Demartek Comments on the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2011
11 January 2011
By Dennis Martin, Demartek President
I spent this past weekend attending the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2011 in Las Vegas. Although this is not a datacenter event, I spent a full day there looking at technologies that were interesting mostly on a professional level, though I admit I did spend some time on technologies that were interesting to me personally.
Attendance was up at CES 2011 from last year. Initial reports are that approximately 140,000 people attended. The cab drivers I spoke with said that they were busier than last year, especially for the first two days. Fortunately for me, I was there on day three (Saturday), which apparently meant that the crowds were smaller.
The big news from CES 2011 was that tablet PCs are available from just about every source you can imagine, from traditional PC makers to wireless phone makers. Since this topic is well covered by many other sources, I won’t spend much time on this, other than to say that Bill Gates predicted in 2001 that tablets would become extremely popular. His timing was a bit early, but all the noise about tablets seems to confirm his prediction from a decade ago.
Another big area of emphasis from the vendors was 3D televisions and displays. Although a lot of energy was placed into showing off 3D display technologies, most of them still seem a bit gimmicky to me, and after viewing a few, I’m still not planning to buy one of these anytime soon. I did see a few 3D displays that could be viewed without special glasses, but most of the displays required wearing either active or passive 3D glasses. It seems to me that we have another “standards war” brewing with the 3D glasses.
However, there was one 3D display technology that I liked quite a bit. This was shown in a small booth some distance away from the big display vendors. A Japanese company called “True 3D” was showing a truly three dimensional display. If you remember the way that the characters in the Star Wars movies communicated over long distances, with what appeared to be a three-dimensional display, then you have a good idea of what True 3D was demonstrating. I saw a table-top display unit that was displaying truly three-dimensional objects. The objects could be rotated in three-dimensional space and I could walk around the display and see the back side of the images. A laser plasma technology is utilized to make this happen, and can also be used to display images directly in the air. They showed a video of this, and mentioned that. When I asked them if they could display these images outside, they said that they could. They have been working on this technology since at least 2006. Additional information is available at http://www.burton-jp.com/en/index.htm. The technology is still a bit crude and is in prototype stage, but this is a 3D display that I can get excited about.
Since we’re on the topic of 3D, the other 3D technology I saw from a company called “MakerBot” was a 3D printer. Their printers create 3D objects from CAD drawings and similar types of files and make either hollow or solid objects made from a couple of different kinds of plastic. These are great for prototyping or creating simple plastic parts. These printers heat the plastic and lay it down one layer at a time, but by the time the printing is finished, the plastic has cooled to room temperature and it can be handled immediately. The good news here is these printers are selling for $1225.
I was most excited about several of the wireless technologies I saw at CES 2011. Several vendors of computer, display and television equipment were showing something called either “Smart TV,” “Internet-enabled TV,” or equipment with similar names. These technologies allow various sources of Internet content to be displayed on your television screen. The wireless aspect — many smartphones can be used to drive these functions. After viewing this technology at the Intel booth, I concluded that the cell phone is becoming the universal remote.
Another great wireless technology is the game that doesn’t require a specific controller device, but that you can control or play by waving your hand, jumping, etc. The Microsoft Xbox Kinect booths had long lines of people wanting to try this technology. These systems work by simply monitoring your movements and translating those movements into commands without requiring hand-held devices.
The best wireless technology that I saw was the wireless power technology on display from Fulton Innovation and the Wireless Power Consortium. I spoke to three different people in their booth and saw cereal boxes that light up, water boiling, and kitchen appliances run from an otherwise ordinary looking, room-temperature, counter-top surface. Cell phones and laptop computers could be charged by simply setting them on a conference room table. The ultimate example in their booth was the Tesla electric sports car being charged without any wires from below the surface of the driveway on which it was parked. This technology uses magnetic induction over a short distance and can provide power for a range of devices, from low-power cell phones and cameras to 1500-watt kitchen appliances and electric cars. Devices can be powered by magnetic induction by adding a small controller into the device that can also transmit data about the device. To demonstrate that there is no danger to humans, one of the representatives put his hand, along with a little ball that had some wires on it in between the charger and receiver. The ball lit up, but there was no effect on his hand. Expect to see much more in this area.
