Futurists Review the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show: Two Futurist Editors Rate the Gadgets That May Soon Make a Big Difference in Our Lives

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In January, the future descended on the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). FUTURIST magazine deputy editor Patrick Tucker and Innovation editor Thomas Frey took a look at the most interesting, future-relevant innovations on the floor. In the following dispatch, they share some of their favorite picks from the event and cast an eye toward what the future of the Consumer Electronics Show could hold.

Smart Clothing and Wearable Sensors

Patrick Tucker's pick, the Zomm Lifestyle Connect: This is a light, Bluetooth-enabled fob that dialogues wirelessly and transfers data from (also enabled) heart monitors, glucose monitors, and other devices. In the event of signal disruption, the heart monitor calls a "personal safety concierge," who then calls the wearer, the wearer's loved ones, doctors, etc., via the Lifestyle Connect.

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Creator Henry Penix gave a great live demonstration. He strapped the heart monitor to a wristband and disconnected it to simulate a signal block. Suddenly, a voice rose up from the Connect device (amplified through a speaker). It was a concierge calling from Tulsa inquiring about his health and offering to ring his family. The Lifestyle Connect also allows you to call your personal safety concierge by pressing a button. ZOMM publicist Kiersten Moffatt calls this the device's "intended usage."

Tom Frey's pick, AIQ Smart Clothing with soft padding that stiffens upon impact, monitors heart rate and blood pressure: CES has a few examples of smart clothing companies like AIQ, but for most exhibitors their so-called smart clothing has little more than pockets for smartphones or space for video nametags. As part of our ongoing effort to monitor our own biological functions, it may be possible to design a fabric that serves as an optical lens into our inner selves. Think of this as a wearable CAT scan system with variable-adjust focal point settings, zoom powers down to a near-nano scale, and flexible built-in data-capture sensors. The fashion options here will be incredible.

Robots and Drones

Tucker's pick, TOSY SketRobo: The TOSY SketRobo will take your picture and draw you a sketch of yourself (for release in September). I love this because it represents a real step forward in visual recognition capability for consumer robotics. Getting bots to make sense of what they see has long been one of the biggest challenges in the field and one of the main obstacles to more common use of robots. Most AI cars see with the aid of big SICK LMS-200 laser range finders. This robot's eyes (though still infrared sensors) are far smaller, and the picture it draws isn't bad, either. Nice actuator control.

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Frey's pick, AR Drone: I happen to be a big fan of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and already own an AR Drone. Unveiled at CES, the new Drone 2.0 features a 720p front-facing camera so that you can capture your flights in HD. There's also a whole raft of new sensors, including an on-board magnetometer, so that it can always tell where the pilot is in relation to its flight path, and a new air-pressure sensor that allows it to be more stable when hovering.

That said, these drones have very short battery life (10 minutes, maximum), and so far have little application outside of the hobbyist community. That will change when drones can take on more responsibilities.

Interfaces

Tucker's pick, SoftKinetic: This was supposed to be the year of the interface at CES. We're going to find ourselves interacting with computers in a lot of different ways in the next decade, well beyond thumb texting. The Microsoft Kinect, part of the Xbox 360 game system (released last year), uses three infrared sensors to measure movement, allowing users to operate the computer via gesture and voice. The European group Soft-Kinetic had a similar device at CES that uses just one infrared sensor. …