CES 2011 Day One

I’m back at the Consumer Electronics Show this year. Today was a short day, as I arrived mid-afternoon and headed to the Las Vegas Convention Center South Upper Hall to check out MakerBot’s booth. They had six Thing-O-Matics running and it was very impressive.

The trends this year are obviously going to be tablet computers and 3D. But based on what I saw, small cameras are going to be a big deal this year.

The oddly-named Able Eye Device Company has the world’s first at-home endoscope. For those times you want to perform a colonoscopy on yourself? It’s a camera with a long, flexible shaft lens that in the medical world would be used for minimally-invasive medical procedures.

DIY Endoscope

They also have a borescope, which is essentially the same thing without the long shaft.

Telescopic Borescope

These seem like weird consumer products, but I could people coming up with ways to use them at home that were never thought of before. Want to see what is going on behind the refrigerator without moving it? Or see what’s going on inside the walls?

There have been USB based microscopes shown at past CES shows, but never quite as compact or cheap as the ViTiny UM02-01. They have a whole line of computer-connected microscopes with built-in LED illumination. The UM02 is interesting because it’s a standard USB webcam that can focus all the way up to the lens cover. It’s not particularly high resolution, but it’s surprisingly sharp, because it uses a physical focusing mechanism. They supply a calibration slide that contains a 0.1 mm grid that just looks grey without magnification. The really amazing part is that they were selling them at a show price of $60 (they’re about $90 in the real world) which is cheap cheap cheap. I bought one and will post some pictures.

RC helicopters (and their variants) have been popular for a while now, and now that cameras are both small and high quality, why not combine them? Rotor Concept did just that with the SWAT RC helicopter by putting a wireless camera in the nose. It has a mile broadcast range and can be streamed to a netbook laptop. It has electronic stabilization which provides a nice, stable image. It looked like a lot of fun. List price is about $500.

SWAT RC Helicopter

The other cool camera product was not about small. Ortery was showing light boxes intended for photographing products for catalogs and such with high quality. They have automated turntables and camera control to photograph objects from all sides. The cool product was the new Photosmile 5000 “Office Photography Machine” that has the turntable and curved rails to rotate the camera up above the object as well.

Photo Booth

Not everyone needs an automated light box for photographing things. And while it’s cool that this thing can photograph something from almost every angle, the really cool thing is what this could do with the right software. Because it’s really a 3D scanner, even though Ortery doesn’t realize it. If you converted it to a structured light scanner that got all those angles, all you’d have to do is have the software stitch together a 3D model out of it. It could get every side of it except the base (you’d have to assume that was flat).

At about $3000, it’s a little out of the reach of most DIY folks, but I imagine a simple record turntable could be converted to work with this, and all you’d have to do is construct the rails to elevate the camera. DJ turntables even have calibration marks on the side of the platters (used to confirm rotational speed) that are effectively an encoder that would let you know exactly where it was rotated. Then it’s just a matter of software to stitch everything together.

Combine this with a MakerBot or other 3D printer and you have a 3D photocopier. That’s really, really cool.

Oddly, I also saw a few waterproof electronics things.

Seal Shield makes waterproof keyboards, mice, and remote controls aimed at the medical industry. But they also make anti-microbial keyboards, which could be helpful in offices and in the home.

Waterproof Accessories

I’m not sure what’s up with this, but there were these waterproof LEDs from Virginia Optoelectrics.

Waterproof LEDs

The last interesting things I saw today were not waterproof, helicopters, or cameras.

SZBroad makes a variety of USB flash drives and Micro SD card readers. The most remarkable feature of these is that they are really small.

2 GB USB Stick

This 2 GB USB stick is not much larger than those bluetooth receivers that fit in the USB plug. They said they have other capacities, but they didn’t seem too certain about that, and there was a bit of a language barrier.

And finally (for today), carabiner maker Nite Ize has a new cable management item called Gear Tie. Velcro, zip ties, and tie wraps all have their drawbacks. These new Gear Ties might just solve all these, if they are priced right. They are solid wire wrapped in a rubberized plastic sleeve, with rubber tips that are injection molded right on the ends so they won’t come off. They are lightweight, flexible, hang on to the wires they’re wrapping, and won’t damage anything. No need for adhesive or hardware to keep them where you want. And they’re fully reusable. I’m looking forward to trying some.

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