If there’s one thing you can learn from attending the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2020, it’s that the future is weird. From intelligent toilets to headless robo-kittens, here are some of the best and most bizarre gadgets launched at the world’s biggest tech expo.
Compare your current car to your first. If you’ve been driving for a while, you’ll pick out things in the latest models, like in-built SAT NAVs and reversing cameras, that were once a sci-fi concept. You might even be able to say things like “I remember when they first introduced power steering!”
One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is the sun visor. Why should it? It’s basic, and it serves its purpose. But glare from the Sun still causes car accidents, and when we can use our voice to control nearly everything now, why should we have to take our hands off the steering wheel to pull down the visor?
Trying out the Bosch sun visor
Here’s where the Virtual Visor from Bosch comes in. The early mockup, which debuted at the Las Vegas Conference Centre, features a transparent LCD screen in place of the traditional visor.
A small camera on the dash tracks the driver’s face, picking up facial features and monitoring the Sun and shadows cast across the face. When it detects glare, it can selectively darken sections of the visor. Trying out the tech at CES, we found there was a little delay in the visor moving with the driver’s face, but no more so than the time it would take to pull down a sun visor currently.
Try as you might, you can’t ignore the call of nature even in the middle of the night. Instead of navigating the bathroom in the dark, potentially slipping off the seat onto the cold, hard floor (honestly, it happens!) you could be greeted by a gentle nightlight, the lid softly (read: quietly) opening for you and the seat warm and welcoming. Stand up, walk away, Numi 2.0 will flush and close the lid for you – no more arguments to be had there.
Your smart home wouldn’t be complete without a smart toilet, would it? You can even personalise the Numi experience for everyone in your household using the KOHLER Konnect. Amazon Alexa offers easy voice control for all toilet features, but you can also ask Alexa for the weather forecast, the best commute route and breaking news all from the titanium metallic throne.
No, this isn’t a still from the WALL-E CGI reboot (as far as we’re aware, there’s no connection between the Pixar concept and Segway’s new product) but instead could be the vessel transporting you around the airport or shopping centres in the near future.
Announced at CES, the Segway S-Pod is said to be much easier to maneuverer than the companies previous two-wheeled iterations, although some have called it a ‘ridiculous lounge chair on wheels’.
Samsung’s Bot Chef
The smart sous-chef
Samsung’s Bot Chef
In Samsung’s vision of the future, we’ll have a robot to help us with everything, including making breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Bot Chef prototype ran demonstrations showing off its ability to chop and sauté tofu, make a healthy salad and get a cup of joe from a coffee machine.
They call it a ‘co-bot’, a collaborative robot that is meant to assist rather than take over, and it’s full of features to make working together easy and safe, like freezing when you get too close while Bot Chef’s using a knife.
While it is currently just a concept, Samsung have said they have made the Bot Chef with accessibility in mind and want to keep them ‘affordable’ to those that need one – what that price will be, though, is anyone’s guess.
The perfect pair for your smart toilet, meet the Rollbot. Never again will you feel the dread that comes with finding an empty toilet paper tube where a full roll should be.
Speaking to those demonstrating the toilet roll maker Charmin inventions (which also include a sniffing sensor that can tell you when to avoid entering a smelly cubicle and a pop-up festival toilet equipped with a VR headset so you don’t miss your favourite song) I was assured that the Rollbot is not just for those whose partners don’t want to venture into the throne room, but for disabled people and those who live alone.
Is this a serious smart home solution? “The problem is serious, but this is a prototype,” said Yifei on the Proctor & Gamble stand. “There are currently no plans for it to go on sale.”
Wandering around with a headless kitten
Qoobo (left) and Petit Qoobo
Word of the headless cat pillow spread quickly around CES. Gifs appeared online, photos of visitors hugging a wheel with a wagging tail circulated. It sounds impractical and downright useless… until you try it.
Designed to comfort people who can’t have a cat of their own (such as allergy sufferers and renters, the makers tell me) Qoobo and its smaller cousin, Petit Qoobo, have an effect that is hard to describe. Qoobo’s tail wags in response to being touched, fast or slow depending on how you smooth it. The Petit will even move its tail in reaction to sounds: call out its name and it seems happy to see you. The underbelly vibrates, mimicking a heartbeat.
It is oddly comforting. It is less effort and expense than a real cat. But it may get some funny looks from your houseguests.
$149 (Not currently available in the UK), Qoobo.info
Amy is the Editorial Assistant at BBC Science Focus and looks after all things books, culture and media. She is also a regular interviewer on the Science Focus Podcast. Her interests range from natural history and wildlife, to women in STEM and accessibility tech.