CES 2016: A Place for the Insane and (Sometimes) Useful Technologies

CRB_1271The international Consumer Electronics Show, held annually in Las Vegas gets underway today. This popular show gathers tech companies, reporters, advertisers and analysts for one giant sprawling series of events dedicated to showing off thousands of new gadgets.

The CES typically offers a mix of cutting-edge tech products that range from exciting and potentially world-changing to insane ideas, with a likely mixture of both. However, most of the time, the CES offers an excellent window at the big new trends in consumer technology that companies hope will be successful in the coming year. Some technologies, like 3D TV or ultrabook laptops, have fallen completely flat. But others, like virtual reality and 4K TV, are steadily making their way into our living rooms.

What are some of the things we should expect to see this year?


The year 2015 was a big one for wearables. The release of the Apple Watch, updated Android Wear OS and new versions of the Pebble Watch made their way to our wrists. This year, we could see many of the same themes: fitness tracking, notification serving and always-connected will likely play a big role in the new year. Most of the wearable tech present at CES in 2016 will take the shape of small gadgets. But those looking to make a statement have no shortage of options either.

Virtual reality

It looks like 2016 will finally be the year that consumers will be able to get their hands on powerful VR headsets. Major players in VR like Facebook-owned Oculus and Sony-owned Playstation VR will drum up pre-launch buzz at each of their CES booths by showing off some of the most advanced headsets on the planet.

Smart Homes

At this year’s CES, almost all of the Tech West hall will be covered by new smart home gadgets. Products that are compatible with Google’s Nest Learning Thermostat, Apple HomeKit, Wink, and Thread are expected to be there in numbers.

Driver-less Cars

Driverless cars are set to come onto the scene in a big way. Appearances from Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Hyundai, Mercedes, Toyota and more could bring some interesting features to the car industry in their own right. Chevy and Volkswagen are expected to unveil new electric automobiles. And Ford might be looking to unveil its Google-powered self-driving cars.


A newly designed drone from Amazon was revealed for its fleet of proposed delivery drones in a video posted to YouTube. The new Amazon “hybrid” drone can switch between flying like a helicopter and airplane, and has a range of 15 miles, according to the company.

Times have changed for drone technology. As recently as 2014, there were only four exhibitors at CES that were offering drones. This year, there will be 27 different exhibitors, with a massive marketplace taking up a large percentage of the showroom floor. Today’s demands for drone technology is that they have advanced sensor arrays that monitor the environment, keep them from crashing, remain in legal airspace, and make flying them easier.

The Internet of Things in 2016


For 2015, it seemed as though the world around us got a whole lot smarter. We are now experiencing “smarter” homes, cars, and things we use every day. What will 2016 bring?

Market demand shifts from consumer to enterprise

The IoT reached everyone’s consciousness in 2015 a little more than it did in 2014. For the coming year, many industries will want to get ahold of these IoT. Away from the slightly gimmicky consumer applications such as smart homes and intelligent vehicles, connected technology has the potential to truly reinvent a wide number of industries, which can benefit from a huge range of advantages provided by IoT technology.

“While the Internet of Things hype reached its peak in the consumer markets this past year, 2016 will be the year of IoT in the enterprise market. Currently, we are seeing a slump in sales for the once buzz worthy, consumer IoT devices, such as fitness trackers, whereas just the opposite is happening for commercial IoT products,” explains Jason Shepherd, director of IoT strategy and partnerships at Dell.

He continues: “As companies begin understanding the value of IoT, commercial IoT solutions will gain traction and the enterprise will emerge as the largest market for IoT adoption.”

The importance of security

All of these things, and all of the data they produce, will need to be secured, and safely stored, in order to ensure both businesses and customers stay protected. The new connected IoT world will also need to ensure that consumers have the information they need to make educated decisions about the products they purchase, including the level of security offered by new products and solutions.

Big Data will become more profitable, and even bigger

More and more data is being produced by the increasing number of devices connected to the IoT. Now the challenge is to determine what to do with it. It has been forecasted that there will be 6.4 billion connected ‘things’ used worldwide in 2016, which means there is a huge amount of ‘big data’ being created each day, all of which needs to be analyzed and stored.

This explosion is also creating a need for further investment in IoT infrastructure, as more bandwidth and power is needed to cope with all the information.

