CES 2019's weird, wonderful tech

The Ovis smart suitcase.
The Ovis smart suitcase.

There were a number of cool and weird innovations showcased at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), in Las Vegas, this week. Every year, thousands of hardware manufacturers, technology journalists, buyers, sellers and consumers stream into the Nevada city to see some of the best tech innovations expected to be released over the next 12 months.

Here is a selection of some of the most interesting gadgets on display:

1. Autonomous luggage

If you hate dragging your suitcase through an airport then Beijing-based company ForwardX has the gadget for you: a smart suitcase that follows you around.

The new version of the smart suitcase, called Ovis, was on display at CES, and the company says through a series of complex algorithms, ForwardX has created an AI with the ability to not only "see" as we do, but comprehend what it is seeing.

The suitcase follows beside you as you walk and is able to avoid bumping into other people or things using an obstacle avoidance algorithm, based on self-driving technology. The company says Ovis is able to accurately sense and assess the environment, calculate the distance, and estimate the direction and route to avoid potential obstacles, with a deviation precision of about 1cm.

The Ovis also has a removable battery for when you go through security at airports, which makes it TSA-approved. The Ovis comes with a smart wristband that vibrates when your luggage is more than 2m away. The suitcase has GPS tracking so you can locate it with your smartphone if you have misplaced it.

The suitcase should be available in the first half of 2019 and will cost $799 (R11 000).

2. Super-smart toilet

Kohler's Numi 2.0 Intelligent Toilet and connected bathroom suite.
Kohler's Numi 2.0 Intelligent Toilet and connected bathroom suite.

One of the most talked about innovations on display was a new smart toilet from Kohler, a global leader in the design and innovation of kitchen and bath products.

Building on its debut at CES in 2018, Kohler unveiled the Numi 2.0 Intelligent Toilet, which is Kohler's most advanced intelligent toilet, offering water efficiency, personalised cleansing and dryer functions, a heated seat, and high-quality built-in speakers.

The smart throne comes with the Amazon Alexa virtual assistant built in, to allow seamless integration of voice control into the bathroom. The intelligent toilet's lighting features include "dynamic and interactive multi-coloured ambient and surround lighting" and surround sound speakers for what the company calls "a fully immersive experience for homeowners".

The smart toilet will cost $8 000 (R110 829).

Numi comes as part of Kohler's futuristic connected bathroom suite, which includes a voice lighted mirror, a smart shower, a voice controlled bath filler and what it is calling the 'PureWarmth Heated Toilet Seat', which has three warm temperature settings for your rear end.

3. A baby bump monitor

The Owlet Band.
The Owlet Band.

Expectant mothers can wake up to a mobile health report of their unborn child using the soon-to-be-released Owlet Band, which uses specialised ultra-thin fabric sensors placed on the mother's abdomen to track her baby's wellness from inside the womb.

The sensor-enabled band can be worn on an expectant mother's growing belly from 24 weeks to full-term.

The web of sensors that stretch over the mom's belly take thousands of samples per second and send the data gathered to a smart phone app. It monitors kicks, the baby's heartrate, maternal sleep position and contractions. It also allows users to record their baby's heartbeat and share it with family and friends.

Owlet already makes an innovative smart sock, which wraps around a baby's foot to track heart rate, oxygen levels and sleep. Now, the company has designed what it calls the world's first consumer pregnancy monitor, which is expected to be commercially available in late 2019.

Meet the Owlet Band from Owlet Baby Care on Vimeo.

4. VR exercise bike

The NordicTrack VR Bike.
The NordicTrack VR Bike.

If you are looking for a way to make exercise more fun, the NordicTrack VR Bike lets you combine fitness and fantasy using virtual reality (VR).

Using the HTC Vive Focus VR headset, you can immerse yourself in the games Bike Messenger, Aeronauts and The Last Rider, designed specifically for the VR Bike, while you work out. The company says the bike will offer 10% inclines and declines to mimic real-world changes in elevation within game worlds and the difficulty level will increase based on how much you exert yourself.

The bike will release mid-year for $1 999 (R27 690), including the VR headset, which is valued at $599 (R8 300), as well as a one-year iFit membership.

5. Flying taxi

The Bell Nexus flying taxi.
The Bell Nexus flying taxi.

It wouldn't be CES without someone trying to build a flying car. This year, Bell showed off a full-scale prototype of the Bell Nexus Air Taxi, which it is designing in partnership with Uber. It has six enormous tilting rotors that make it "fly", and it can take off and land vertically. Bell says it will be launched in a few major markets by "the mid-2020s".

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