Jaw-dropping Israeli gadgets unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show
From a flying car to a robot that folds laundry, this year's event featured surprising innovations.
What happens in Vegas will hopefully not stay there. Technophiles from around the globe descended on the city this week for the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Launched more than 50 years ago, the annual convention is a bright spot in January when we get to see all the cool, new gadgets that tech companies have in their pipeline.
Previous years have brought us an Einstein robot, a latte art machine, an app that can tell you how many calories is in everything you eat and luggage that will automatically follow you around the airport. And this year's conference did not disappoint. Visitors were treated to all sorts of Israeli tech, including: a robot that helps senior citizens who live alone, liquid glass that can change the way we see the world, a device that can measure air pollution in your area and an app that diagnoses what's wrong with your car.
But there were a few products that, in our estimation, rose above the rest (some quite literally). Below, we round up some of our favorite inventions from our favorite Mediterranean country.
A robot that does your laundry
A robot that can take care of household chores has been a collective dream ever since we were kids watching "The Jetsons." In fact, Rosie was one of pop culture's nicest robots. So a machine that can accomplish that most mundane of tasks – folding laundry – seems too good to be true.
Indeed, a startup called Foldimate has been hyping their laundry-folding device for the past three years. But the company, led by Israeli entrepreneur Gal Rozov, finally brought a working prototype for all to see at this year's CES. "I rounded up the best robotic designers and engineers in Israel in order to overcome this challenge of simplifying day-to-day household chores," Rozov said during a recent presentation.
While a robot that can expertly fold laundry is by all accounts a priceless invention, Rozov says the Foldimate will cost less than $1,000 and finally be available later this year.
A flying car
And speaking of "The Jetsons," a host of flying car concepts were unveiled at this week's conference. One promising entrant came from a Silicon Valley startup called New Future Transportation, founded by an Israeli entrepreneur and his wife. The electric car will offer a complete solution. It can drive with other vehicles on a regular road, but it will also have the ability to fly. It can take off and land vertically (i.e. no runway required) and have a flying range of about 300 miles. With a projected price tag of $50,000, it should have more mass market appeal than more expensive flying cars that were shown off at CES this week. "We believe we have a winning design that will enable us to make the Model T of flying cars," said co-founder Guy Kaplinsky.
The Kaplinskys' flying car will also tout an auto pilot feature to enable driverless travel. Scared of being in a flying car with no driver? The car companies know you might be worried, so they came up with a plan this week at CES. Audi, GM, Toyota, Google and Israel-based Mobileye have all joined up to create a self-driving car education group to better educate the public about the abilities and limits of driverless cars. The goal is "to help Americans better understand the potential and the promise of these technologies," said Deborah Hersman, the CEO of the National Safety Council. "We want to dispel the confusion about this technology that's often misunderstood."
Glasses for the visually impaired
Imagine a camera that snaps on to glasses and gives "sight" to the visually impaired, allowing them to read newspapers, go shopping and recognize loved ones. Wrote Heather Kelly of CNN after trying on the device: "It's always nice to see technology that can genuinely improve lives in the middle of all the crap at CES that nobody really needs."
Here's how it works: The device is attached to a pair of glasses using a tiny magnet. While wearing the glasses, the user can then point to anything with their finger, be it a product at the grocery store or an article in the newspaper. The OrCam MyEye 2 (a more advanced version of a previous model) will interpret the object or text via the in-ear microphone. One of its most helpful features lies with money recognition. Hold up a $5 bill any which way, and the MyEye will recognize it. This helps visually impaired people while they are out and about at the store.
The device was created by Amnon Shashua, a computer science professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It's based on algorithms he pioneered with another scientist, Shai Shalev-Shwartz, and Dr. Yonatan Wexler, a former graduate student who is now executive vice president of research and design for OrCam. “It is unobtrusive so people feel comfortable wearing it. It is small and mobile so it is helpful everywhere. The battery lasts all day, so it becomes a useful tool for daily life," Wexler told From The Grapevine. "It has the most intuitive user interface: Just point at what you want the device to tell you – there is no need to fiddle with yet another device."
A food-delivery drone
It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a ... drone delivering a burger?!?
A few months ago, the Tel Aviv-based startup Flytrex launched the first-ever food delivery service via drone on a golf course in North Dakota. Working with the on-site restaurant, the Eagles Crest Grill, golfers could order up anything on the menu and have it brought to them on the links. And, in case you're wondering, the drones fly hundreds of feet in the air to avoid being hit by oncoming golf balls.
The company showed off the device this week at CES amid news that they have raised an additional $7.5 million to help expand their current business operations. They've already partnered with 100 eateries in Reykjavík, Iceland to deliver restaurant meals to residents of the city that's full of ocean bays with difficult and meandering traffic routes. And it's now planning a test of aerial food delivery in North Carolina.
Yariv Bash, an alumnus of Tel Aviv University and an aeronautic engineer by trade, is the CEO of Flytrex. "Wherever you are, you should be able to get what you want within a few minutes," he said. "Why wait?"
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