A Geek's Christmas in Las Vegas

The next must-haves get their debut at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas. Lance Ulanoff, editor in chief at PC Magazine reveals who's buying what.

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Unidentified Man: Having your own personal robot is not science fiction. The technology experts agree: Robosapien's here now. Robosapien is the first humanoid robot with 67 functions and four programming modes, ready to carry out your every command. Program a combination of moves, and Robosapien's interactive reflex system makes him spring to life with plenty of attitude.

Responsive, intelligent, dynamic robotics. Robosapien is the future, and the future is now.

ALISON STEWART, host:

Okay, imagine that in the shape of a cute little lion cub. Yup, that's one of the many things you'll find at geek Christmas - I mean, the Consumer Electronic Show.

Live in Vegas, more than 2,000 companies from 140 countries will preview their newest inventions this week. Internet rumors will be confirmed or smashed. Gadget lust will be stoked. And who knows, you might even get a look at whatever this year's iPhone equivalent is going to be.

Lance Ulanoff is editor-in-chief of PC Magazine. He's out in Vegas at the Consumer Electronic Show. Hi, Lance.

Mr. LANCE ULANOFF (Editor-in-chief, PC Magazine): Good morning.

STEWART: So, how big are robotics, these gee-whiz things?

Mr. ULANOFF: It's pretty big. And Wow Wee actually showed me a whole bunch of stuff. They managed somehow to roll up five or six products at a clip. And the Robosapien was cool in its day, but now they're showing me things like Rovio, which is a telepresence robot, and there's actually a few of those out here. And all that means is that the robot is there at home, looking around when you can't be, and you can see what's going on through his electronic eyes.

You can even control him and send him room to room and check things out, make sure no one's broken in. And that's really going to be how I think some people get introduced to home robotics.

STEWART: It's interesting, yeah, because it's always been sort of a cute little toy, like a little pet thing. But that's really wild, the idea that you can have a robot in your house, seeing if the kids broke in to the liquor cabinet.

Mr. ULANOFF: Right, and they still, you know, the live cubs, yes, that's - they're the part of their line, yeah. So do you have the cute and you do have the silly. They have something called Mr. Personality that seems to just roll around and tell jokes and make, you know, silly noises. But I think that the more serious stuff is what you're going to see more often.

There's also something from iRobot out here called ConnectR, which again, is another telepresence robot.

STEWART: So one of our producers here at THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT, Matt Martinez, is obsessed with the gadgets that the Japanese bring to these shows. So the Japanese seem to have the coolest gadgets ever. And I know you wrote quite a bit about a few of these really wild Japanese tech gadgets that you've been able to see. What are your two favorites?

Mr. ULANOFF: Well, I've seen, actually, a lot of wild gadgets, and let me tell you something. The Japanese don't have everything over on us here in America. I saw a underwater camera goggles. Now, this is not some sort of (unintelligible). This isn't like somebody slapped it on with some black tape and said let's hope it works. This looks like a real set of professional yellow goggles that not only go over your eyes, they go over your nose. There's a camera at dead center. There are even crosshairs on your lenses that are just subtle enough so that when you point your face at something and you press the button, you're going to take a picture up to 30 meters under the water. It's a five-megapixel picture. And then you're just downloading it on to your computer and manipulating it. It, you know, it's - even has a shutter, so it makes sure to capture action under water.

So I really like that. I also - another point-of-view camera that happened to come my way was this V-Holder, and it attaches to your helmet. And it's a camera, a digital camcorder, and it gives point-of-view action shots. So if you're skiing, you're riding a motor bike, you know, doing any sort of action, you can put it - it comes right on to the camera, goes right on to the computer, and you upload it so all your friends around the world can see it.

STEWART: That's - those sound like two things you definitely want. Have you run across anything you thought, oh, what is this? This is useless.

Mr. ULANOFF: You know, it's funny. I'm seeing some interesting stuff with design, where, you know, people aren't necessarily focusing on technological innovation. They're getting crazy with good looks. I ran into a gentleman from Novotel Wireless, and I thought he was showing me a beautiful phone. He flipped it open, it was black. It was sleek. It was thin. I was excited. I wanted to touch it. It turned out to be what's called an EVDO card, which is simply a card to connect to the wireless network. You slip into your computer. So, you know, it was almost over-designed.

STEWART: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ULANOFF: Seeing tons of - you know, VestaLife showed us a - what looked like a, sort of an orb for connecting to your iPod, but then it opens like a flower with the speakers. I'm seeing a lot of these things, where everything's got curved lines. Everything is beautiful, but it's not necessarily new.

STEWART: I also understand there's just about a million different places that people have figured out where to put your iPod.

Mr. ULANOFF: Oh, yes. You can put it in your TV. You can put it in the dock. You know, you put it in your projector. You know, and of course, you know, keep in mind that those - that's the company that's not here. Apple's not (unintelligible), just everybody who works to develop products that you use with the iPod.

STEWART: I did want to ask you about one of the keynote speakers, Bill Gates. He said it's going to be - I think that he said it's going to be - there was his penultimate speech there. This is the second - last year that's he's going to be giving a speech. Did he have any great words of wisdom at the opening of CES?

Mr. ULANOFF: Well, he had a very funny video of his last day at Microsoft, because, you know, that's coming this July.

STEWART: Yup.

Mr. ULANOFF: He interacted with, I think, every major celebrity under the sun, and it was just a comical thing of him trying out other - almost like other careers - music, movies with Spielberg. And it went on for quite awhile.

When they got to the real stuff, I mean, Gates announced some things that were expected, some things that were not. They're going to be doing a lot of work with the major media companies to deliver content via some of their, you know, their gaming consoles, set up boxes and online services. And they've got a major part to play now in the Olympics. Apparently, they're going to be the sole online content distributor for thousands of hours of live video.

STEWART: So is there one product, one thing, one gizmo that is the iPhone of this year at the Consumer Electronics Show?

Mr. ULANOFF: No. There is nothing like that. It's a lot of small trends. You know, this wireless HDTV. There's network televisions, meaning - not network, you know, playing ABC or NBC, but networks who get content from, say, your PC or the online world to your television. That's happening a lot. It's a lot of convergence devices. There's a lot of green stuff out here. We're seeing, you know, some ideas and some real products.

We saw some guy with a - you know, this company NRG had a dock where you put your gadgets and your laptop, and then you have a 12 volt solar panel, and you charge everything at once.

STEWART: Wow.

Mr. ULANOFF: And then I saw headphones, solar-powered headphones, where you put them in your ear, from this company called Iqua.

STEWART: Well, you can…

Mr. ULANOFF: Now, there's a lot of companies trying to do green things. I did not see any biodegradable products yet. I'm waiting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Lance Ulanoff is the editor-in-chief of PC Magazine. He joined us from the Consumer Electronic Show. They have great coverage on their Website. We'll link to it from ours. Hey, Lance, thanks for waking up and helping us out.

Mr. ULANOFF: It was a pleasure.

(Soundbite of music)

STEWART: You're listening to THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News. Stay with us.

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