The Human-Human Interface


Personal Infrastructure

Second in my series of Top Tens from the Consumer Electronics Show.

Increasingly, my interest in the CES is less about the by-now-expected trends of miniaturization and personalization in the devices themselves, but more in the support infrastructure that makes (or doesn’t) the other trends practical for the user. There’s still plenty of room for improvement, from powering to ergonomics.

1. Better Battery

“Matsushita Battery has developed this Direct Methanol Fuel Cell system by incorporating its new fuel supply technology with its stack technology, high power lithium ion battery and battery management system (which is based on previous development work for electric power sources). This cell itself is approximately 400cc (24 cubic inches), which is similar to the size of a beverage can and roughly half the size of models publicly demonstrated to date. With an average output of 13 watts, a peak output of 20 watts, and low weight that enables true mobility, a laptop PC is using this fuel cell is able to achieve up to 20 hours of runtime.”

2. Wired Child Protection

Another angle in the power game – as a parental veteran of clunky child-guard technologies of all kinds, I was interested to see Koncept’s Smart Shutter, “a patented internal tamper-resistant system that blocks insertion of potentially dangerous objects – like paper clips, keys and letter openers – yet opens for any standard 2 or 3 prong power plus, and automatically closes upon removal of plugs.”

They also have similar technology in surge protector flavors, and this one claims to clean and remove appliance-caused noise elsewhere in the home grid from getting into audio/visual products and degraded sound performance. This electromagnetic interference filtering is also a feature of this year’s number one Consumer Electronics product, the PowerSquid power strip.

3. Gracenote MediaVOCS

I have noted Gracenote’s role in the past to provide information lubricants for music download services. They are now leveraging their databases. “When integrated with the Gracenote Media Management System, MediaVOCS provides voice command-and-control functionality and unlocks the potential of devices that can store large digital music collections…Traditional graphic user interfaces, with their small screens and limited controls, are just not practical when trying to find a specific song in a 5,000-song collection while driving in traffic or in the middle of a workout.” The product enables voice commands like “Play Stairway to Heaven” or “Create Playlist with More Songs Like” the one that is playing now. If they could translate the technology “Get more information on a song currently playing by asking, “What is this?”” into the same function while listening to the radio, I would buy it. Come to think of it, I did buy it in 1999 – it was the the Sony eMarker (a victim of the dotcom crash, alas).

4. Freeplay FreeCharge

Freeplay, the wind-up energy company, was present as always with a small 10 by 10 booth, true to their non-profit mission. In addition to the radio and flashlight product line, they now have the FreeCharge Weza “portable energy source”. The wind-up is by foot pedal rather than hand crank, and generates enough to jump start car or boat motors. They also advertised the LIFELINE radio, specifically for development or humanitarian projects, and “is typically not available commercially, rather given to those who need it at no coast to the recipient. It is available in the USA through a cause related initiative that sees a radio donated for each one purchased.

5. Iqua UFO

My Nokia phone has a loudspeaker function that works to conference in a friend or colleague in a pinch. The Iqua UFO is a stand-alone, palm sized, round (UFO-get it?) speaker connected via Bluetooth for better quality conferencing off your cell phone, eight hour battery life, a time of call display for those of you tracking billable hours.

6. Solio

Portable three solar panel unit that fold into one. Contains converters for cell phones, PDAs, iPods and, well, anything.

7. Backup Pal

Is your cellular phonebook backed up? About the size of a large pocketwatch, plug into your cellphone, press one button, and backup is complete. Not only are “No technical skills required”, but indeed “No thinking required.” There are only three buttons, Backup, Restore to Phone, and Reset. Maybe the bit about no thinking is actually true?

CellStik is the same idea in the shape and size of a USB memory stick, which in turn plugs into PC for editing of phonebook information.

8. Computer-on-a-Stick

Speaking of sticks, FingerGear has Computer-on-a-Stick. USB memory stick with an onboard operating system and application suite. I think this is more of a support technology right now, though at least one friend carries a memory stick with all files between his desktop computers in Albany and New York City as he splits time between locations. Same company has a “Bio USB Drive” that is fingerprint secured.

9. Sit N’ Fit

I am always sort of, uh, embarrassed when entering a cubicle where office ladies are sitting on one of those big fitness balls. I mean I appreciate the struggle for fitness in a desk job world, but they should all get a Sit N’ Fit. This product has an exercise ball built into a stable, corporate style office chair frame.

10. NetThrone

Or here’s a different way to be a hard bodied desk jockey. It seems like this also ought to work as a exercise machine, but it just looks like one, or like the control technicians in the classic cult TV show The Prisoner.