January 09, 2015
Segment: 1
CES 2015: Smart Mirrors, Autonomous Cars, and Safer Home Security
Produced by Christopher Intagliata, Senior Producer
IRA FLATOW: This is Science Friday. I'm Ira Flatow.

This week, tech geeks and business execs converged on Las Vegas for the International Consumer Electronic Show. And yes, a few show-offs arrived in self-driving cars. The frenzied masses were also treated to hydrogen powered vehicles, drones, ultra high def TVs, internet-connected gas ranges, tea kettles, coffee makers, creepy humanoid robots, and of course, smartphones, smart fans, smart belts, smart rings, even a smart mirror. No reported Maxwell Smart.

My next guest was at CES this week, and she's here to give us a few of her tech top picks. Lauren Goode is a senior reviewer at Recode in San Francisco. She joins us from KQED there. Welcome to Science Friday, Lauren.

LAUREN GOODE: Hi, Ira. I guess since I'm not a business exec, I'd have to put myself in the category of techie, as you said earlier.

IRA FLATOW: Proudly. You mean proudly put yourself.

LAUREN GOODE: Yes, of course.

IRA FLATOW: Tell us, was this year all about the cars at the show?

LAUREN GOODE: It was, in fact. We've seen over the past few years the automakers really start to increase their presence at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which is always a little bit surprising when you consider the fact that the International Auto Show takes place in just a couple weeks in Detroit, which is of course the Super Bowl of the auto industry. But the executives I spoke to from the auto companies said that CES has basically become a very important show for them as they begin to work with more technology companies and begin to integrate more and more technologies into their vehicles.

IRA FLATOW: Now, it wasn't just the fact that they had hydrogen fuel cars or electric cars. It was what was in the car or running the car.

LAUREN GOODE: That's correct. We saw lots of connected cars, as they're called. And this can really mean a few different things. In some cases, it means that you have a connectivity between your smartphone and your dashboard, and you're running apps, and that sort of thing. In other cases, it might mean that you actually have wireless service in the vehicle. So a couple automakers, such as Audi and GM, have announced that they're working with AT&T to offer 4G or LTE wireless within the cars. And so that's the connected car bucket.

And then I think you're talking about autonomous vehicles when you say what is running the car. We also saw a few different autonomous or self-driving cars at the show this year, too. In fact, a bunch of lucky journalists got a ride from California to Las Vegas in a piloted Audi A7. We were not, unfortunately, part of that group at Recode, but I hear that it was a successful ride.

IRA FLATOW: They got there in one piece. They walked away from it.

LAUREN GOODE: Yes. Unscathed.

IRA FLATOW: Tell us what impressed you and what disappointed you at the fair.

LAUREN GOODE: About autos specifically, or the show?

IRA FLATOW: About the show.

LAUREN GOODE: About everything. Oh, that's a GOODE question. Well, I'll say this. I think that the car technology is genuinely very exciting. And some of it, of course, is many years off, and some of it is meant to just be shown off as a concept. And some of it's actually happening right now. We like to joke around and say the future is here. We've seen the future, and it's self-driving cars.

I generally find that kind of exciting. And at the end the day, a lot of people are still driving cars. They still need cars. And it falls into that category for a lot of people as essential technology and essential advancements in technology.

On the other hand, I guess one of the things that's more disappointing is at CES, you tend to see some copycat tech. You see me too wearables. You see the internet of things products that you're thinking, do I really need a smart baby bottle? How did our mothers ever raise us without these smart baby bottles? I'm not quite sure. And so you see a lot of products that seem a little frivolous in some cases. And so there's always a little bit of that.

IRA FLATOW: One of the things you wrote about it, was it frivolous, the smart mirror? Were you able to model a mustache in it?

LAUREN GOODE: The smart mirror, yes. I saw what I looked like with a moustache. It is not a good look. I will not be adopting that anytime soon. But Panasonic has shown off a smart mirror, which basically, there are cameras embedded in the mirror, and they take a picture of you as you're looking in the mirror, and then project your image on top of your reflection. And you can apply different looks in regards to makeup and hairstyles and facial hair to your face as you're looking in the mirror.

And this is just a concept. Panasonic has made it very clear that they don't have a ship date for this. They don't have a price point for this. And it's a little bit kitschy, to be quite honest. I played with it for a while. In fact, I shot a video of it on our site. But it was still pretty cool at the end of the day. You look at something like that, and it's easy to see-- well, at some point, all the mirror in our home could potentially have some type of additional display, or they're connected to something, or they're showing us different imagery from what we would normally see.

IRA FLATOW: But you could use the camera on your laptop to do the same thing?

LAUREN GOODE: It's easy enough to see how that type of technology could very much work in other environments, yes.

IRA FLATOW: Let's talk about TVs. We've had curved screens, 4K. Wasn't 3D TV introduced a year or so ago? What has happened?

LAUREN GOODE: 3D was actually-- a big push around 3D TV was made a few years ago. And it didn't quite catch on, I think, the way that TV makers were hoping that it might. And so now when we see 3D technology in TV sets, it's generally an ancillary feature. It's not the main event. But you're looking at smart TVs, you're looking at these really beautiful UHD or 4K TVs, and then, oh, by the way, it happens to have some 3D technology in it. So that's the way that the marketing has changed over the past couple of years.

