Consumer Electronics Show

0301
 2015


The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas showcases everything from small ‘smart’ devices that control power use to futuristic concept cars, like this self-driving Mercedes.

By Lisa Ogle

So very much stuff, so little time.

Most electronics fanatics and gadget geeks would give their Xbox Ones to wander the cavernous space that houses the annual International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. For four days in January, companies of all sizes debuted their most innovative consumer tech products at the 2015 show. 
 
Think self-driving cars and remotely controlled homes. This is the trade show that brings sci-fi to reality. This year, it even served up pizza and cookies made from 3-D printers. 
 
There were 170,000 attendees checking out 3,600 exhibitors in the blindingly bright — even by Vegas standards — 2.2 million square feet of exhibit space (enough space for 35 football fields). Bluebonnet was there, seeking out the best energy-saving (or energy generating) products on the cutting edge and looking for the trends that may end up in your home or office. 
 
The Internet of Things was the buzz-worthy label that popped up throughout CES, with particular attention paid to the automated home of the just around- the-corner future, where most every electronic device — from the air conditioner/heater to the alarm system, to lights and appliances — can be wirelessly connected to the homeowner via smart devices. Some allow for remote voice control. 
 
Other major trends from the 2015 showroom floors were the next generation of wearable electronic devices that are more stylish and inconspicuous (such as a fitness tracking bracelet with a large Swarovski crystal to hide the tech behind the bling), health monitoring systems (everything from a biofeedback headband that uses brain waves to train a person to stay calm to office desks and chairs that alert a worker when to stand up to prevent too much sedentary time), intelligent car electronics (yes, self-driving car prototypes), drones and, of course, bigger, better, ultra-high definition TVs. 
 
The electronics show is the launching pad for most every gadget or gizmo we’ll be wearing, using, listening to or watching in the next few years. It’s the place that first lifted the curtain on digital technology and introduced smartphones, touch-screen tablets and electric cars. 
 
The mega-spectacle began in 1967 in New York City, where the pocket radio was introduced. Over the years, many familiar consumer electronics debuted at CES. In 2001, Microsoft’s then-chairman Bill Gates showed off the Xbox video-game console, one of the most successful unveilings in CES history. HDTVs and DVRs were first showcased at CES. 
 
Time in the electronics industry is fleeting and fickle, though. Best-of-show items from years past are obsolete: The videocassette recorder (VCR) introduced at the 1970 show and the compact disc player and camcorder unveiled in 1981 may still be gathering dust on your shelves.
 
Despite the risk of becoming relics, some flashy 2015 CES showstoppers that could just be the next big things included: 
 
Samsung’s dual-door oven, which allows you to cook two meals at once at different temperatures in customizable space; 
 
LG’s twin washing machine, which lets you wash a large load of clothes and a smaller load at the same time, at different agitation and water temperature settings; 
 
Netatmo’s sleek, home-security camera with facial recognition; 
 
Blue Spark Technologies’ bandage-like thermometer that goes under your baby’s arm and continuously tracks his or her temperature, sending alerts to your smartphone. 
 
Some of the products featured at the show are already available, some are hitting the shelves later this year or next, while some are only concepts giving us a glimpse of the future. 
 
Electronics usually need electricity — and sometimes a lot of it. So we kept our focus on products that help consumers such as Bluebonnet members reduce their electric use, save money and live more safely. 
 
(Except, we just couldn’t resist telling you about the bright, shiny things that were too cool to ignore, below).
 
EnerPlex Packr Commuter

 
What it does: Besides protecting and carrying belongings, this backpack is integrated with flexible solar panels that can charge personal electronics in just a few hours.

Other features: The Packr has a padded interior laptop, USB port and pockets for water bottles, pens and business cards. Available with orange, lime green or gray trim.
 
Where to buy: goenerplex.com

Cost: $99.99
 


Whirlpool HybridCare Duet Dryer with Heat Pump Technology  
 
What it does: This clothes dryer regenerates energy during operation using a refrigeration system to dry and recycle the same air. It saves up to 73 percent of the energy used by a regular dryer, while providing dryer speed performance and flexibility.

