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CES is, essentially, fashion week for the tech industry. It's the "consumer electronics show," where makers of phones, televisions, drones, fitness trackers, 3D printers, and more take over Las Vegas for four days in January. Like fashion week, they're showing off their vision for the future; it just happens that the product at hand isn't coats or boots, it's smart refrigerators and wireless headphones. Buyers from stores like Amazon and Target course the floors looking to stock the latest and greatest, while journalists scramble to relay announcements, unveilings, and new releases to a rabid audience of enthusiasts. There are invite-only events with tiered access and club-takeover parties. So yeah, CES is definitely fashion week for tech.
Until recently, it wasn't the kind of thing we at Racked paid much attention to. Tech was a lofty category outside of fashion — until it wasn't. With the Apple Watch trying to position itself as an accessory, the 2016 Costume Institute exhibit dedicated to tech, and fashion brands playing with VR experiences, it's outré to treat "tech" like an island outside of our everyday lives. How many times have you touched your iPhone today?
Our goal at CES, which is still very much a tech industry event (uniform: oxford, chinos, lanyard, 2011 black rim glasses), was to pull out products that people who aren't gadget freaks or coding hobbyists could get excited about; products that will actually touch the lives of our audience here at Racked in a way that improves the day-to-day in truly exciting ways. There was a lot of weird junk (like way too much weird junk), but we did unearth seven awesome innovations that we're stoked to share with you, from the activity trackers we'd actually wear to a laundry-folding robot machine.
Wearables are a sizable part of CES, and there are a lot of awful ones you'd never want to wear all day, every day (and if you're not inclined to wear it, it's obviously not going to be tracking anything; looks really do matter here). What sets activity tracker brand Mira apart is that their pieces are designed to look like jewelry. Their metal, cuff-like bracelet houses the shiny black "opal" (that's the part that's counting your steps and estimating your caloric burn).
Mira is launching the Vivid collection later this year, which takes the hiding of the tech element even further by fully hiding the opal inside of a bracelet that actually looks good. Another new option in the collection is a pendant necklace, which is equally discreet-looking and a nice alternative from the proliferating wrist-strapped tracker.
Mira's only competition for the title of "actually pretty wearable" at CES was Misfit's new Ray band. Misfit has always been good at the minimal thing, in both aesthetics and price (styles that start at $50). This week's unveiling of the Ray takes it a step farther, with all the activity and sleep monitoring smarts inside of a brushed-metal cylinder that can we worn on the wrist with a sport band or a leather band, or as a pendant necklace. There is a single, small light on the device that can be programmed with different colors to alert for incoming texts, calls, and other notifications through your smart phone (see it in action here), which is a less distracting option for staying in the loop than a full display of a work e-mail on a smart watch screen during brunch (talk about a buzz kill).
Preorder open for March 2016 launch, $99.
New Balance 3D-Printed Midsole
Active brand New Balance and 3D printing company 3DSystems showed off a new sneaker with a 3D-printed midsole. Promising flexibility, strength, and durability, the running shoe's midsole is made from newly-developed elastomeric powder and DuraForm Flex TPU. In layman's terms, this is the first sneaker made of these things and made in this way, and it holds promise of an extra-comfy stride for runners.
The shoes will launch this spring first in Boston, and then in New Balance stores around the world. So far no price has been named.
This piece of "smart luggage" is an amazing example of what we came hunting for at CES: a totally average, boring, utilitarian object significantly upgraded for modern life. A suitcase is downright boring, but when it has a battery that can charge your phone six times and effectively entertain you through flight cancellations, train delays, and layovers, it becomes quite interesting.
The suitcase's companion is an app that helps you track its location, allows you to digitally lock and unlock it from afar, and has a built-in scale for checking its weight to comply with airline policies. Oh, and it's sized to fit in the overhead bin of nearly all major carriers.
Available for order now, $399.
Another example of a boring-but-necessary object becoming unexpectedly sexy is this sleek thermometer by France-based health company Withings. Enclosed in a shiny, white case, the Thermo uses sensors to take temperatures from the temple (check it out in use here). That means it doesn't have to go into any orifice (sanitary!) to spit back an accurate read.
You can save profiles for different family members on the device, which, of course, syncs with an app on your smart phone. The app allows you to track trends and share data with your doctor electronically. It'll cost $99 when it ships this spring, but it is still pending FDA approval for sales in the States.
Available spring, $99.
After aisles and aisles of "innovation" and "disruption," it wasn't hard for off-brand Beatles robots performing "Yesterday" to catch the attention of my simple mind. It turns out this comes from a robot kit designed to teach kids about robotics (!) and coding (!!!). The kit that builds the not-Beatles™ is designed, amazingly, at the comprehension level of kindergartens through fifth graders and will be available in the second half of 2016. For now, you can buy a slightly more advanced kit aimed for fourth through 12th graders; it's on Amazon now for $145 and can create 11 different forms.
Let's end on the absurd, wonderful, "how can it be" Laundroid. Designed by a Japanese company, this little miracle is billed as "the world's first fully-automatic laundry folding machine." It works by combining image-analysis technology to detect articles of clothing and robotics technology to do the folding. The machine claims to save you a whopping 375 days in your lifetime that would otherwise be dedicated to folding laundry (the only way this is actually possible is if you fold your sweaters with the KonMari method, which is more challenging than assembling an Ikea dresser, trust).