Most lists – and there are many – highlight the LG roll-up TV, the Samsung modular TV, the Royole foldable phone, the impossible burger and the walking car. But what about the voice-assisted bed, the smart baby dining table, the self-driving suitcase and the robot that does nothing?
In their current renditions, they sum up what is not only bad about technology, but how technology for its own sake quickly leads us down the rabbit hole of waste and futility.
The following pick of the worst of CES may well be a thinly veneered attempt at mockery, but it is also intended as a caution against getting caught up in the hype and justification of pointless technology.
1. DUX voice-assisted bed
The single-most useless product launched at CES this year must surely be a bed with Alexa voice control built in. No, not to control the bed itself, but to manage the smart home features with which Alexa and other smart speakers are associated. Or that any smartphone with Siri or Google Assistant could handle.
Swedish luxury bedmaker DUX thinks it’s a good idea to manage smart lights, TV, security and air conditioning through the bed itself. Just don’t say Alexa’s “wake word” in your sleep.
2. Smart baby dining table
Ironically, the runner-up comes from a brand that also makes smart beds: China’s 37 Degree Smart Home. Self-described as “the world’s first smart furniture brand that is transforming technology into furniture”, it outdid itself with a smart baby dining table.
This is a baby feeding table with a removable dining chair that contains a weight detector and adjustable camera to make children’s weight and temperature visible to parents via the brand’s app. Score one for hands-off parenting.
3. Monit smart nappy monitor
Taking the concept of hands-off parenting a step further, South Korea’s Monit has come up with a smart nappy sensor that alerts parents – via an app of course – that a nappy has filled with pee or poo.
The Bluetooth sensor clips on to the outside of the diaper, so one can “smart” up any cladding. Will this be the end of the sniff test? We’ll know soon: Kimberly Clark will be selling it with Huggies later this year. The suspense is unbearable.
4. Self-driving suitcase
Hot on the heels of last year’s CES nonstar, the 90FUN Puppy1 “self-balance and auto-follow suitcase”, which kept falling over, Beijing startup Forward X Robotics showcased the Ovis Suitcase, autonomous luggage supposedly powered by AI so that it can self-navigate through terminals.
Demonstrated in prototype last year, it now features side movement, GPS and (gasp) manual mode. It will come to a luggage store far from you in the first half of 2019.
But wait, there’s more. Forward X plans to follow it up with an autonomous robot suitcase with facial recognition. Soon, your luggage will be as happy to see you as you are to spot it on the airport luggage belt.
5. Foldimate laundry folder
In the same vein as other products for people who don’t like lifting a finger, the Foldimate will automatically fold your washed shirts, trousers and towels.
The California company claims it will complete a load, fresh from the tumble-dryer, in five minutes. This reduces the time it would take a human being by a staggering five minutes. Maybe.
For just $1 000 (almost R14 000) or so, say its makers, “FoldiMate is like having a friend who loves laundry folding. It is so simple to use your kids will be fighting over who is folding laundry.” We have no information yet on which planet this will occur.
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6. Lovot companion robot
We’re not sure if a certain US-based publication had its tongue in cheek when it praised the Japanese company Groove X for coming up with a robot that does nothing. It referred to this nonfunction as “revolutionary” in an age of too many tech products doing too many things.
To be fair, the Lovot is designed to be picked up and cuddled, and its big eyes will follow its owner with such imploring looks the sheer guilt induced could generate enough electricity to power a household.
But not really. It houses 50 sensors and cameras and can recognise both faces and heat signatures of humans – as well as pets. Its real function? To demand attention.
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7. Verdera voice-lighted mirror
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who bought the most useless gadget of them all? Well, you did, says the mirror. That is, if you’re talking to a smart mirror. More specif cally, the Verdera voice-lighted mirror.
It is described as a “high-quality grooming mirror”, controlled by either Amazon Alexa or Verdera Voice, designed to provide “seamless integration of voice control into the bathroom space”.
Adjustable LED lights for “precision routines like makeup application and skin care” are joined by a motion-activated wayfinding nightlight and “hermetically sealed speakers that maximise stereo sound quality”. It is a triumph of function over form.
8. Numi 2.0 intelligent toilet
There’s one thing even a smart mirror can’t do for you, but Kohler has your back. The company says the Numi 2.0 is the world’s most advanced intelligent toilet, offering “exceptional water efficiency, personalised cleansing and dryer functions, a heated seat and high-quality built-in speakers”, not to mention lighting features.
The latter include “dynamic and interactive multicoloured ambient and surround lighting”. But wait, there’s more: “Paired with the new speakers in the Numi toilet, these lighting and audio enhancements create a fully immersive experience for homeowners”.
Built-in voice control via Alexa provides access to tens of thousands of skills and, wait for it, “seamless integration of voice control into the bathroom”. And all you wanted to do was use the toilet.
Do any of these products come with a guarantee? Yes: they are guaranteed to fall into disuse within three months of purchase.
Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee