Over 140,000 techies descended on the Las Vegas Convention Center from Wed. to Sun. last week for the Consumer Electronics Show, a number made all the more staggering by the fact that the show isn’t even open to the general public.

Held annually in Las Vegas, the showcase hosts tech companies from across the globe for a display of their latest electronic innovations, ranging from robotics to refrigerators. Every year, tech giants such as Intel and Microsoft, along with companies such as Panasonic and LG spend tens of thousands on setting up elaborate booths, some spanning multiple floors, to display their latest products and innovations. Also alongside these huge companies are hordes of smaller booths, some rented by individual entrepreneurs to promote their inventions, some manned by young companies trying to break into a niche market, but the largest amount are staffed by vendors promoting the dull but essential elements of the electronics industry, such as cables and batteries. However, most vendors boasted an array of gadgets that fell somewhere between the commonplace and the outrageous.

Household names such as Skype, Taser, iRobot (manufacturers of the Roomba), Polaroid and many others made up a bulk of the show, showcasing one or two new products or services rather than partaking in the showmanship war that the larger companies seem trapped in.

If this year’s CES had a theme, it was certainly 3D. Every company that could show off a 3D TV was, from the over-the-top wall mounted TV displays of Panasonic and LG to the more low-key offerings of Sharp and others, it was almost easy to forget these companies had ever made anything else.

In the case of LG, there was a comical dichotomy between the energy and grandeur that went into showing off their latest TVs and the rest of their products. Attendees lined up to don 3D glasses and view elaborate displays while workers scrambled to answer questions and show off the new devices. Opposite the TVs was the other part of the LG booth, showcasing their newest refrigerator. With one lonely employee in front of an austere display, there was almost a feeling that LG itself had chosen to forget about their other product lines in favor of showcasing 3D technology.

In addition to the 3D TVs themselves, other companies rode the 3D wave with products such as designer 3D glasses to be worn over regular glasses and other 3D TV accessories including stereos and more. Companies such as Canon and Sony also focused on their 3D camera offerings, trying to prove that 3D was not just for Hollywood or big TV studios, but also for your home movies and vacation photos.

One of the most impressive 3D offerings that the show had was the technology to watch 3D without having to use glasses. A few companies demonstrated familiar movies such as “Avatar” on these experimental displays. While the technology is still somewhat rough — for example, the screens can only be properly viewed from a certain distance and height — the quality that these prototypes showed was impressive. If you were to sit in the proper place, they achieved an effect somewhere between regular 2D television and full quality 3D. While the technology still has room to grow, it’s definitely something worth keeping an eye on.

The show also featured the newest in experimental design and integrated technology from auto manufactures such as Audi, Tesla, GM and Ford.

Audi showed off very slick displays they had integrated into the dash of their newest vehicles, capable of projecting information onto the windshield for a driver to view information without looking away from the road. GM also brought their newest prototypes to Las Vegas: cars that can drive themselves and network with each other to form automated caravans that all follow a leader car.

On top of everything else, CES had robots crawling all over the place, varying from a little device that cleaned windows by crawling up and down both sides of glass panes, to aquatic military drones. iRobot showed off their newest devices, including a pool-cleaning robot and a nursing home robot that would provide automated care for residents. This year saw a much larger focus on robotics than in previous years, with booths devoted both to individual components and finished demonstrations, such as a small robot that balanced on and rode a bike around stage. Typically many of the smaller robotics offerings are not in the main hall, and it was interesting to see them closer to center stage this year.

CES was, as usual, chaotic, crowded and impressive. Attendees took over Las Vegas for the weekend, making it impossible to go anywhere without seeing a sea of CES badges and suits. Staggeringly large, the show is a great example of the industry as a whole, and this year the show was bigger, more crowded and flashier than the last few years. Also worth noting was the large percentage of Chinese vendors at the show, not just showing off components in small booths, but exhibiting finished products such as TVs and laptops that were sleek, cheap and ready to compete in the global market. In keeping with annual tradition, the show offered a smorgasbord of the latest, greatest products, impressive innovations and the promise to tempt electronics consumers in 2011.

Best In Show

Ford Focus EV
Ford premiered their first fully electric vehicle in their keynote on Saturday morning.  With a range of around 100 miles on a charge, and the ability to charge in standard 120v or 240v outlets, Ford has managed to take the practicality of the Focus to an even higher level.   Overall it’s an impressive vehicle, and Ford is looking at a release in the US sometime this year, with European releases in 2013.


Polaroid premiered two interesting products, a camera being designed by Lady Gaga as part of a product line known as Gray Line, and a slightly less flashy portable photo printer with Bluetooth connectivity.  The camera has a real retro appearance, but with a beautiful screen and Polaroid’s iconic instant photos — now using an inkless technology called zink that prevents smudging and keeps the film small — it’s sure to find a market among enthusiasts.  The printer is marketed as a way to print photos from cellphones instantly without any computer, and unlike the camera, will be hitting shelves sometime this year.


Taser Demonstration
Taser’s products were basically what you would expect: self-defense devices that fire electrified probes to disable potential attackers.  Despite some variation in color and shape, Taser’s products stayed true to their roots.  However, the Taser booth will remain one of the most memorable of the show because they allowed attendees to volunteer to be tased as live demonstrations.  There are few more ringing endorsements for your product as a self-defense tool then watching a man groan to his feet and answer “How do you feel?” with “like s^*t” over the booth’s sound system.