Other features: The 7.3-cubic-foot, Energy Star-certified dryer features moisture sensing technology that monitors heat and moisture levels to automatically end the cycle when clothes are dry, saving energy by preventing over drying and reducing damage to fabrics. The Eco option also saves energy, though there’s a Speed option for quick drying and a Balanced option that delivers the best of both.

Where to buy: Most home appliance stores

Cost: $1,799-$1,899
 

 
FURo-i Home Robot 
 
Why it’s cool: Besides looking like something out of “The Jetsons,” this nifty little gizmo aims to keep families connected by letting you remotely monitor your home (it’s mobile, so you can even have it move from room to room), video chat with loved ones, plan daily activities and control home devices.

Date to market: May 2015

Cost: $899 (pre-order at myfuro.com)
 

Savant 

What it does: This home automation company’s app has a sleek, intuitive design that makes it easy to view and adjust home lighting, temperature and more in any room. You can also program specific settings such as date night, which dims the lights, queues up romantic music and lowers the shades.

Where to buy: savant.com

Cost: App is free but requires installation of Savant Smart Home system, which starts at about $1,000
 

 
Brio smart outlet
 
What it does: To protect young children who may try to stick something into an electrical socket, this outlet can detect whether an object is a proper plug. It releases a full 120-volt current only to an appliance that needs power. Unlike the company’s safe outlet, the smart outlet also communicates with Brio’s sensors, in-sensor alarms and mobile app to help protect a home against smoke, water damage and carbon monoxide.

Other features: New faceplate colors coming in the future.

Date to market: August 2015

Cost: $99 (pre-order at brio.com


WakaWaka Power+ 

What it does: This solar device can charge most smartphones or small electronics via a USB connector, or can serve as a flashlight. After 12 hours of sunlight, it can fully charge an iPhone 5 in two hours.

Other features: It is high-impact resistant, made of 100 percent recycled material and available in yellow, black or white. For every one purchased, WakaWaka donates one to a family in need in a developing country.

Where to buy: us.waka-waka.com

Cost: $79


Aspect Solar Duo-Flex2 

What it does: This portable solar charger for the outdoor lover can be strapped to a parked car or backpack or set out on a patio. The power can then be used to operate a laptop or tablet at a campsite or charge your phone while hiking.

Where to buy: aspectsolar.com

Cost: $119.99

 

Lutron Caséta Wireless dimmers 

What it does: This system offers two types of dimmers — an in-wall unit to replace an existing light switch and a lamp unit for a standard wall receptacle. Both can be controlled remotely and work with energy-saving bulbs, including dimmable LEDs and CFLs.

Other features: The app allows you to set specific settings, such as movie night or bedtime.

Where to buy: Multiple retail and online stores

Cost: $59.95


Sengled Snap

What it does: This LED bulb doubles as a security device with a built-in 1080p camera, speaker, microphone and infrared night vision. The smart bulb is intended to be installed on the exterior of your home, can be controlled with a mobile app and uses facial recognition and motion detection to allow you to monitor your home via live or recorded video on a smartphone or tablet.

Date to market: Summer 2015

Cost: $199


QSolar panels 

What they do: QSolar has created a line of solar panels that are more durable in hail and other harsh conditions. Some are also lighter and even flexible, allowing new applications. For example, the show featured the QDrive Golf Cart Kit, which extends the life of a single charge for electric golf carts.

Date to market: Possibly by late 2015

Cost: Undetermined but slightly higher than traditional panels
 

 
Sensibo
 
What it does: This system turns a remote-controlled air conditioner, such as a window unit, into a smart device similar to a smart thermostat for central AC systems. Sensibo allows remote temperature adjustments, turns the unit off automatically when you leave, learns and adapts to your lifestyle, and finds optimal temperature and humidity levels, helping reduce electric bills.

Other features: Keeps track of weather and suggests proper settings. For example, when it’s pleasant outside, it suggests turning off the AC to enjoy the breeze. It even reminds you to change the filter.

Date to market: April 2015

Cost: $159 for single kit (pre-order at sensibo.com
 

 
FIBARO Wall Plug 
 
What it does: This plug-and-play outlet adapter allows you to control any electrical device remotely as well as monitor power consumption, which is displayed on the device both numerically and by color. It features two plug outlets and two USB power outlets.