I would say TVs, the focus this year was definitely 4K ultra HD. Samsung even introduced TV sets they're calling SUHD, which i just their way of branding it.

IRA FLATOW: I was very impressed with it, because I saw it in the stores. And it just was gorgeous, I have to say.

LAUREN GOODE: Oh, OK. Are you going to buy one? Is that on your list for this year?

IRA FLATOW: Good question. If I were buying one, I would wait for a 4K to come down in price a little bit.

LAUREN GOODE: Come down in price, uh-huh. They definitely are. They're coming down in price quite a bit. Sometimes you're sacrificing size, and sometimes you're sacrificing processing power when you start to get into some of the lower end 4K models. I think the thing to remember is, the TV makers really threw out a lot of terms this week around new TV sets. In fact, I like to joke that you need an advanced degree in quantum optics to really understand what some things they're saying mean, whether it's quantum dot technology, nanocrystals, HDR high dynamic range imaging, prime color. And basically, what it all comes down to is the different TV makers-- Samsung, LG, Sony, and others-- are all taking their unique approaches to how do we better the color, how do we better the contrast, how do we sell more TVs.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah. You checked out something I think which is really something you could use-- facial recognition on home security systems.

LAUREN GOODE: Yes. There were a couple cameras that were announced this week, and there may have been more as well, that are now using facial recognition technology basically in the software that they're using to monitor your home. So Dropcam, of course-- which is owned by Nest, which is now owned by Google-- has gotten a lot of attention over the past couple years as being a really simplified, accessible home video system. And there were a couple of cameras announced this week-- the Simplicam and the Netatmo Welcome-- that are saying they're going to add facial recognition technology to that.

So now, instead of just remotely monitoring your home from afar and seeing, OK, the cleaning person arrived, or my dog ate the couch again-- now you can actually store data about the people moving in and out of your house throughout the day on the camera. And then if an anomaly pops up where it's someone that the camera doesn't recognize, you can be notified. Now, of course, there are privacy concerns that come with something like this. But I think that it's an interesting approach to the whole idea of home security and home monitoring.

IRA FLATOW: Were there drones everywhere, or is that something you need to see much of the show?

LAUREN GOODE: There were a lot of drones. I personally did not get to fly any drones. There's only so much time when you're trying to play with thousands of gadgets in five days. But yes, there were a lot of drones. I think drones, they're growing in popularity, and they're getting a lot of attention. But I still see them somewhat as a niche product right now, and I think they're wildly divergent in what you're getting with a drone. You're either buying one that's $1,000 to $3,000, and this is really high-powered, cool machine, or you're looking at something that's maybe in the $100 to $300 price range that's really considered more of an entry level drone for people that are just trying to get their feet wet and figure out if this is something they're actually going to use.

IRA FLATOW: Do you think we're going to see all these trade fairs melding together as sort of-- well, you said that there are more cars there than in Detroit-- as sort of the internet of things fair or the smart something fair or something? They're all going to be electronically controlled.

IRA FLATOW: There is a lot of convergence. In fact, I heard someone say at the show this year-- and I think it makes sense-- everything is a technology conference now. Whether you're going to an auto conference, whether you're going to a home conference-- if you go to health conferences now, generally, there's a lot of talk about digital health. And technology is really pervasive, and it really has taken over many facets of our lives.

And so I think the CES, it has a good chance of always being the world's largest electronics show for sure. But I think that you're going to see a lot of the themes that we saw this week start to pop up in a lot of other places as well.

IRA FLATOW: Is there any way to predict what's going to be at the next electronics show or later in the year? People buzzing about that yet?

LAUREN GOODE: I don't know about the electronics shows, but we are still waiting to see the Apple Watch launched, I should say. It was announced in September. And I think that people are going to be really excited to see what that brings to the smart watch market.

IRA FLATOW: Were there many smart watches at the show? Are there brand names?

LAUREN GOODE: There were a lot of smart watches and a lot of activity trackers, for sure. But some of them, in my opinion, are making incremental or iterative improvements over previous models that we've seen. Some of the companies will say that their algorithms or their software is better. So as they're tracking your data, they're doing different or more helpful things with it. I think that that still has yet to be proven in some cases.

IRA FLATOW: Do you have a smart watch right now? Are you wearing a smart watch?

LAUREN GOODE: I don't own a smart watch right now. I recently tested one called the Withings Activite, which was really more of an activity tracker, but in this beautiful, Swiss-made watch form factor. And I really actually enjoyed testing that, because it was the first watch in a long time I had tested that didn't feel like a total geek watch. I often wear activity trackers. I'm wearing a Fit Bit right now. I had a crazy amount of steps this week. As I was walking around Vegas, I really wanted to be able to track that. But I'm really looking forward to seeing what this new year will bring in terms of the smart watch category.

IRA FLATOW: We'll be watching it with you, Lauren. Thanks for taking the time to be with us today. God luck to you.

LAUREN GOODE: Thanks so much, Ira. Great chatting with you.

IRA FLATOW: I hope you recover soon.

LAUREN GOODE: Thank you.

IRA FLATOW: Lauren Goode, senior reviewer at Recode in San Francisco.

© Science Friday, 2012. View our copyright policy here