CES 2014: The top five tech themes to expect this week in Vegas

LAS VEGAS — The world’s premier consumer electronics show, International CES, is getting into full swing in Las Vegas, as companies from all around the world gather to show off the latest and greatest from their product lines. Here’s a list of the top five things to expect from this week’s show:

1) Wearables: Much of what vendors showed off at a Sunday night media preview focused on making our tech even more personal, through a variety of products worn on the head, the wrist or elsewhere on the body. These range from fitness trackers that let users know how their workouts are going to a full-body gaming harness from PrioVR that lets users wave, shoot and kick their way through games on screen and in real life. The upper-body suit on display during the preview has eight sensors -- three for each arm, one for the head and one for the chest -- while the full version has leg and pelvis sensors that let users control walking, turning and, for those really intense games, crawling.

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Of course, there’s also a lot of wearables interest in the wrist, especially watches, and this year’s show has a whole section dedicated to what it calls the “Wrist Revolution.”

2) Smart everything: The Jetsons-like dream that our homes will someday be able to respond to our every whim -- and even anticipate what we want -- is out in full force at this year’s show, with home automation systems and smart appliances that can keep track of energy or water use to help make those utility systems as efficient as possible. Major firms such as Lowe’s, which demonstrated its Iris home automation system on the floor Sunday, are looking to tap into this space.

To succeed, however, companies are going to have to work together to make sure that all these smart devices can talk to one another. Consumers aren’t likely to want to download separate apps for their heating, electric and water systems, no matter how smart they are.

3) Robotics: The future is here, and it’s adorable. Robotics products are all over CES this year, though often in the form of smart toys that are meant (right now) purely for play or education.

These include the smart, circular toy ball Sphero from Orbotix and jumping robots from Parrot, which users can control with their mobile devices. A representative at the Orbotix booth said that the firm has about 30 apps for its toy, including programs that allow students to use the Sphero to learn programming skills. So, it’s not all fun and games.

4) Health tech: Tapping into biometric technology, the world of health tech has exploded with a huge line of fitness trackers, heart rate monitors and other exercise tools. But the broader world of health technology is also rapidly growing, particularly as more tech-savvy consumers age and face chronic ailments such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

Products such as a smart pillbox from the French firm 2im uses an everyday item to get physicians, pharmacists, patients and patients’ families on the same page when it comes to maintaining good health. Company president Emmanuel Pavageau said that 96 percent of his French customers using the smart pillbox are now regularly taking their pills; fewer than 50 percent complied without the device, he said.

5) Cars: Americans are still in love with their cars, a fact that’s clearly apparent from this year’s show. Thousands of square feet of exhibition space at CES 2014 is devoted to autos, showcasing tech that brings the Web to the dashboard, as well as a large range of products aimed solely at keeping those road warriors entertained.

NPR has already announced that it’s working with GM to put a news app directly onto the car manufacture’s AppShop to stream popular programs such as “Morning Edition” and “Ask Me Another.”

 
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