Bike that rides on water opens gadget show

Extravaganza: About 200,000 people will descend on Las Vegas this week.

Do gadgets make us happy? The cleverest scientists on the planet are dreaming up brilliant new inventions to make our lives smoother, but some societies see no need for them at all.

It has to be seen to be believed.

One moment, a man is standing on a beach with his bicycle – the next, he’s pedalling across the water.

This is the Manta5 Hydrofoil e-bike, designed to let you travel on a lake as easily as you would on land. The pedals push a propeller and, instead of wheels, there are wings that create lift. With the help of an electric motor, it can reach a speed of 13mph and anyone can buy one – if they have £5,800 to spare.

The Manta5 is just one of the inventions on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which opened yesterday. The biggest trade fair of its kind, it boasts exhibits from 4,500 companies. Some are brilliant, though as one marketing expert says, “We see ridiculous things every year, from AI toothbrushes to connected yoga mats.”

From China, this year, comes the BellaBot, a robot with cat-like features for delivering food in restaurants. When it arrives at your table, it meows to attract attention; stroke its ears, and it will purr: “The owner’s hand is so warm!” But don’t pet it for too long, warn the designers: “It gets mad to remind you not to interrupt its job.”

Another helpful robot is the two-wheeled RollBot, designed to bring lavatory paper when there’s none left in the bathroom. Even more ingenious is the NextMind Bluetooth headband, which allows you to control the TV or play a video game without a remote control.

Electrodes which monitor your brain can tell when your eyes focus on an icon at the side of the screen. Then they send instructions to a computer to switch channels or manoeuvre a character.

For those who have forgotten to put their beer in the fridge, there’s the Juno chiller which accelerates heat loss from liquid by spinning it rapidly, and cools a can in less than a minute.

And if you’re a cyclist who prefers to stay on dry land, you can buy an electric tricycle powered by solar panels.

Yet the society which is often described as the happiest in the world – the Pirahã tribe in the Amazon jungle – is one that still uses bows and arrows, and sets no store by property at all.

Do gadgets really make us happy?

An answer for everything?

Some insist that gadgets are a boon because they simplify laborious tasks and leave us with more time to do the things we enjoy. People used to spend hours washing clothes and sweeping floors manually; now, thanks to inventions like washing machines and vacuum cleaners, daily life is much easier. The more advanced our technology becomes, the fewer things there will be to cause us stress.

Others argue that gadgets can be harmful. Smartphones have made communication easier, but have also led to a rise in bullying. And gadgets often cause stress by going wrong: most houses are cluttered with broken things that are too expensive to fix. Meanwhile, we’ve become overdependent on technology and lost many basic skills: the Pirahã can survive in the jungle, but we probably couldn’t.

You Decide

  1. Would you rather live in a house with every modern gadget – or in the jungle?
  2. Is it fair to keep people like the Pirahã ignorant of inventions that could make their lives easier and let them live longer?

Activities

  1. Think of the most difficult thing you have to do every day. What kind of gadget would make it easier? Draw a diagram of it, with notes explaining how it works.
  2. Imagine that you’re lost in the jungle and dependent on the Pirahã people for your survival. Which 10 vital skills would you ask them to teach you? Make a list!

Some People Say...

“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”

Socrates (around 470-399 BC), Greek philosopher

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Consumer Electronics Show is the biggest trade fair for new inventions in the world, with 4,500 exhibitors. The Pirahã are a tribe of a few hundred people living in the Amazon jungle, located four days’ journey by canoe from the nearest modern settlement. Their society has no hierarchy and they have no concept of property, or of numbers beyond “some” and “many”. They do not have a calendar and use few words associated with time. Their verbs have no past tense.
What do we not know?
It is impossible to say whether the Pirahã are really the happiest people in the world because happiness cannot be measured accurately. Also, there could be tribes that we don’t know about, living even deeper in the jungle, enjoying even happier lives. Introducing them to modern technology could make their daily existence easier, but it could also disrupt their culture in disastrous ways.

Word Watch

Las Vegas
A city located in the US state of Nevada. It calls itself: “The Entertainment Capital of the World”, and is famous for its mega casino–hotels.
Accelerates
Make faster.
Boon
A blessing.
Laborious
Needing hard work.

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