‘Batmobile’ and smartshoes star in tech show

The annual Consumer Electronics Show has begun in Las Vegas. From SmartBras to electric cars, it is a glimpse into the near future. Will technology control our lives? Or free them?

In the early days of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), companies revealed the most exciting television technology: DVD players, surround sound, ever thinner screens — sometimes they even had HD. But now that smartphones have put those TVs in our pockets, the gadgets launched at CES have become weirder and more wonderful.

The biggest buzz this year surrounds Faraday Future’s electronic car design, already nicknamed the ‘batmobile’, which projects information into the driver’s vision and includes space for a smartphone in the steering wheel.

Other products seem to be inspired by cinema: journalists were delighted — and soon frustrated — by a wristband which allows you to control a miniature BB-8, the beloved new droid from Star Wars, by waving your hand like a Jedi master. Elsewhere, a system called ‘She’ allows you to monitor your home’s WiFi connection, temperature, and ‘air purity’ from wherever you are. Its name is reminiscent of the movie Her, in which Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his flat’s intelligent operating system.

There are many more gadgets to help you run your home efficiently, including a fridge with a screen that shows what is inside — avoiding the tiresome business of opening the doors yourself — and a ‘SmartBowl’ which monitors pet food portions to keep your cat at its ideal weight.

Meanwhile, the success of the FitBit has inspired more exercise technology from rival companies, including an iFit treadmill with a screen 1.5m high which shows exotic locations while you run.

If you decide to exercise outdoors, however, a pair of ‘smartshoes’ can light up the ground, keep your toes warm, and count your steps. Women can even monitor their heartrate and breathing using a ‘SmartBra’. Many predict that as this ‘wearable tech’ improves, it will become ever more crucial to how we live our lives.

Crossed wires

Although some of these gadgets appear useless or bizarre, there is no denying their incredible technology. Could they lead to a nightmare in which our homes and bodies are constantly monitored by machines so that we cannot go for a run without our wrist telling us to slow down or turn left? We may end up fitter and avoid getting lost — but we could lose something more important in the process.

Nonsense, say others. People have not lost touch with simple, practical pleasures. Look at the boom in knitting, baking, and colouring books. By allowing technology to do chores for us, we will find ourselves freer to focus on simpler, deeper pleasures such as learning new skills or playing with our children. As long as technology remains a tool, rather than a prison, we should celebrate its advances.

You Decide

  1. Imagine these products have all been released in time for your birthday. Which is at the top your wishlist?
  2. In ten years time, will technology control our lives, or help us to live them to the full?

Activities

  1. Watch some of the reviews and the launch videos under Become An Expert. Which can you see becoming a hit in the near future? Take a vote as a class.
  2. You have arrived in Las Vegas and you have managed to secure a stall at CES. Design and label the gadget you would unveil there. Take it in turns to present your idea to the rest of the class.

Some People Say...

“All of reality is virtual now.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What’s the big deal? Technology is already everywhere.
Very true — and once we get used to a new life-changing app or device, it can be hard to imagine how we ever lived without it. But it’s worth remembering that we did, and cultivating a few skills that don’t require a touchscreen. In this case, it is all about finding the healthiest balance.
How soon will robots run my life?
It varies. Some of the products launched at CES are available to purchase straight away, while others are only prototypes. Of course, you don’t have to buy them; but the technology is here to stay. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has even made it his new year’s resolution to build a robot butler by the end of 2016 — one that will recognise guests, watch his children, and play his favourite band, Green Day.

Word Watch

Electronic car
The FFZero1 is not a final design, and Faraday Future says it will not produce its first car until 2018. But although this car looks especially futuristic, the company insists that it can use the electronic technology for more practical vehicles too — even pick-up trucks.
BB-8
The droid appeared for the first time in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It has already become one of the film’s most popular characters, and Sphero’s robot toy was a hit over the Christmas holidays.
Joaquin Phoenix
The actor played the film’s main character, Theodore, and was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance. The operating system was voiced by Scarlett Johansson.
FitBit
FitBits are wristbands which track a person’s steps, sleep and the distance covered during the day. Yesterday the company announced its latest model, FitBit Blaze, which has a touchscreen and offers guided workouts.
Colouring books
Since 2013, Johanna Basford’s adult colouring books Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest have sold 13.5 million copies in 50 countries around the world.

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