LED lighting and technology was everywhere, from products shown in booths (televisions, room lighting, etc.) to the lighting used by many of the film crews roaming around the show floor. LED lighting is low-power, low-heat and, most importantly, provides plenty of light.
A year ago SuperSpeed USB, or USB 3.0, was fairly new. Now that a full year has passed, it’s nice to see the progress achieved by this interface that runs 10x faster than USB 2.0. Many USB 3.0 devices were displayed, including flash drives, SSDs, and video displays with USB 3.0 interfaces. I saw various kinds of USB 3.0 bridge chips with SATA connections, RAID functions, and more. These technologies were shown by Texas Instruments, Fujitsu, VIA Labs, DisplayLink and others. I was most impressed by a USB 3.0 hub that can provide connectivity for up to four high-definition computer displays. This same technology can be used to turn one compute platform into several. One implementation I saw used Microsoft Multipoint Server in an educational environment to provide several very low cost computing seats (less than $400 each).
I saw many more SATA 3 (6Gbit/sec) devices than last year. Many of these were flash-based SSDs. The bar continues to be raised for storage interface speeds.
We had the opportunity to test the ioSafe Solo external disk drive back in 2010. This drive is a fireproof, waterproof external hard drive that has been subjected to some fairly rigorous trauma, such as being crushed by a 35,000 pound tractor and still working. For the same reason that you want a fireproof safe or box to protect important documents, you should consider getting one of these to protect important data.
For CES 2011, the ioSafe people took their portable hard drive to a shooting range in Las Vegas and fired a shotgun at it. The drive had some pock marks on the case but was still functional. Have a look at the ioSafe channel on YouTube for more amazing footage.
Small Form Factor Computing
I stopped by the Xi3 booth, another one of those booths far away from the large, big-company booths. Xi3 makes something called the Z3RO (“zero”) which is a computer that fits in the palm of your hand. It provides a dual-core processor, memory, flash storage, USB ports, and an Ethernet port and requires an average of 20 watts or less to operate. I spoke at length with two of the people there about what they are doing and the possible ways of utilizing this technology.
I also happened by the Maxim Integrated Products booth, maker of very small laser projector technology, among other things. One of their solutions is embedded in a pico-projector from Microvision, which is a projector about the size of a smartphone that can project a six-foot image on a wall or screen. I can easily imagine myself giving a presentation in a meeting using PowerPoint on my cell phone connected to a projector about the size of my cell phone.
I spent a few minutes in the Ford booth and spent most of that time around their all-electric car, the Focus Electric. I look forward to using alternatives to fossil fuel to power vehicles, such as electric or fuel cell technology. I believe that we need to change our thinking when it comes to fuel and issues such as “gas mileage.” We need to move to something that measures price to distance, such as how much it costs to drive a vehicle 1 mile or 100 miles. When I buy gasoline for my current car, I don’t really want to buy gasoline, I want to buy the ability to drive my car a certain distance before refueling. When we change our thinking from gas mileage to cost-for-distance, then we can more accurately compare vehicle efficiencies and begin to adapt our thinking to whatever fuel and engine technologies we use in the future.
One of my favorite technologies that is slowly gaining momentum is solar powered technology. A couple of good examples were the solar powered battery chargers in the Goal Zero and GoEcoTricity booths.
Of course I had to wander through the booths in the robotics area. I saw numerous robotic vacuum cleaners. I also saw a robotic window-washer, a hand-size robotic massager that drives itself over your back, and several other interesting or quirky robotic devices. There’s no end to what might be done by robots.
Based on things I saw and heard, I believe that we’ll see much more SSD and flash memory adoption this year across the entire computer products marketplace, and within a year or so, see the end of optical drives as standard equipment in PCs, and see mobile phones that have the ability to act as projectors. Innovation continues at a rapid pace. For a look at what is imminent and what could be, check out the CES 2011 Innovations page at http://cesweb.org/Awards/InnovationAwards/2011honorees.htm and look at the various categories listed. I especially like the “Enabling Technologies” category.
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