Sadly I missed the Computer Electronics Show (CES) this year due to a pre-existing condition. These conditions cannot stop you from getting insurance anymore, but they can stop you from getting on a plane when your doctor threatens you with the risk of bleeding out on a plane to Vegas.
I hate missing CES because it has become the kick-off to my healthtech year and a silly prelude to the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, where there is little to rival the “are you kidding me” experience of walking the CES floor.
There is also a highly credible showing of healthcare stuff at CES these days, mainly channeled through the very engaging Digital Health Summit at CES, but also evident throughout the trade show floor. Imagine, if you will, how expansive the Great Plains must have looked before the white man landed at Plymouth Rock. Now multiply that expanse by 5, add a lot of white men, and you have the CES show floor. It is the kind of place that can be traversed only in sneakers and with a bagful of snacks which can double as bread crumbs to help you find your way out. A total sensory overload.
Since I couldn’t go, I was reliant on emissaries to tell me what was hot and what was not at CES. Amanda Goltz and Jane Sarasohn-Kahn were my primary eyes and ears (and blisters) on the ground this year, sending missives about the wildest, wooliest and weirdest, though a few others sent me furtive notes and photos of their best finds. Amanda had an idea to characterize this article as a series of awards, which really makes sense when you see the entries. While some are not healthcare-related, don’t you have a yearning to know what you missed without hearing the words ACO, Big Data, Precision Medicine or Machine Learning for just a few paragraphs? So here goes: notable among the 3D printers and smart appliances and robotics and the ability to connect and track everything, whether or not it moves, were these gems. Behold:
Dog-Centered Design Award
Wearables – now for dogs! Example: Pitpat collar wearable, answering the age old question: what has your dog done today? The Pitpat clips onto any dog collar to ensure that Fido gets the exercise he needs by tracking activity, rest and play. Moreover, it has a year long battery life and is waterproof, which bests a lot of the human wearables I have seen. This is not a new category, as the FitBark and its friends were all present at CES last year, but this brings user-centered design to the dogtech challenge. Built in the UK, where 50% of dogs are overweight, according to the company, I can only imagine that Omadog is next. Sean Duffy can you hear me?
And if that weren’t enough, there is the Canhegat: wellness sensors that track your pet’s vitals and food consumption and transmits calorie and energy output data to vets for interventional nutritional counseling. Why we don’t have this for people I can’t imagine. Except that no one really wants the world to know how much crap we put in our mouths, especially at CES.
Most Useful Wearable for the New Global Economy Award
Ili is a necklace-worn device that automatically translates conversational English into Japanese and Chinese and vice versa. Amanda claims that it actually works, having tried it. This would be a huge boon for hospitals, actually, when they also have Spanish and Tagalog and other languages. It doesn’t even require WIFI or 3G or any Internet connection. Quite amazing.
Most Awesome if Entirely Unnecessary Award:
The Ripple Maker, which customizes any image or text onto your cappuccino foam and, as the company actually says, “empowers anyone with a smartphone to turn ordinary beverages into extraordinary experiences.” Dear God I want this. Can you imagine serving your beverages adorned with sports team logos or photos of your favorite celebrity? Or imbued with message for your spouse like “Did you take out the garbage?” Starbucks could have a custom art piece specially printed for rude customers in the shape of everyone’ favorite finger. This is right up there with the best of the best of useless awesomeness. It won the CES Last Gadget Standing Award. Of course it did. I’ll take a double cappuccino, decaf, with The Rock on top.
Black Helicopter Award
EBlocker, a device that allegedly blocks all signals (ad blocker, hides your IP, lets you actually surf the Internet anonymously) for those who are extremely paranoid. Better than a tinfoil hat and a perfect adjunct in a world where marijuana is becoming more and more prevalent. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean you aren’t being watched. Note to self: I know a few health insurers who could benefit from sticking their member data in this beauty.
