First fold­able phone un­veiled at CES

Robotics and AI fea­tured promi­nently at Las Ve­gas show which is ex­pected to draw 180,000 peo­ple

The Irish Times - Business - - FRONT PAGE - Ciara O’Brien,

Ro­bots, 8K TVs and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence: the an­nual CES tech show is in full swing in Las Ve­gas. The show­case brings to­gether the world’s largest tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies and gives a plat­form to some of the small­est star­tups as they lay out the roadmap for their prod­ucts in the years to come.

More than 180,000 peo­ple are ex­pected to pass through the con­ven­tion cen­tre’s doors dur­ing the four-day event this week.

Among the gad­gets on the show floor was the Roy­ole Fl­ex­Pai, the world’s first fold­able smart­phone, com­plete with a flex­i­ble screen that means it can be used as ei­ther a tablet or a smart­phone.

The de­vice has many of the fea­tures found on tra­di­tional flag­ship smart­phones – an AMOLED dis­play, dual cam­era sys­tem, and an op­er­at­ing sys­tem based on An­droid – but with the ad­di­tion of a screen that can bend freely be­tween zero and 180 de­grees.

Robotics and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence also fea­tured heav­ily. The Om­ron For­pheus robot is a ta­ble ten­nis tu­tor which learns from play­ers and ad­justs its own abil­ity to pro­mote longer ral­lies and coach hu­man play­ers.

This ver­sion is ac­tu­ally the fifth gen­er­a­tion of the robot, but is the first to fea­ture el­bow and wrist-like move­ments, en­abling the robot to place top and back­spin on the ball. The robot also uses its built-in cam­era to an­a­lyse player move­ment and form com­pared to that of pro play­ers and of­fer per­son­alised coach­ing based on the com­par­i­son.

An­other form of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence with plenty of promi­nence at CES 2019 is the Google As­sis­tant. Google an­nounced at the show that the As­sis­tant is to be given en­hanced in­ter­pre­ta­tion and nav­i­ga­tion multi-task­ing tools in 2019.

The new in­ter­pre­ta­tion tool will launch when users say phrases such as “Hey Google, be my French in­ter­preter”, and will give real-time spo­ken and writ­ten trans­la­tion to aid con­ver­sa­tion, Google says.

An up­date to the As­sis­tant in Google Maps has also been an­nounced, en­abling users to use voice com­mands to share their ar­rival time with friends or fam­ily as well as re­ply to text mes­sages – with the As­sis­tant tak­ing down voice dic­ta­tion – while users con­tinue to nav­i­gate us­ing Maps.

Prov­ing that new tech­nol­ogy does not have to be com­pli­cated, Sony’s lat­est line-up of speak­ers in­cludes the GTK-PG10, a speaker de­signed for out­door par­ties that comes with a fold-out ta­ble and cup holder.

The splash­proof top panel can with­stand any drink spillage, while the speaker also comes with a mi­cro­phone in­put should users wish to take on some karaoke.

There were a hand­ful of Ir­ish com­pa­nies mak­ing their pres­ence known at the event, with start-up such as Bion­icGym, which makes a wear­able ex­er­cise de­vice, based in the Eu­reka Park area of the ex­hi­bi­tion. Eu­reka Park typ­i­cally houses the star­tups, and has grown since its ad­di­tion to the event in 2012. In 2016, the Con­sumer Tech­nol­ogy As­so­ci­a­tion im­ple­mented a for­mal ap­pli­ca­tion process for Eu­reka Park to re­strict en­try to the ex­hi­bi­tion to only the most in­no­va­tive star­tups for the 2017 event.

Ir­ish takeover

Tao­glas, an Ir­ish com­pany which de­signs and makes high-tech an­ten­nae, used the show to make the an­nounce­ment that it had ac­quired a US ri­val. The En­nis­cor­thy-head­quar­tered com­pany is fo­cused on next-gen­er­a­tion tech­nolo­gies in 5G, the in­ter­net of things (IoT) and satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion.