The communication between technology and humans

Wearable technology offers the most direct way for us to interact with the IoT, providing a wealth of useful information that can then be uploaded and analyzed.

Wearable technology can play a big part in industry, allowing workers to quickly visualize and analyze situations without the need to be in danger or at risk. Heads Up Displays (HUD), smart gloves, and wearable cameras all have the possibility to revolutionize working in a wide range of industries.

The evolution towards the “Internet of Everything”

The IoT could soon be directly affecting every point of our lives. From health to work to travel to entertainment, the possibilities are truly endless.

The Attack of the Drones


This past Monday marked the first day that drone owners could register their drones with the FAA. And while it is expected that many drone owners think that they can get away with not registering, the program is somewhat of a success as the FAA has seen 45,000 registrations within the first 48 hours.

If you own a drone (or any model aircraft) that weighs between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds (including payloads like cameras), you now have to register with the FAA. Registration will be free until January 21. After that, it’ll cost $5. Registrations are valid for three years and if you don’t register, you risk penalties of up to $27,500 and even up to three years of jail time.

The FAA announced that “The agency has seen strong initial demand, with more than 45,000 registrations completed since the site opened for business Monday afternoon. According to industry estimates, as many as 400,000 small UAS could be sold during the holidays.”

However with 400,000 drones estimated to be sold and in addition to the number already available, 45,000 seems like a drop in the ocean but a good sign all the same.

Understanding the Evolution of the Universe Through 3D Printing


When you think of the capabilities of 3D-printing technology, you might think of iPad stands, guitars, lawnmowers and cars. However, a physicist from the University of California, Riverside is using the technology to understand the universe a little bit better. How it is structured, the evolution of cosmic structures within it, and galaxy formation.

“These problems in cosmology are very difficult to visualize, even using computer graphics,” said Miguel Aragón-Calvo, a visiting assistant researcher in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “By 3D-printing them I am able to interact directly with the models and ‘see’ the problem at once. In some cases this results in ‘eureka’ moments.”

Aragón-Calvo is trying to develop an automated method to identify and track the cosmic web across time in computer simulations.

“This is usually done by identifying structures at different times and then somehow linking structures in adjacent times,” he said. “Current techniques using this approach are far from optimal.”

By 3D-printing a simpler 2D simulation and assigning the third dimension to time he realized that this was in fact the solution to his problem.

“Tridimensional cosmic structures can be easily identified and tracked as four-dimensional objects where time is taken as another spatial variable,” he said. “Even though I had visualized the cosmic web many times before in the computer screen, the solution only became obvious once I held the model in my hand.”

Aragón-Calvo believes that tactile information gained when holding a model of a problem in the hand plays an important role in how we understand the problem.

Netflix Plans to De-clog the Internet’s Bandwidth


At peak hours, Netflix makes up a whopping 37% of all internet traffic in North America, which is a huge congestion problem. Now it appears that it may have found an answer.

Netflix has been quietly testing a new way to deliver all the streaming content on its servers, without sacrificing video-quality for movies. Each episode of “The Office” was encoded at several different qualities which could shift according to variations in a customer’s connection. That way it can max out on the actual quality the viewer sees without causing artifacts or pixelization. Years ago, when they adopted this algorithm, Netflix developed what’s called a bitrate ladder. Some of those gains come from changing that up and compressing things like cartoons down further and more efficiently, while making sure that things like action movies still get all the love they deserve.

Without seeing this plan in action, we can’t yet say whether the process truly makes for a better or worse viewing experience; maybe the difference is as indiscernible as Netflix claims. But that “one-size-fits-all” fixed bitrate ladder didn’t account for scenes with high camera noise film grain noise, meaning that even a 5800 kbps stream would still “exhibit blockiness in the noisy areas”.

Netflix is now busy re-encoding its entire library, which is a massive undertaking. Also on some slow connections the video quality often dropped to 480p. Previously, the same watcher would have just been able to watch the show with a resolution of 720×480, and still used more data.

As a whole, the new model should give Netflix customers better-looking content while using 20% less bandwidth.

The Future of Human Skin Detection Technology


For the purpose of locating people in aerial search and rescue operations, color-image based systems are excellent, but simply fall short when it comes to differentiating between actual human skin and objects with similar hues. To overcome this problem, researchers at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) have developed a novel two-dimensional feature space which uses the spectral absorption characteristics of melanin, hemoglobin and water to better characterize human skin.

