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CES Kicks Off With a Smart Belt, Face-Recognition Cameras and Other Crazy Gadgets

Devices for easing chronic pain, watering plants and measuring your vertical leap.

Courtesy: CES

Sunday night kicked off the first of the preview events at the International CES, a chance for the media to get their hands on some new tech products before the big show doors officially open.

The event, called CES Unveiled, fills a ballroom at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, and my colleague Bonnie Cha and I were determined to find the coolest or most innovative gadget on display.

A handful stood out. Most fell into predictable categories of health-monitoring, activity-tracking or smart-home-enabling. A few were making repeat appearances, taking another stab at CES success.

 Netatmo’s home-monitoring system, Welcome, which boasts facial-recognition technology
Netatmo’s home-monitoring system, Welcome, which boasts facial-recognition technology
Lauren Goode

The first product that caught my eye was Welcome, the Netatmo home-monitoring camera with face-recognition technology. The sleek, tubular camera system is designed to send notifications to an iOS or Android smartphone when someone unrecognizable enters the home. Users can also access a live video feed at any point.

“So, I will know when my wife is cheating on me?” one conference attendee asked the Netatmo public relations representative, who responded as well as one might to this sort of query.

But since privacy questions naturally arise from this sort of thing, Netatmo points out that all of the Welcome’s personal identification data is stored locally on the camera. Netatmo, which also makes a smart thermostat and a weather station, didn’t disclose pricing, but said the product would become available in the second quarter of this year.

Nearby, in the far corner of the room, was the Perfect Bake app-controlled baking system, from a company called Pure Imagination. This $70 product came to market last fall, but CES Unveiled was the first time I saw it in action.

 Parrot H20
Parrot H20
Bonnie Cha

Let me be clear — I don’t really bake. And apparently, this thing is good for people who don’t really bake. It’s like an Easy-Bake Oven for adults. It consists of a plastic scale that is tethered to your iOS or Android device. When you pour an ingredient, such as flour or chocolate chips, into one of the supplied mixing bowls, the scale measures the amount for you. Then the app tells you, in real time, how much more to add, or adjusts the recipe as needed.

(And if you’re really not into baking, you can try the company’s app-controlled Perfect Drink system.)

If you have a problem remembering when your plants should drink, Parrot introduced two new products to help you with that. The first is called Pot. It looks like a regular planter, but it features a two-liter water reserve and built-in sensors that can measure things like soil moisture, fertilizer level, temperature and light. Using the accompanying smartphone app, you can set up an automated watering schedule.

If you’d rather not repot a plant, the company’s H20 sensor might be a better option. It works similarly to the Pot, but you stick it into the soil and attach a standard water bottle (up to two liters). Both products are due out this year, but the company hasn’t revealed pricing.

Next, on to wearables.

 Quell is a wearable that treats chronic pain, using neuro-stimulation technology.
Quell is a wearable that treats chronic pain, using neuro-stimulation technology.
Lauren Goode

We’ve tried and tested plenty of wearables for walking, running, sleeping and so on, but this is one we haven’t tried: A wearable for chronic pain relief. It’s called Quell, and it’s made by a Massachusetts company called NeuroMetrix. Quell is a Bluetooth-equipped cuff that wraps around a person’s leg and uses neuro-stimulation technology to neutralize pain, especially pain from diabetes, fibromyalgia and sciatica.

Neuro-stimuluation tech, which sends mild electrical impulses to the affected area, is used to treat a variety of conditions and disorders. Quell, however, is one of the first direct-to-consumer options we’ve seen. It’s expected to ship sometime this year.

Then, on the other end of the spectrum, there was the “smart” belt Belty. It has come to this. Belty is a motorized belt that adjusts to your needs, or rather, the needs of your bulging belly, depending on how much you’ve eaten, whether you’re sitting down, and so on. It also — wait for it — shares information via Bluetooth to a smartphone app.

I guess I don’t know why such a thing needs to be motorized. Back in the day, like during the 2014 holiday season, we relied on stretch waistbands, or “Thanksgiving pants.” But Belty was undoubtedly a hit at CES Unveiled. Its maker, a company called Emiota, didn’t say when it would become available or how much it will cost.

 How high can you jump?
How high can you jump?
Lauren Goode

Around the corner, a man who apparently has no concerns about his waistline was jumping up and down, repeatedly, as high as he could. He was demonstrating Vert, a Fitbit-like clip-on device that measures the wearer’s vertical leap. Moments after each jump, his vertical data would appear in the compatible Vert app, running on an iPad.

Dr. Jef Spaleta, one of the company’s engineers, says Vert is perfect for athletes like basketball players and volleyball players. And there’s a version of the app designed for coaches who might want to monitor such things. But Vert can also be used to track recreational activities like jumping rope. Or just jumping. In case you really like jumping. Vert costs $125.

CES Unveiled was intriguing, but underwhelming. Actually, it left us sitting on the floor in the corner of the room at the end of the night, tapping away on our phones, feeling vaguely lost.

There are more preview events coming, and we’re really looking forward to seeing more products over the next few days.

Bonnie Cha contributed to this report.

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