It bought Florida-based ThinkWire­less, which spe­cialises in the de­sign, de­vel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion of com­bi­na­tion an­tenna sys­tems for com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles, for an undis­closed sum. ThinkWire­less founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive Dr Argy Pet­ros, and the com­pany’s di­rec­tor of ra­dio fre­quency tech­nol­ogy, Pierre Was­som, will re­main with the group fol­low­ing the trans­ac­tion.

In re­cent years, CES has fea­tured an in­creas­ing num­ber of car­mak­ers show­cas­ing en­ter­tain­ment and au­tonomous driv­ing tech­nol­ogy as ex­cite­ment about the tech­nol­ogy has taken hold. Although self-driv­ing cars are still some way off, car­mak­ers are still show­cas­ing their wares at the event.

Po­ten­tial to save so many lives

Toy­ota said it would share with ri­vals an au­to­mated safety sys­tem that uses self-driv­ing tech­nol­ogy to keep cars from crash­ing. The sys­tem, known as Guardian, will take con­trol of a car and steer it around an im­pend­ing crash or ac­cel­er­ate out of the path of an on­com­ing ve­hi­cle run­ning a red light. The tech­nol­ogy, due to hit the road early next decade, has the po­ten­tial to save so many lives that the au­tomaker felt com­pelled to share it with any com­pany that would like to use it, said Gill Pratt, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the Toy­ota Re­search In­sti­tute. “We were think­ing about what would be good for so­ci­ety,” he said.

Daim­ler also used the show to an­nounce it would sell a heavy-duty truck in the United States this year that is able to brake, ac­cel­er­ate and steer at all speeds on its own.

Nis­san un­veiled a new ver­sion of the Leaf that nar­rows the driv­ing-range gap be­tween its elec­tric car and Tesla’s Model 3. The Leaf e+ boasts a more en­ergy-dense bat­tery that ex­tends range by about 40 per cent, to as much as 226 miles (363km). That com­pares with the 220- to 310-mile range for the Model 3. It will go on sale in Ire­land this sum­mer.

The event wasn’t with­out con­tro­versy though, as sex toy firm Lora DiCarlo ac­cused the show of gen­der bias. In an open let­ter on the com­pany’s web­site, founder Lora Had­dock claimed the Ose Mas­sage had won a CES Robotics In­no­va­tion Award, but the show had re­scinded it. She said or­gan­is­ers had ini­tially cited a rule around the abil­ity to dis­qual­ify any de­vice deemed “im­moral, ob­scene, in­de­cent, pro­fane or not in keep­ing with CTA’s (Con­sumer Tech­nol­ogy As­so­ci­a­tion) im­age”, but sub­se­quently claimed the de­vice did not fit in the robotics and drone cat­e­gory.

“Putting aside for a mo­ment the im­pli­ca­tion that women’s sex­ual well­ness prod­ucts are some­how im­moral or ob­scene – if we didn’t fit their pol­icy, how in the world did our ap­pli­ca­tion even get past the first round of vet­ting by CTA staff, let alone re­ceive high marks across the board from their ex­pert judges?” Ms Had­dock wrote.

“It’s also im­por­tant to note that a lit­eral sex doll for men launched on the floor at CES in 2018 and a VR porn com­pany ex­hibits there ev­ery year, al­low­ing men to watch pornog­ra­phy in pub­lic as con­sumers walk by. Clearly CTA has no is­sue al­low­ing ex­plicit male sex­u­al­ity and plea­sure to be os­ten­ta­tiously on dis­play.”

– Ad­di­tional re­port­ing: PA, Bloomberg

PHO­TO­GRAPH: PA­TRICK T FAL­LON/BLOOMBERG

At­ten­dees take pho­tographs of a Bell He­li­copter Tex­tron Inc Ur­ban Air Taxi at the 2019 Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show (CES) in Las Ve­gas on Tues­day.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: MAR­TYN LANDI/PA WIRE

The Roy­ole Cor­po­ra­tion Fl­ex­Pai, the world’s first fold­able screen smart­phone, which made its de­but at the Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show in Las Ve­gas.

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