Date to market: Fall 2015

Cost: Undetermined, though European version can be found for $76


TOO COOL TO IGNORE

In the future, we will be wirelessly, remotely connected to just about everything — our houses, our pets and, yes, even our babies. 
 
Whether it’s a collar that tracks how much exercise your dog gets each day or a digital printer that fits in your pocket, you’ll never be far from a handy Wi-Fi gadget. Whirlpool even envisions your kitchen stovetop as the most convenient computer in your house, displaying websites, social networks and a video screen so you can connect with a friend or family member who knows more than a cookbook. 
 
We couldn’t resist telling you about some of the more fascinating electronic goodies. Here’s a peek at some of the products that may — or may not — make it to a retailer near you.
 
Sungale’s Kitchen Screen 
 
Why it’s cool: This device not only displays your digital photos, recipes, notes to family, time and weather, but you can use it to compile a grocery list and even buy those items online via the screen and have them delivered to your home.

Date to market: April 2015 (The company is looking for grocery store partners and expects to have one by then.)

Estimated cost: $139.99 for 8-inch screen
 

 
Sproutling baby monitor
 
Why it’s cool: This device senses, learns and predicts a baby’s sleep patterns and optimal sleep conditions and keeps parents informed via a mobile app. It also has a wearable band for the baby and a smart charger that monitors baby’s room temperature, humidity, and sound and light levels. You can monitor up to four babies at a time with the app if each is outfitted with a Sproutling.

Where to buy: sproutling.com (waitlist)

Cost: $299
 

 
Whirlpool’s interactive kitchen concept 
 
Why it’s cool: Having a projector screen with an induction cooktop would make getting dinner on the table a delight. It would take inventory of the things in your fridge that need to be used soon and offer suggestions for your meal. You go with spaghetti, and the screen takes you through the recipe step by step, telling you when to set a pot or pan on the cooktop and automatically heating it to the correct temperature. It would be connected to your smartphone, allowing video chats with a friend or relative if a key secret ingredient is missing from the written recipe. You could reply to your child’s text request to have a friend over for dinner, and the system would adjust the recipe accordingly and tell you what to add to each pot or pan. It would be connected to your oven and automatically preheat it, tell you when to heat the French bread and turn off by itself when it’s the perfect golden brown.

Date to market: Who knows? It’s just an idea, folks … but a great one!

Cost: Probably a pretty penny
 


ZUta Pocket Printer
 
Why it’s cool: This gadget, about 4 inches in diameter, allows you to print documents anywhere there’s a flat surface to lay a piece of paper.

Date to market: September 2015

Cost: $199 (pre-order at zutalabs.com)


Jins Meme activity tracking glasses 

Why it’s cool: Unlike many wearables, the Jins Meme glasses look like Ray-Bans and look good on men or women. They gather data on your mind and body through sensors that monitor subtle body changes and sync with a smartphone to provide information such as when you’re sleepy and how many calories you’ve burned.

Date to market: Fall 2015

Cost: Expected to be competitive for smart eyewear
 

 
Iris PetSafe SmartDoor
 
Why it’s cool: When connected to the Iris smart home system, this pet door enables you to remotely control when your pet goes outside and will record when he or she comes and goes.

Where to buy: Lowes.com, some retail stores

Cost: $220


 

 
Delta Breez Ventilation Fan 
 
Why it’s cool: This series of ventilation fans, typically used in bathrooms and laundry rooms is more energy efficient and much quieter than traditional ones. Available for new construction or retrofitting into existing structures. The models have features including varying speeds, humidity sensing, motion sensing, delay timer and lights (including a night light option).

Where to buy: Major home retailer websites

Cost: $86 and up, depending on the model and features
 

 







Mercedes-Benz F 015 autonomous driving vehicle 
 
Why it’s cool: Mercedes-Benz premiered this concept car at CES to showcase what it envisions for the future. Cars will not be just a mode of transportation but a place to retreat. The F 015 features four rotating lounge chairs and interior screens that allow users to plan their route, play games, video conference and more. Passengers can interact intuitively with the connected vehicle through gestures, eye-tracking or by touching the high-resolution screens. The vehicle can be driven manually or autonomously, and is intricately in tune with its surroundings.

Date to market: Sooner than you think

Cost: More than you can afford
 
 
 

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