Spectral imaging systems use information from the entire electromagnetic spectrum to provide digital images with much greater information per pixel than traditional cameras. Feature spaces in a spectral imaging system are vectors that numerically represent an object’s characteristics.

The AFIT research team used feature spaces to key in on specific constituents of human tissue by using a skin index concerned with how water and melanin’s presence in skin manifests at two different wavelengths in the near-infrared region. These changes would cut the overall cost of hyperspectral-based search and rescue systems to a seventh of what they currently cost.

Volkswagen Dodges Carbon Dioxide Bullet


Volkswagen has announced that a problem with its carbon dioxide emissions is far smaller than initially suspected, with further checks finding “slight discrepancies” in only a few models and no evidence of illegal changes to fuel consumption and emissions figures.

In a case that is separate from its scandal over cheating on U.S. emissions tests for the pollutant nitrogen oxide, Volkswagen said in November it had also found “unexplained inconsistencies” in the carbon dioxide emissions from up to 800,000 vehicles. However, it said that further internal investigations and measurement checks found that “almost all of these model variants do correspond to the CO2 figures originally determined.”

Slight deviations were found in nine variants of Volkswagen brand models with an annual production of some 36,000 cars, or 0.5% of the brand’s total production. Those deviations amount to “a few grams of CO2 on average.” The German car manufacturer initially said that issues with carbon dioxide emissions could cost it another 2 billion euros ($2.2 billion) on top of the costs incurred in the scandal over the nitrogen oxide emissions-cheating.

Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority ordered after Volkswagen’s announcement last month that the CO2 emissions of the models in question be measured anew, and the government said it was sticking to that.

Afraid of the Needle?


Google has filed a patent for a needle-free blood drawing system for people who frequently test their blood levels, of which the device is called “”Needle-Free Blood Draw” and can penetrate the skin without the needle. Such an application might be used to draw a small amount of blood, for example, for a glucose test.

The patent suggests that the device works by firing a microparticle into the skin using a high powered gas barrel. Thanks to the negative pressure, the device is able to collect a small amount of blood from the skin at the point where the microparticle entered – meaning no needles are used in the entire process.

This isn’t the first device Google has been working on that is aimed at the 9% of adults aged 18+ who have diabetes; Google Life Sciences – once a division of Google X until the Alphabet restructuring – is working on contact lenses that can measure a patient’s blood sugar levels by analyzing their tears. They are also making a bandage-sized, cloud-connected sensor to help people monitor their glucose levels.

Create Your Own Virtual Reality with Google Cardboard App

487582-google-cardboard-cameraGoogle is taking its virtual reality efforts to the next level with the launch of a new app called Cardboard Camera, which enables Android users to create their own virtual reality content using the cameras on their phones.

With the app, you can just hold out your phone and movie around you in a circle. Then, when you put your phone in a Google Cardboard viewer, you can experience the photo in virtual reality. The photos are 3D panoramas that provide “slightly different” views for each of your eyes. This makes it so that near things look near and far things look far. You can look around to explore the image in all directions, and even record sound with your photo to hear the moment exactly as it happened. With Cardboard Camera, anyone can create their own VR experience.


Transitioning From Billionaire Tech Leaders to Philanthropists

2998Offstage, in a barren conference room at the Paris climate talks, Bill Gates excitedly described the possibility of generating energy through the long-speculated process of artificial photosynthesis, using the energy of sunshine to produce liquid hydrocarbons that could challenge the supremacy of fossil fuels.

Gates was in Paris to push his latest bit of entrepreneurial philanthropy: the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, an informal club of 28 private investors from around the world, including several hedge fund billionaires who have agreed to follow his lead and pump seed money into energy research and development. Gates believes the energy sector suffers from a dearth of such funding, the reason much of the world is still burning coal for its power.

A readiness to put another billion dollars of his own money into what is already a roughly billion-dollar portfolio of energy investments was also enough for Gates to convince 20 governments to commit to doubling their own R&D investments within five years.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, recently welcomed a baby girl. And as that announcement was made, the two have pledged to give 99% of their Facebook shares to “join many others in improving this world for the next generation.” Together, the couple’s shares currently amount to $45 billion.

They are forming a new organization, called the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, that will pursue those goals through a combination of charitable donations, private investment and promotion of government-policy reform.