CES Day 2: Smart Hubs and Eureka Park

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Today we kicked off early and got in to the Venetian for Tech West’s showfloor. Our plan for the day was to visit the Eureka Park segment of the show then navigate over to the Smart Homes division upstairs. We accomplished that for the most part.
Eureka Park is a division of the showfloor that is focused on startups and rising technology or breakthrough research. We found quite a few devices that have appeared on Kickstarter with great success. One of these was the modular smart watch, Blocks, modeled by Derek in every present style. Blocks brings a cool way of customizing smart watch needs to the user by simply changing out the elements that design the band.

Wearables are in this year and the booths were there to prove it. Fabric circuity, wearable sensors that get molded into clothing, flexible, waterproof LEDs all made appearances. Bracelets and fitness trackers were also there to show off new ways to charge your phone and track your rock climbing adventures. BrainBit was there showing off their mood study headband that is designed to track a wearer’s moods and help them perform better in their fields be it studying, gaming, or learning. We even ran into a product we had demoed in it’s early stages called Xandem. It’s made some great progress and might join the Casaplex product list if it continues. Another notable vendor was an application layer company that allowed interfacing with a learning vocabulary to gain voice control over a system. It was an impressive demo on intent in action that isn’t commonly available. There were plenty of other very impressive technologies at Eureka Park we would have loved to talk with their owners about but we did have to continue moving to see everything.

We raced through the rest of the hall to see what else was about. Hoverboards were aplenty just like yesterday. There was a sweet variation that uses a single central wheel. A vast majority of booths had a form of VR either as a presentation or to demonstrate an implementation of their product. There were quite a few variations on other products as well. Orbii is an addon for the smart toy Sphero that acts as a sensor shell. It allows a user access to a camera and sensor set so they can use it remotely. It was a great implementation on already solid hardware.

Digistrom had a notable booth in Eureka Park demonstrating their Smart Home system. It used small relays that standardized signals between devices. While impressive, it wasn’t a solution we felt innovated on anything in a way that wasn’t already out there. It was a hint at how the rest of the Smart Home category would go. Once we finished seeing the last of the first floor, we recharged, and headed over to Smart Homes.

Whar are there so many hubs right now?
As we approached the area, the first thing we noticed was the giant house Lowe’s had built right in the middle of the show floor complete with garage, upstairs, downstairs, and doors. Our Smart Homes tour can be distilled down to a solid question. Why are there so many hubs right now? It was an absolute amazement to see this at every single booth. It’s not an exaggeration to say that anyone in the home business is designed and selling a Smart Hub to connect the home together with the same suite of products.

A hub, a lightswitch, a plug, a thermostat, a security camera, and in some cases, door contacts and water sensors. We probably saw 10 different versions and they all only work with their own brand of hub with little to no difference between them. It’s an interesting situation that’s arising for the average consumer market as this will make a Smart Home an accessible option. The downside however seems to be having to go all in on a single platform with little option to expand outside of their brand. Most will integrate with Apple HomeKit or Google’s Nest but it’s not a comfort to know that if another competitor releases a desirable product, it’s not compatible with your Smart Hub. It’s not a market for sharing cool gadgets. A large theme was for a single brand to be compatible with a larger product group such as Lowe’s Iris product grouping.

We did find our gems in the rough however and in the most surprising location. After soldiering through yet another of the exact Smart Hub demos, we agreed to ask the next one why they were different from the horde of competitors. We approached our next target and were absolutely not prepared to be introduced to a product we were looking for. A man from Intel introduced us to a hodgepodge of different devices all running different standards on different communication protocols. Being skeptical of the “Hub” we were about to be introduced to, we were instead introduced to a software layer of control that allows for an abstracted level of control of a device. With some more of the demo we learned that it’s a standard being developed and employed by more and more companies as they develop Smart devices. This is a very big thing for a company that employs a multitude of devices.

Another smaller, impressive, demonstration we saw was a company trying to build “Smart Neighborhoods”. Heck we even visited one of our competitor’s booths, Savant, to see what they’d developed for the show. They’ve put together a tiny solution that controls most simple TV setups with a very pretty remote and app. It’s a smaller solution for smaller individuals. It’s not a solution that can grow with a user though and will not work with anything that isn’t mainstream. So no karaoke machines on this one.

3D printers marked the close of our day. We were quite impressed with the variety and capabilities of the scanners and printers but 3D systems stole the show. They claimed a fair share of floor space but had brought in their clientele to show off what they were producing with their printers. We saw metal molds, a fully printed motorcycles, candy of all colors and kinds, models for video games or replicas of people and even a drone printed from scratch sans electronics and motors.

Overall, Smart Homes is currently a race to see who can develop the most popular “Hub” as far as the normal consumer market goes. It’s unfortunate as an integrator of technology because we always want to see things work together and they create tiny markets of devices that will do exactly not that. But there is a lot of hope in a unified communications protocol. Tomorrow will mark Day 3 of CES and hopefully even more exciting tech to be seen and test out.

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