LAS VEGAS - Once a hidden and under-the-radar topic, privacy is getting more attention at the CES gadget show in Las Vegas this week. Startups now volunteer information about how they're securing your data and protecting your privacy when you use their heart rate monitor or cuddly robot.
Roybi, an alien-looking robot that teaches kids languages and other skills, has a camera with facial recognition that can remember children and guess whether the kid was excited or sad after a lesson. Roybi says it uses that information to make changes to its lessons.
But the $199 robot also comes with a sticker, so parents can block the camera if they want.
“We want to make sure we give people choices,” said CEO and founder Elnaz Sarraf, who said parents questioned the lens. “When it comes to children, people are more sensitive.”
Caregiver Smart Solutions, which makes products for caregivers to track the elderly remotely, decided to do away with cameras, declaring them too intrusive. The company opted instead for small sensors that monitor when doors are opened and closed.
After two years of tech companies facing the reckoning of rising privacy concerns, the message seems to be setting in: The way you use customers' information can no longer be ignored.
The annual CES technology conference in Las Vegas runs through Friday and offers a forum for companies to unveil their products and services for the coming year.
Among other highlights:
While many robots were front and centre at CES, one was tucked away behind a concession stand, busily making overpriced pizzas for the hungry crowds.
“It's not bad,” said McCord Fitzsimmons, who paid $7.50 for a pepperoni slice while the robot worked behind the register. “It's kind of neat watching the thing do it's thing.”
The robot, which resembles an assembly line, can churn out 300 12-inch pies in an hour. (The high price, though, has nothing to do with the robot's costs, but the captive audience at CES' sprawling venues.)
Humans are still needed to make lunch. A worker with an iPad tells the robot what type of pizza to make and then slides a frozen crust on the conveyor belt. As the crust goes down the line, sauce, cheese, sausage and other toppings fall from above and onto the crust. A worker then needs to put the pie in the oven, take it out when it's done and slice it up.
Picnic, the startup behind the robot, said it's also assembling pizzas at T-Mobile Park in Seattle, where the company is based.
Pizza shop owners can customize the machine and add whatever crusts or ingredients they want.
Besides pizzas, Picnic said the robot could be reconfigured to make wraps or salads for restaurants.
CRUISIN' UNDER THE SEA
Need a faster way to travel underwater? Sublue has your back.
The company makes handheld scooters for underwater use. Just press two buttons for the battery-powered motors to start, and you're on your way.
Sublue's scooters are mostly made for professional use - for divers or other underwater explorers. But the company is working on a less expensive model for casual water adventurers, one it expects will cost $500 to $600.
On the CES floor, Sublue had a huge glass tank pool where onlookers gawked at a professional diver showing off the scooters.
The scooter comes with a strap so you don't lose it. There's also a mount for your phone, hopefully encased in a waterproof covering.
Land scooters have gained popularity in urban areas in recent years, garnering both praise for their small size and ease of use and pushback for crowding sidewalks and streets.
At least underwater, there's a smaller chance of traffic accidents - for now.
USE THE FORCE ...
How focused are you, really?
At BrainCo's booth, people wearing headbands equipped with EEG sensors move toy cars around a racetrack using only their minds.
The company, which was incubated at Harvard Innovation Lab, uses the headband to convert electro signals into a numeric scale of 0 to 100 to tell how hard someone is focusing. The cars moved faster as people hit higher numbers.
BrainCo makes the headbands for athletes, including the USA Weightlifting team, to test their focus levels and get them in the right headspace for training. The company says that using mind games before workouts - and meditation afterward - can make athletes more effective, without altering their training.
Traditionally, EEG measurements are used medically - but BrainCo says it collects more than 1,000 data points from the headband, which it uses to measure the person's mental state.
BrainCo also sells the headbands to schools so teachers can get a real-time look at how students are responding to lessons. But it's not currently on sale for individual consumers.