Scariest Product Award
BionicBird: a drone that looks exactly like a street pigeon. Literal tagline: “the furtive drone” because everyone loves pigeons, especially when they are following you. This is creepy and could lead to very confused cats.
Best “Goes With the Item Above” Award
In-tail, a large fluffy color-coordinated tail which you attach to your own backside with, naturally, an embedded smart sensor. This must be the heir apparent to the Shippo, which I wrote about a few years back. Hard to imagine that we live in a world that is experiencing an electronic cat tail trend, but this one is billed as the “world’s most intelligent, realistic, fun and furry animatronic, wearable tail for humans.” It can be programmed, from your smart phone, to wag in the form displayed by many different animals (fox, raccoon, chinchilla anyone?). And about time. But of course there is a healthcare angle here (and not just the personalized medicine angle of just-in-time critter selection): The product is promoted for use as “exercise device, costume enhancement for mascots and halloween/cosplay costumes, balance improvement and physical therapy device, dance and stage production accessory and more!” I am somewhat terrified to know what “more” is. And yes, in case you were wondering, the name is short for Intelligent Tail, natch.
For some reason, this particular CES was the year that sex broke through to the mainstream. No need to go to the 24-hour sex shops that shadow the Las Vegas Strip when you can walk the CES floor and see these items:
Now that’s a Wearable Award
Spartan Boxers was offering sensor-laden boxer briefs that protect one’s sperm from Wi-Fi and cellphone radiation, and thus preserve fertility. In addition to being the next best thing since Calvins, Spartan Boxers have the additional claim that they are washable up to 300 times and stay fresh and odorless all day long, which is a big improvement over any other underwear ever seen on earth. As one might guess, they are French. They run about $40 a piece, but on a per sperm per wear basis, it’s a bargain!
When “Wearable” Just Isn’t Close Enough Award
Babypod is, I swear to God, a small speaker that pregnant women can insert into their vaginas to play music for those who have taken up residence in their uterus. According to actual journalists, Babypod is more or less a “musical tampon” that lets fetuses listen to music or other sounds in utero. Apparently unborn babies just can’t get into the groove enough when they hear voices or music from the outside – poor fidelity is such a drag. The developers of Babypod claim their research demonstrates better results in-vitro fertilization results when they apply musical vibrations to embryos. And equally importantly, the developers claim women want to speak more directly with their unborn children. They probably want to get a jump on saying, “clean up your room” and “don’t roll your eyes at me.” Practice makes perfect. And for those who want their kid to be adequately prepared for their future audition for The Voice, the researchers’ ultrasounds apparently demonstrated that fetuses respond to the club atmosphere created by BabyPod by moving their mouths and tongues. Or maybe they are just saying, “turn it down for God’s sake, some of us are trying to sleep.” This product is one of the ones representing the new category of “insertables.” Once again, I am not making this up.
Best of CES Award…Really and Truly
Here’s the product that won the Best Digital Health and Fitness Product in the International “Best of CES 2016” Awards. Ready? It’s OhMiBod’s Lovelife Krush, a new device and app combination that, according to the manufacturer, “cements its position at the intersection of technology and sexual health,” as if that’s a place where one envisions cement. The product is intended to provide women with pelvic floor fitness training that features “enhanced life style tracking and dashboard monitoring.” It also uses Bluetooth to connect to one’s phone since it is ensconced right up in there next to the BabyPod. It has gamification. And consumer engagement techniques. And if it weren’t for the motivational tools that “unlock hidden features” it would sound like a care coordination app for people with COPD. And, parenthetically, the Krush can be used for pleasure, not just medical purposes. And for all these reasons, it was a major award standout at CES. I can only imagine that people loved this product because, amidst the amazing drones and robots and wired cars and virtual reality products that were at CES, it made them think there are engineers who might actually see girls naked. Myself, I would have picked the cappuccino decorator.
If you get a chance to go to CES once in your life, you really shouldn’t miss it. It may be the only thing that can out-Las-Vegas Las Vegas. Don’t forget your tail.