CES2013: Printable guns, roll-up phones and the fork that helps you diet
The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas always offers a tantalising glimpse into the future, foretelling what new gadgets will make it into stores this year.
But there's also a secondary strand of crazy notions, ideas before their time and the plain daft, as I found out last week.
THE DRIVERLESS CAR
Hot rumours ahead of CES wildly suggested we'd see the first driverless cars ready to roll out of the showroom. The technology has been around in experimental form for years, with Google at the forefront, rigging up conventional vehicles.
But in 2013 both Lexus and Audi were tipped to take the wrapping off driverless production models.
All the hype imploded at a brutally short CES press conference by Lexus. Scheduled for 45 minutes, it barely lasted 10 as Lexus vice-president Mark Templin virtually dismissed any future for computer-controlled cars.
Audi fared only a little better the next day, but at least promised that we could be chauffeured in semi-autonomous vehicles by the end of the decade.
ULTRA HIGH-DEFINITION TV
Every TV maker worth their salt (and probably a few that weren't) trumpeted the latest standard in television called Ultra High-Definition, or '4K'.
So-called because they offer four times the resolution of the current best TVs, one would have to be blind not to be moved by the stunning clarity and pixel-popping colour of these living-room monsters.
Unfortunately, you'd also have to be quite rich and not a little bit stupid. The starting price of probably €15,000 is the least of the problems.
Virtually no programs or movies exist in 4K format, nor are there likely to be any soon. The cost of shooting in ultra high-def is eye-wateringly expensive and TV companies aren't biting yet.
Come back in a few years' time please, 4K.
Three years ago at CES, the big TV makers expended considerable energy and a vast amount of cash insisting 3D was the next big thing.
But canny punters realised the expensive screens, lack of programming and wearing glasses weren't worth the hassle.
The first two obstacles have resolved themselves, but it's only now that it's becoming practical to enjoy 3D without silly glasses that make a spectacle of you.
At CES a company called Stream TV Networks impressed many attendees with its demonstration of glasses-free 3D.
Alas, it is a small company and it will require the support of the big players for the technology to become mainstream. Nonetheless, it promises to have at least one product on the market by June.
THE BENDABLE SCREEN
For the second CES in a row, Samsung wowed us with a colour screen that curls and flexes like paper. In theory, it would make your mobile phone unbreakable.
Bendy enough to roll up into a tube, the screen is paper-thin yet still crisp and bright. Samsung has vowed to turn the prototype known as Youm into a real product. In the meantime, the Korean firm will have to work out how to make the other components flexible too.
For now, the screen is connected to a rigid block that contains the brains and memory of the phone.
EAT YOURSELF FITTER
Health gadgets and apps were all the rage at CES and none came wackier than the HAPIfork (pictured), a €75 piece of cutlery that nags you when you're eating too quickly.
A companion iPhone app will help you develop better eating habits.
PRINTING IN 3D
This is where it all goes a bit Star Trek. Remember the Replicator machines that could instantly create anything your heart desires?
That's where 3D printing is headed. Think of it as a device that lays down layer upon layer of plastic until it builds any shape you can imagine.
The equipment has been available for years in viciously expensive form, but this year, a $2,000 version debuted.
With the right design, you can sculpt toys, spare parts, even guns (this is America, after all). And it's no bigger than a microwave.