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Spock-style gadget can SMELL my PEE! Weird gizmos of CES 2014

The urine analysis device may come signed by Leonard Nimoy. Seriously

Razer Nabu

CES 2014 The Las Vegas-hosted 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is still running, of course, but the majority of the announcements have been made: a fair few before the show even started, in a bid to get ahead of the rest. Like early morning shoppers, though, everyone figures out the pre-show press release trick soon enough and now everyone is back to square one. What next? CES announcements in October?

Not that the world’s consumer electronics and technology players had a lot to say that was new. Smartwatches and wearable devices have proved the key theme of the show, with lots of folk jumping on the bandwagon to try and get a piece of the action early, now well-known birds like Fitbit and Pebble have been enjoying.

It helps that Apple’s much-rumoured entry into the market has not taken place, probably for the same reasons that Samsung’s effort, the Galaxy Gear, was so poor: they’re trying to make a flash gadget that will wow non-techie punters, but the core hardware - the battery, chiefly - just isn’t there yet.

CES is always a showcase for wall after wall of tellies, but there has been little novelty this time round. Curved screens have been done, so too have 4K and beyond Ultra HD TVs. Smart TVs are so 2012. Steve Jobs may have figured out the secret of making TV hardware sexy again just before he died, but no one else has in the intervening period.

Intel went to town on Ultrabooks a couple of years ago, but the broad public apathy to the new platform resulted in a more modest showing in 2013. This time round, rather than start its own bandwagon a-rolling, the chip giant just did what everyone else has: it jumped on someone else’s, in this case wearables. Whether an Edison platform, a PC-on-an-SD-card based on the new Quark processor, will truly be suitable for wearables - in other words, able to deliver ARM-level power efficiency - remains to be seen. Announced now, it won’t be out until the summer.

So what did stand out? Here are some of the items that struck me, and don’t forget you can also check out El Reg’s complete CES 2014 coverage here.

3D Systems ChefJet

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We’re a sceptical lot here at The Register and we’ve found it hard to accept that personal 3D printing has much of a future outside the homes of Shoreditch techno-hipsters and a few, more advanced makers. Until now. Additive manufacturing is now truly correctly named, after 3D Systems has announced a printer for printing sweeities.

3D Systems ChefJet

Can-do candy: 3D Systems’ ChefJet
Source: The Verge

The company actually has in mind a broader array of printed foodstuffs – ChefJet is the first of “an entirely new, kitchen-ready 3D printer category for edibles” - but why not sugary treets or clever cake decorations. Scale models of the Empire State Building or Iron Man’s mask that you can eat, anyone?

There will be two models: the ChefJet is a monochrome, countertop sized job with a build volume of 200 x 200 x 150mm. The ChefJet Pro can do multiple colours and has a 250 x 250 x 200mm space for pastries and such. ChefJet printable nibbles come in a variety of flavours, including chocolate, vanilla, mint, sour apple, cherry and watermelon.

3D Systems ChefJet

DIY tasty treats

Of course, you might quite reasonably think this kind of thing simply devalues the dexterity and skill required for truly amazing candy and icing statuary, but I can see this thing making primary school cake sales considerably more interesting than they are - not to mention more competitive, too. Well, for parents who can afford the “sub-$10,000” price tag for the Pro model or even the $5,000 or so 3D Systems is going to want for the regular version, that is...

Lenovo Miix 2 11

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The problem with the Miix 2 is that it’s a Windows 8 machine, but this laptop-tablet hybrid was worth a second look nonetheless - which is more than you can say from most of its competitors. Tablet screens that dock onto a keyboard unit are nothing new - Asus pioneered the idea a few years ago - but Lenovo’s engineers have rigged up the Mixx 2’s screen to attach to the keyboard unit with magnets rather than latches.

Lenovo Miix 2 11

Miix and match: Lenovo’s magnetic laptop

The upshot is that it’s easy to separate the two parts, but when connected they stay together. Separate magnets work to keep the screen upright and, when you’ve done working, stuck flat against the keyboard. What you can’t do, alas, is fix the keyboard section to the back of the tablet as if the Miix had a wrap-around hinge like Lenovo’s Yoga laptops do, but you can have the screen upright and facing away from the keyboard.

Specs-wise, the Miix 2 has an 11.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 display, dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and optional 3G. It has a Core i5 processor. Lenovo also has a 10.1-inch, 1920 x 1200 model in the pipeline, this one with a Bay Trail Atom CPU.

Scanadu Scout

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No, it’s not a Star Trek tricoder or Feinberger, but it’s arguably the closest thing we have to Doctor McCoy’s handheld bio-sensor and readout. For the latter, the Scout makes use of - guess what - a smartphone, but the interesting part is the round sensor that’s able to take your temperature, measure your heart rate and blood oxygen level, monitor ECG and blood pressure, and even sense 12 different chemical signatures in your wee.

Scanadu Scout

Boldly sensing urine signatures never sensed before. Sort of

All this in a small, 16mm high, 55cm-diameter disc that uses Bluetooth Smart - aka LE - to communicate with the host phone and has a micro USB port to keep its on-board battery topped up. When using it a few times a day, it will last for about a week, says Scanadu.

Scanadu’s been seriously on the case since it sailed past its Indiegogo crowd-funding target last year. That means it’s now on course to ship the gadget and its accompanying iOS and Android apps this coming Spring. Keener on Trek than Tech? Scanadu hopes to have a limited edition model on sale signed by Leonard Nimoy.

SeeSpace InAir

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Here’s an interesting take on the smart TV: a $99 dongle for your telly that superimposes a UI and information on top of what you’re watching - or somewhere between you and the screen, if you’re watching through 3D glasses. The idea is you use your iOS or Android phone or tablet as a no-need-to-look controller rather than as a second screen.

SeeSpace InAir

InAir: Dynamic info overlayed on your viewing...

Cute, but that’ll be a hard sell. Punters like the second screen because they can glance it it without disturbing other viewers. Who wants to miss Sherlock’s death-defying plunge because a fellow sofa surfer immediately filled the screen with Wikipedia’s Arthur Conan Doyle pages?

The InAir sits between your TV and an HDMI video source, so presumably it won’t overlay its UI on top of content picked up by the telly’s own tuner

SeeSpace InAir

...via an HDMI dongle

Still, it will be interesting to see what SeeSpace can do to make the UI accessible yet undisruptive. More to the point, perhaps, I’m curious too see whether its planned Kickstarter fund-raising campaign will show there’s demand for kit like this - or that punters are more than happy with what smart TVs are already delivering in this area. If the funding comes through, InAir could be out in the second half of the year.

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