altces1 Alt.CES: A maker's peek at South Hall

It’s that time again. Along with death and taxes, the thing you can count on is the annual gadget gorgefest known as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). In past years, we’ve run a series of posts during CES, from the climate-controlled comfort of our MAKE bunker, covering the tech coming out of the show, and what it means to makers, modders, and hardware hackers. We call this alt.CES. It’s been CES from a respectable distance and from our POV. This year, we decided to do it a little different. MAKE/O’Reilly author Damien Stolarz (iPhone Hacks, Car PC Hacks) agreed to be our eyes and ears on the ground, scoping out hardware at the show that he thought would be of interest to makers. Here’s his first installment, a tour of South Hall. Thanks, Damien! —Gareth

The huge Las Vegas convention center has North Hall, Central Hall, and South Hall. Many of the biggest, flashiest displays and companies are in Central Hall, with South and North Hall having more densely packed booths. Just getting through South Hall took almost seven hours! Here are my highlights from South Hall 1, 2, 3, and 4.

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Parrot AR-Drone There were numerous helicopter offerings at the show. Parrot was there with their Wifi-controllable, game-oriented hovering AR Drone. It has an SDK and a remote camera and talks to your iPhone, amongst other things. The demo showed two drones dancing in midair, in-sync with electronic music.

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RotorConcept was displaying a $299 show-special helicopter that comes with a wireless camera and has a height limiter, so if you’re a beginner, you won’t lose your copter as you learn to fly it (30 minute learning curve was their claim). Notably, they can sell you any of the replacement parts so you can repair your own copter after you’ve sent it on A-team style missions.

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MakerBot Industries had a fantastic, high-traffic location for their booth, in South Hall 3.

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Driveman These industrial-strength record-HD-to-SD card vehicle cameras can be found in every Vegas cab, but you can also take one home, to record your travels and make time-lapse photography of your trips and commutes. Plugged into your cigarette lighter, these cameras are limited only by your flash memory budget. The benefit of a camera like this for hacking is that they are very set it and forget it, and they create high-quality output.

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Several great portable and USB microscopes were on display at the show. These two units from ViTiny (one portable, one webcam) magnified about 200x and were easy to focus.

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eTime/Able Eye Device Co promoted their microscopes as medical devices, with attachments to make it both an endoscope for looking in your ears even a mirror attachment for remote dental diagnosis. The mirror attachment seemed like it could be especially helpful for hobbyist use.

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An array of computer-connectable night vision cameras caught my eye. Notice the pinhole cover/lenscap in the front. It took me a while to figure out that’s how you use a nightvision camera in a well-lit space. These would be great for nighttime surveillance and webcam projects.

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IRobot was there with their usual array of hackable robots. The presence of a toilet in their booth looked promising for those who dread the task – until it turned out that there are unfortunately no toilet-bowl robots, but rather a bathroom floor washing droid.

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And, since for every inventive action their is an equal and opposite knock-off reaction, various iRobot clones could be found in the showroom.

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Eloam These guys made numerous resolutions of well-lit webcam-on-a-stick combined with OCR processing software that could be used both for scanning and device visualization. When you’re presenting or if you simply want to have a well-designed downward facing webcam to show off a specific gadget this can remove the usual awkward solution involving tripods, heavy digital cameras and gaffers tape.

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HydroStik One of the coolest things I found was this Hydrostick. They look like a large version of a AA battery, but they hold 11Wh per canister, which I was told is about 2.5 iPhone charges. You can refill them over and over and use them to power USB devices with the flashlight/charger combination device. Unlike ordinary batteries, the hydrostik can be disposed of with no hazardous environmental impact. However, the better idea is to get the refilling device – which although pricey ($500!) can turn water into hydrogen fuel at about 50% efficiency. They also provided a fuel pack designed specifically for R/C cars. The point is, you can now make your devices hydrogen powered!

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One booth had an enormous TP-Link WiFi hotspot with three antennae – presumably the large size increases signal strength, but I wasn’t sure.

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A geeky conference wouldn’t be complete without panels of OLED displays… these from gifar.com.tw.


Bio: Damien Stolarz is an inventor, writer, and entrepreneur with extensive experience in consumer-facing new media and digital technology. He is a Partner at Perceptive Development , an iPhone hardware and software consultancy. Damien has authored & coauthored several popular technical books including iPhone Hacks, VideoBlogging and Podcasting, Car PC Hacks, and Mastering Internet Video.

He holds a Bachelor of Science & Engineering in Computer Science Engineering from UCLA. He lives in Los Angeles.

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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