Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Why is so much smart tech just plain dumb?

I don’t get to go to the CES 2018, this year’s edition of the annual Consumer Electronics Show, currently underway in Las Vegas. Thank god. But Geoffrey Fowler and Hayley Tsukayama of The Washington Postthose lucky ducks! – do get to go and report on it. So I get to read up on all the amazing new gadgets that are being unleashed on us. Here’s a selection from their roundup of “the most out-there ideas.”

If you’re interested in a paying a multiple of 20x on what most people will pay for a toilet, Kohler is coming out with the Numi, a smart toilet that’s the latest “thing” to join the Internet of Things. Numi costs $5.6K+, but maybe there are some people who feel that it’s worth it to have a toilet that you can ask Alexa to flush. But wait, there’s more!

…you can ask Amazon’s Alexa (as well as Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri) to lift the seat or activate your favorite bidet spray configuration…There’s no microphone on the toilet itself, but there are speakers to play your favorite tunes. Plus it keeps track of water usage.

I would have conceded that there’s some argument for voice-activated flushing under the heading of “assistive technology.” But then it occurs to me that someone who’d need a technology assist is also likely to need a physical assist to get one and off the pot. And that person can do the flushing, no? Same with lifting the seat. Activating “your favorite bidet spray configuration?” Can you imagine the engineering brainstorm session when someone came up with that feature?

As with so much of “emerging technology”, Allen Ginsberg’s words I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness come to mind.

There’s also the Somnox – not to be confused with Sominex, which gets the same results - a cuddly robot “that simulates human breathing.” And “heartbeats, lullabies and guided meditation.” Who needs human companionship, when your robot is just a heartbeat away?

The Modius is a “headband to help you lose weight.”  You have to be willing to trust unproven “brain-zapping technology” that gooses your brain into curbing your appetite. And it doesn’t do it all by its lonesome. It’s meant to be a nice little add on to whatever you’re already doing to lose weight. Oh, and it’s $500, which seems kind of steep for an add on to whatever you’re doing that’s difficult. Like not eating ice cream. I’ll wait for the next version. If a headband can help pare off 10 pounds just by doing a bit of brain zapping, well, now you’re talking.

There are two robots that can help you fold your laundry. Because, you know, folding your laundry is just so damned hard. The Foldimate goes for a bit under $1K, and it’s supposed to be able to fold a laundry load in 4 minutes. Hmmm. I think that’s what it takes me to fold a laundry load. And that includes paring socks and folding sheets – including the dreaded fitted sheet -  which the Foldimate can’t do. Plus you have to feed the Foldimate, one item at a time. So you’re still spending 4 minutes folding a load of laundry. And this is an improvement on DIY how?

The $16K Laundroid, which “folds from a drawer of clothes”, can’t do sheets or socks, either. And it takes longer than the Foldimate. Is it too obvious to ask why one would need to “fold from a drawer of clothes”, given that if you’re not a total slob, the clothing in your drawer is pretty much likely to be folded already. And if it’s not folded – my scarf draw is just sort of a mashup  - then it probably doesn’t need to be.

I’m actually intrigued by the concept of the Xeros that cuts the water usage of your average laundry load in half.

Xeros fills washing machines with nylon balls about the size of green peas that help massage away dirt and absorb loose dye using half as much water. It also jostles your clothes less, leading to energy savings and clothes that last longer.

No price yet, but this one sounds like it could be a consumer winner if it’s not crazily expensive.

On the weirder side of things, there’s an INVI anti-assault bracelet that “releases a foul odor to repel attackers.” The idea of repelling an attacker is certainly a good one, but what if the foul odor just makes the attacker become more violent? This one, methinks, needs quite a bit of testing. But how do you test it except in a real life situation?

ElliQ isn’t a cuddly robot, like Somnox. It’s a social robot

that connects seniors to friends for messages and video chats and makes it a bit easier for them to take advantage of online information and services. It suggests physical activities, such as taking medicine or going for a walk, and also makes personalized recommendations for news, music or games.

I’m not going to put this one down. In a couple of years, I’ll probably be purchasing one. Or maybe I’ll get an Aibo, Sony’s robot dog, which has “a camera in its nose, a microphone to pick up voice commands and 22 adorably articulated parts.” It’s $1.8K and is so far only available in Japan. But I’m sure it’ll be here soon. And you don’t need to walk it in the cold and the rain. Plus I’m guessing that those “22 adorably articulated parts” don’t include the parts that lick their privates or sniff another dog robots butts. Still, it’s hard to believe that it would be a substitute for the real thing. Arf!

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