Wednesday 26 October 2016

Irish at CES prove heavy hitters in 3D, cosmetics and software

Technology editor Adrian Weckler reports on 10 of the most notable developments at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

Published 10/01/2016 | 02:30

The EHang 184 autonomous-flight drone can carry one passenger — who does not need to pilot the drone. Once a destination is entered, only a take off or land button needs to be pushed to travel. The drone takes off and lands vertically eliminating the need for a runway. It can travel about 20 miles Photo:Getty
The EHang 184 autonomous-flight drone can carry one passenger — who does not need to pilot the drone. Once a destination is entered, only a take off or land button needs to be pushed to travel. The drone takes off and lands vertically eliminating the need for a runway. It can travel about 20 miles Photo:Getty

1 Ehang Model 184 passenger drone Is it a drone? Is it a helicopter? Actually, it's something in between.

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Ehang's aerial vehicle takes one passenger but is completely autonomous. Basically, you just point out (on your phone's map) where you want to go and it takes you there. It has a 20-minute battery life with a maximum range of about 20 miles.

Ehang says it's going on sale later this year and it's completely ready to fly: there's no retail price as of yet. It might give regulators at the Irish Aviation Authority a headache, though.

2 Ericsson 5G

Thought your 20Mbs 4G mobile speeds were good? Try 3,000Mbs.

While mobile 4G speeds have brought many people in cities to speeds of 20Mbs and above (the Sunday Independent's testing in Dublin found speeds of up to 60Mbs on some 4G services), the telecoms industry is getting ready for the next level.

Ericsson was showing off its 5G mobile speeds at CES, running several ultra high-definition television streams simultaneously off a single cell. The speeds were fairly ludicrous - over 3,000Mbs. Ericsson says that 5G will begin rolling out in 2018 with commercial availability in 2020.

3 Eyelock iris scanner

How often have you forgotten your ATM pin code? Eyelock has a system in testing with Citibank that could make pin codes and passwords a thing of the past.

It works using your eye's iris as security. It will recognise your iris (through a system of algorithms rather than photographically), allowing you to withdraw money from an ATM or complete other tasks.

Eyelock says that its technology is already used to track employees in some companies clocking in and out of work.

4 Samsung 98-inch 8K television

Samsung may be just a little ambitious with its new 98-inch 8K television.

Right now, 4K ("ultra HD") is only beginning to be adopted by ordinary networks and streaming services such as Netflix.

Given how long it has taken broadcasters to step up their resolution standards (most terrestrial broadcasters are still only rolling out 2K 'HD'), it looks like it will be a long, long time until 8K becomes any kind of thing.

Interestingly, Netflix executive Neil Hunt told the Sunday Independent that 10pc of its viewed content was now 4K-compatible (even though that is only "a few dozen" pieces of content).

5 MCor 3D printer

Probably the standout Irish product of the show was Dunleer-based Mcor's 3D printer, which won a CES Innovation award for being able to 3D print objects in colour using rolls of paper.

The machine has also come significantly down in price, to €5,995 (from €8,995). While this seems steep for punters, it's actually pretty reasonable for small businesses looking to rely on 3D-printed processes.

Company co-founder Deirdre MacCormack told the Sunday Independent that one Turkish plastic surgeon uses the machine to show clients what their new nose will look like ahead of their operation.

6 Samsung Tab S Pro

Microsoft should probably be feeling chuffed. When Samsung copies your gear, it's actually a compliment.

There is little other way of interpreting the electronics giant's latest tablet - the 12-inch TabPro S. It is very, very resonant of Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 and 4 devices.

Where it differs is that it is thinner than the Surface Pro, while its Amoled screen is extremely bright. It's designed on Windows and has a specially designed keyboard that magnetically snaps on and off and can tilt to almost any angle.

In the US, the 32GB version sells for $650 (without the keyboard), which is considerably cheaper than the Surface Pro 4. Expect a similar price in Ireland.

7 PCH and Cubic Telecom

There were two significant deals with Irish interest during the week.

Liam Casey's PCH announced a partnership with L'Oreal that will see the cosmetics brand launch a series of hardware products put together by Casey's Cork, China and San Francisco company.

Of equal significance was Cubic Telecom's announcement that it is now Audi's in-car entertainment and software conduit.

Under the deal, Audi drivers will choose services from their dashboard (such as entertainment) that is effectively delivered and controlled by Cubic Telecom.

Other car makers look set to sign Cubic up now, too. The wider significance of the move could be that Cubic becomes a key player in car upgrades themselves, as it currently is with Tesla.

8 Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator

Internet fridges have had more than a few false dawns. But Samsung's latest effort looks like it has enough everyday benefits to make it a runner in ordinary people's lives.

The fridge has cameras inside that can be accessed via your phone. In this way, you never need to wonder again whether you have enough milk. There's also a giant, 21-inch, web-connected HD screen on the front of the fridge.

You can do anything from look up recipes to watching videos on this. (Americans tend to watch more TV in the morning than we Europeans do, but it could still come in handy.)

In the US, you can also order groceries on the fridge screen with Mastercard, a service that is yet to be announced for Europe.

9 Vuzix iWear Wireless Video Headphones

While Oculus announced that its Rift virtual reality system would go on sale for €600 in the spring, a whole lot of systems are now available that provide similar (if not as powerful) experiences.

When I tried on Vuzix's iWear Wireless Video Headphones I didn't notice any superior virtual reality immersion than rivals such as Samsung's Gear VR. But this cleverly lets you plug into almost any kind of system, including drone controls.

The company's marketing director told me that this is where a significant niche of the product's interest is coming from.

10 Ford Fusion Hybrid

Self-driving cars have arguably become the biggest trend of CES in 2016.

While many of the big manufacturers (including Volkswagen, Mercedes, Audi and Toyota) talked about them at the show, Ford actually turned up with one.

The Ford Fusion Hybrid model looks very similar to an existing Mondeo. Its main spatial awareness technology comes in the form of two Lidar sensors on top of the car, each of which has a 200-metre detection range. They tell the car what is around it, allowing the vehicle to decide what it should do in a road situation.

Ford says that it will have a completely capable self-driving car for sale within four years. And unlike its automotive rivals, the US car company is saying that its self-driving car will be priced close to today's vehicles - as opposed to premium models from the likes of Tesla.

There are still lots of questions, especially on issues around the car making decisions. For example, if a dog runs out in front of the car, but swerving means hitting an electricity pylon, what does the car choose to do?

Regardless of such ethical dilemmas, it looks like the era of self-driving cars is now very close.

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