The CES trade show, which takes place every January in Las Vegas, is where companies large and small come to meet with potential clients, see what their rivals are up to, and try to impress the press and the public at large with their products and services.
While established companies display their wares in large, elaborately equipped booths on the main floors, there is a place for hopeful entrepreneurs as well. Eureka Park is a section of the show where startups -- some that have just launched their first products and others still in development -- show their stuff.
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We picked out six of the hopefuls exhibiting there and talked to them about their products, their companies and their futures.
Object identification via smartphone
"Aipoly was born as an app for the blind and visually impaired, identifying a thousand items directly through your phone without using the internet," explains Alberto Rizzoli, the company's co-founder. The iOS app, called Aipoly Vision, uses a convolutional neural network -- an image recognition system -- along with the smartphone's camera to identify objects and identify them audibly.
For this, Aipoly won the CES 2017 Best of Innovations Award in the category of Accessible Tech.
And now the company is expanding its mandate to develop an app for the general public called Poly, which will scan objects (such as storefronts or animals) and products, identify them, and even allow the user to purchase them directly from a vendor or retail outlet.
Aipoly Vision is currently available as a free iOS app; an Android version is due to be available April 15. No date yet has been set for the availability of the Poly app.
Prototype circuit board printer
"Imagine if every time you wanted to make a change to a website or app, you had to wait two weeks and pay $250," says Nicolas Vansnick, CEO and founder of BotFactory. "Those are the kind of charges that the electronics industry is facing every day. We're making that process a whole lot faster and a whole lot cheaper."
BotFactory's answer is the Squink desktop circuit board printer, a surprisingly small machine that prints multilayer circuits, dispenses paste for attaching components, and places those components where they belong. Vansnick asserts that the Squink can print and assemble a prototype circuit board in 30 minutes to two hours for a cost of $5 per board.
He adds that BotFactory is currently selling mostly to R&D labs, and to colleges and universities. "The price of the machine is only $4,000," he says. "It's an order of magnitude cheaper than any of the competition." The company isn't sitting on its laurels; it's working to improve the Squink so that it becomes a standard for those in the industry looking to prototype.
Checked In, LLC
Brianne Casey, the CEO and founder of Checked In, says she got the idea for the service because of her experiences as an emergency room nurse. "Currently, while many hospitals publish their patient wait times," she says, "the information is not available in a way that the patient can look up different hospitals from different health care systems and say, I want to go to the one that has the shortest wait times and that's best for me."
According to Casey, Checked In will work this way: When a customer or patient comes in for service, they will check in at the desk with their app. They can then leave and do other things; they will get a text message when it's their turn. She says that the result is a win/win situation -- customers avoid the frustration that results from long waits, and health care providers or other businesses gain in customer satisfaction.
Checked In will also use the collected data to measure how long each phone number sat in its queue. "We average together an hour's worth of data," Casey says, "and we publish that average to the app for consumers to look up."
Currently, Casey says, the company's developers feel it will be ready for beta testing this spring. While she believes that Checked In will be appropriate for a wide range of businesses -- health care, restaurants, airlines, banks, etc. -- she plans to start with health care, "because that's the industry I know the best." After the beta test, she plans to take the resulting feedback and use it to create a second generation of the app before putting it out on the general market.
When ready, Checked In will be free for consumers and will have a $30/month subscription fee for point-of-service businesses.
Spatial augmented reality projector bot
One of the big tech trends at CES 2017 was augmented reality -- the ability to transpose graphics, video or other computer-generated content on top of what you are actually looking at. While most AR systems depend on glasses and other headgear, the folks at Hololamp are developing a system that projects a 3D image -- well, an image that appears to be 3D -- onto a tabletop or other surface.
Alan Jay, the cofounder, explains how it works: Using a computer based on the Unity game development platform, the system first creates an image of a 3D object. "We then track your face using our device, and because we know where you are, we can take the 3D object, form a 2D projection of it onto the tabletop with the projector, and then as you move, change the projection, so it is as if you were looking at a 3D object."
The Hololamp, says Jay, has excited a lot of interest among developers. "I was talking to somebody who runs services for doctors, and he said wouldn't it be great if, when you went in to talk to your doctor, they could actually have a 3D model of your heart in front of them."
He adds that the Hololamp is about eight weeks from the point "where we'll have something we can show people to buy." The company is planning a crowdfunding campaign aimed at developers; he expects the initial price of the developer unit to be around $1,000.
Wireless earbuds that enable language translation
Danny Manu is an audio engineer who got the idea for his earbuds at a conference in Germany. "The person who was speaking to us was speaking in German, and none of us could understand it. There's 20 engineers, all from different parts of Europe; we don't speak German and we had to get 20 translators." The brainchild of that experience is a set of wireless earbuds called Mymanu Clik.
With the help of Enterprise Europe and other mentoring services, Manu put together a team to develop a set of earbuds and apps that would offer both high-quality audio and real-time translation services. The idea is that, using the app, you choose which language you want to hear, while the person on the other end of the line chooses the language they want to hear. The app, combined with the technology in the earbuds, allows close to real-time translation. "The system needs to recognize a sentence before it starts translating," Manu explains. "Once the system recognizes a sentence, it starts translating."
Developing this type of product is, as he discovered, not an easy task, especially when you factor in different dialects and accents. "We were doing a prototype in Arabic," he remembers, "and did some of the testing in Dubai. We'd spent months developing an Arabic translation system, but when we got to Dubai, the system wasn't working perfectly, and we were really worried. It was working in England -- how come it wasn't working here? Then we realized that there are so many different versions of Arabic, and our system was developed for Classical Arabic. When we identified that option" and the testers knew which version of the language they had to use, "the system worked perfectly."
The Mymanu Clik currently works with 37 languages, including language forms such as American or British English. It is in pre-order for $199, and delivery is estimated for May 2017.
Shortcut Labs Flic
Wireless smart button
About a year ago, Shortcut Labs began to market its new product: Flic, a simple programmable button that is intended to bring the Internet of Things to anyone who wants it, at very low cost.
The Flic is a smart button that you can stick anywhere (via an adhesive) and that can be programmed via an app to perform a variety of tasks when you click it: control smart lights, turn music on or off, find a missing smartphone, etc. Each button can be set for different tasks when you click, double-click or hold it down.
"You can also do controlled services," explains Amir Sharifat, one of the company's co-founders. "We did a trial in the U.K. with Domino's where you could just press a button, and the pizza got delivered, because you always use the same payment details, the same credit card, the same delivery address -- and around 70% to 80% of the people ordered the same pizza."
In addition, he adds, you can program the button for a sequence of events. "For example, I have a button next to my bed. In the morning when my alarm goes off, I click it, it snoozes my alarm, turns on the lights, and starts my Sonos [sound system]."
And if that isn't simple enough for you, Shortcut Labs recently introduced a line of buttons it calls FlicSingle, each of which performs a single task: find your phone, share your location, control your music, control your lights or take a selfie.