The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas wraps up on Friday. There were a lot of gadgets, concepts, and gizmos worthy of a second look. While nothing as game-changing as the personal computer or the smartphone was revealed this year, there were a lot of products that added incremental functionality to items we already own.
Portable hard drives got lighter and, well, more portable; wearables got slightly less ugly and more useful; charging stuff got less bulky and complicated; laptops got lighter and thinner; TV's got brighter and smarter; and everything got connected to the Internet.
Here's a roundup of Fortune's favorite items and concepts from the show, in no particular order or category. Some feature game-changing technologies that are likely to influence the development of other products. Others are simply cool.
The Beam from Suitable Technologies
Being there just got easier
The Internet has allowed people to work remotely and efficiently. The downside to this is that they have also become cut off from the goings on at their offices, factories, and facilities that are sometimes spread throughout the globe. Enter the Beam by Suitable Technologies. It is a roving robot with a large screen that allows employees in remote locations to interact with each other.
Using simple software developed by Suitable Tech, a person can tap into the Beam robot remotely and drive it around an office or factory thousands of miles away, allowing them to be there, without actually being physically present. The person's face is shown on a large screen roving at eye level with people, making remote conversations more natural and productive than a soulless conference call. The robot's cameras, sensors, and microphones are very good and driving the robot is super easy. Now, your boss in New York can be in the office with you in Kuala Lumpur and interact with you on a far more, dare I say, "human," level.
The XPS 13 laptop and Venue 8 7000 tablet from Dell
Dell's not dead
Dell surprised everyone at CES this year. While the company has become far quieter since going private and has committed a lot of resources to increasing its enterprise offerings, it hasn't totally written off its consumer line. Consider its new XPS 13 laptop and Venue 8 7000 tablet. Both sport a very thin bezel, meaning that Dell was able to pack a lot of screen in a smaller footprint. So, the Dell XPS 13 is a 13-inch laptop smashed into a footprint the size of a 11.6-inch Macbook Air. The implication for this is that laptops will be easier to pack and carry around, which is good news for pretty much everyone. This bezel-less design will undoubtedly be copied by Asian manufacturers in the year to come, making Dell, once again, a leader in PC design.
The F 015 autonomous vehicle from Mercedes
No more driving
Driving is so 20th century, at least according to Mercedes-Benz. Since 1893, Mercedes has been at the forefront of automobile technology, so its presence at CES isn't as odd as it sounds. This year, Mercedes revealed an entire concept car, a first for the show, the F 015, autonomous driving vehicle. The futuristic looking car featured an array of game-changing technologies on board, allowing it to be driven totally by a computer.
Autonomous driving will revolutionize your commute. Now, you won't have to watch the road and listen to NPR; you can instead watch the Today show while checking your Twitter feed. Mercedes says the car is just a concept, but they believe that they will "soon" be able to make an economic case for building a car with autonomous driving capability in the very near future. Other companies are scrambling to keep up, but none have gone as far as the German automaker in this arena.
The Dart from FinSix
Ditch the brick
While laptops have gotten thinner and smaller, the laptop charger has remained heavy and fat, canceling out much of the point of having a small and powerful laptop. This, of course, wouldn't be an issue if laptops were able to hold a charge for a considerable period of time, but few, if any, can really get you through the day, or even through half a day.
The problem is that laptops need a lot of power to charge and that requires some sort of AC/DC conversion, which in turn requires a big power brick to accompany every laptop. It has taken years, but a few scientists from MIT have finally figured out how to compress all that charging hardware into a neat, portable package.
Enter the Dart, a universal laptop charger that is four times smaller and lighter than your current brick. The makers of the Dart told Fortune they have teamed up with a company to sell the brick with new laptops but wouldn't say who it was at this point.
The Eye Tracker from The Eye Tribe
The Eye Mouse
Apple made commercial touch devices a reality with the iPhone last decade, forever changing how we interact with technology. Computer makers took to this revolution and introduced touch laptops and desktop monitors soon thereafter. But using touch to control your computer screen while you have a keyboard and mouse at hand is just plain useless for most applications—plus, it gets your screen all smudgy.
But why touch at all when you can just gaze? Enter the Eye Tracker by The Eye Tribe. The Danish company has developed truly innovative software and hardware that allows you to control your PC or tablet using your eyes. The Eye Tracker uses sensors to locate features in your eyes to estimate your point of gaze, allowing you to select objects and icons as you would using your mouse. The Eye Tribe hopes to integrate this technology in future PCs and laptops. It has also developed hardware that gives developers and users the ability to turn their current computers into eye trackers for $99.
This technology is in its infancy, but it isn't ahead of its time. Eye tracking can be used in a wide variety of applications today, such as device control, aiming in games, eye-activated login or hands-free typing. It won't be long before you will be able to control things or play games using eye-tracking tech.
1U by Hoyos Labs
You only have one face
Plenty of app developers at CES this year promised that their products could somehow make your life easier. One that stuck out, though, was 1U by Hoyos Labs. The 1U app uses facial recognition technology to log you in to sensitive mobile websites, such as your bank or your email accounts. Now you don't have to re-enter your username and password again and again or unsafely store them via cookies on your mobile web browser. All you need to do is enter your info into the app once and then you will just need your face to access your most sensitive websites. The program can distinguish between your actual face and a picture of your face. The app used to cost $99 a year but is now being offered for free.
The Hovertrax from Inventist
Walking is so last century
When the Segway was revealed a few years ago, it caused quite a stir. The curious machine allowed people to stand and glide on wheels instead of walking. But the Segway was too big, too heavy, and way too expensive to be used at the personal level. New York City was quick to ban the new form of transportation out of fear that people would end up running over pedestrians. Now, the only Segways you see are operated by tour groups or mall cops.
The Segway concept wasn't a bad one; it just needed to be tweaked and scaled down. The Hovertrax, by Inventist, may be the solution to that problem. The Hovertrax is sort of like a horizontal mechanized skateboard. It uses gyroscopic sensors to keep you balanced and an electric motor to glide you quickly between point A and point B. Getting on the Hovertrax is a bit daunting at first, but after as little as five minutes, your body begins to adapt to being on it and you can start moving around effortlessly. You only need to shift your body weight to control where the Hovertrax goes and it zooms forward at a brisk pace.
The Fre Power QZ from Lifeproof
More power, less worry
Our mobile devices grow increasingly important to us year after year. First it was our phones, then our cameras, then our music players, then our movie players, and now our game consoles.
All of this means that we are on our phones a lot, and we are using a lot of power.
Smartphone makers have tried to cram as much battery into their devices but they have always put form (thinness) above function (battery life). A few years ago, case makers like Mophie decided to combine a protective case with an extra battery, giving rise to the battery case. But the battery case didn't protect smartphones from the most lethal danger to any electronic device: water. Power users had to make a choice between protection or juice.
The folks at Lifeproof solved the waterproof problem a while ago with its line of Fre cases. And now they have tackled both problems with its new Fre Power QZ waterproof battery pack for the iPhone 6. The 3D-printed mockup of the case that Fortune checked out in Vegas wasn't too bulky or heavy. The Fre Power isn't available just yet, but the company says it should be out sometime in 2015.