At CES 2015, in search of calm amid chaos
A line wraps around a large table with television screens towering overhead. Each display offers a list of names with numbers placed next to them. Next to the top name, a small number: 3.18. As I approach, I hear a soothing voice directed at two men at the far end of the table: “Ignore the sounds around you. Clear your mind.”
In front of each participant is a race car resting at the starting line of a scaled-down quarter mile drag strip. Placed on their heads is what looks like a deformed scalp massager, with various tentacles branching out randomly from the base behind the right ear.
I questioned what I was looking at. I meant to say it under my breath, but I inadvertently posed the question aloud. “It’s Emotiv,” a woman next to me gleefully proclaimed. She continued: “As each contestant clears his or her mind, they create a baseline brain reading. From there, they are asked to visualize the wheels on the drag car spinning, eventually causing the car to move.”
With enough concentration, each car will race down the strip powered by a person’s brain waves; the fastest time each day wins a free headset. I watched as one of the cars crawled across the finish line at 42.54 seconds. The remaining car puttered a few inches, then stuttered to a stop. A Jedi he was not.
I was at the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show, there was no question about it.
The Emotiv is neat, but is a classic example of the products that take up the bulk of space on the floor of one of the largest trade shows in the world. The kind of products you pull out of a drawer and blow the dust off of when you want to impress a friend with its novelty (or in this case, brain power). At a show like this, it’s difficult to see through the smoke and find a product that’s going to change your life in the near future.
After spending some time at the mind-controlled racetrack, I stopped by the Belkin booth to see the networking company’s new WeMo home automation gear. At first glance, there was nothing special about it. Yet another company announcing more connected lightbulbs and home widgets, I thought. Nothing unexpected or even fancy about any of it.
But one item on display—tucked into cabinet under a fake faucet—was unlike anything else I found at the show. Belkin calls it WeMo Water, a clever sensing device that provides contextual information about water usage in our homes. The device is able to detect vibrations caused by flowing water and in turn identify various appliances in a person’s home. It can tell the difference between a toilet flushing in your guest bathroom and the dishwasher running in the kitchen and therefore how much water each is using and when they’re using it. Water can dispatch an alert to you if it detects a leak and turn on a wireless speaker when the shower is on. Belkin plans to begin selling the device later this year as well as a similar model for energy consumption. I’ll take one of each, please.
After I walked away from the Belkin booth dreaming of an even more wired home, I stumbled upon the booth for TempTraq. The Westlake, Ohio company has designed a wearable, bandage-like thermometer to monitor and transmit a person’s temperature for 24 hours. The bandage is placed just under your arm. Each reading is sent over a Bluetooth connection to a smartphone application. TempTraq eliminates the need to obsessively check a sick child’s temperature with a traditional thermometer—something parents like myself will find infinitely useful.
Speaking of families, did you see LG’s washing machine capable of washing two different loads at once? To quote my wife, it’s “awesomesauce.”
Eventually I made my way over to the booth for DISH Network (DISH) to get my hands on its new Sling TV service. The streaming video service one-ups its competition for cord-cutters by providing access to ESPN and ESPN 2. As you may recall from a previous Logged In column, sports programming is often the biggest hiccup in making the switch to a streaming TV setup. Dish’s new service will launch later this month with a cost of $20 per month for live streaming access to Cartoon Network, CNN, TNT, TBS, ABC Family, Adult Swim, Travel Channel, HGTV, Food Network, Maker, and the Disney Channel, in addition to the aforementioned ESPN channels.
On the computer front, Lenovo revamped its X1 Carbon Thinkpad and it looks better than ever. Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) announced an affordable desktop PC, the HP Pavilion Mini, that’s basically the Windows equivalent of a Chromebox. Both will be available later in January.
Learn more about the newest gadgets from CES from Fortune’s video team:
As I walked away from the Las Vegas Convention Center for the last time in 2015, I paused for a brief second to take it all in. There are the sounds: the incessant oonz-oonz-oonz assaulting my ears from all directions, a drone’s constant whoooooooosh-whirrrrrrr (sometimes followed by a loud crash). The views: Apathetic runway models in wedding dresses strutting a catwalk surrounded by massive curved TVs. Technologists of all shapes and sizes scurrying from one hall to another, smartphone in hand. The smells: of plastic signage and products in every direction; of warm food emanating from unseen grab-n-go stations around the show floor; of those anxious technologists scurrying from one hall to another. Sensory overload is an apt description.
I thought about the time of 3.18 seconds I first saw on the Emotiv leaderboard and wondered how it was possible for anyone to clear his or her mind in the midst of all the chaos. Whoever you were, I envy you.
“Logged In” is Fortune’s personal technology column, written by Jason Cipriani. Read it on Fortune.com each Tuesday.