SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The Consumer Electronics Show has been the place where consumers and the media get a glimpse of the future - or at least what's cool. For almost 50 years, tech companies have rolled out their latest toys and more at the event, which wraps today in Las Vegas. But this year, nothing much seems all that new. They've got drones, wearables, robots, connected cars - stuff that's already out there. So how relevant is the show today? NPR's digital culture correspondent Laura Sydell has been covering the Consumer Electronics Show and joins us now. Laura, thanks so much for being with us.
LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: It's my pleasure.
SIMON: When Apple wants to dazzle us, they hold their own event. So what keeps a convention like this going?
SYDELL: (Laughter) Good question. I think part of it is just that people keep going and showing off products, and it's a place to network. So I think for a lot of the people who go - entrepreneurs and so forth - it's a place they can finally see somebody they've been communicating with overseas. I talked with a CEO of a company that makes cameras for mobile devices, Lee Hen Chen (ph), and she said, you know, when she comes, sometimes she bumps into somebody. They come look at her product, and they say maybe we can have a partnership. So you see a lot of that going on. It's also become a much more important place for cars, which are becoming increasingly computerized.
SIMON: What makes news for companies if they don't have a gadget to launch
SYDELL: Well, the car companies had some news. For example, Ford has a partnership with Amazon that they announced where they're trying to do voice activation. Toyota was there and announced a billion dollars they're putting into self-driving cars, and they're opening up an office in Silicon Valley and near MIT in Boston. So you hear that kind of announcement, but not the big news that you heard in previous years where companies really told you about a new product.
SIMON: You covered the beat. What keeps you going there?
SYDELL: It's an opportunity to get a hands-on experience with an awful lot of stuff, you know? And, really, you see hints of what the future will be sometimes there. There are incremental changes. You can see where things are going, or it's the first opportunity to get to try a gadget you know is coming out. For example, the Oculus Rift, the virtual reality headset, is going to be coming out on the market. They finally have a consumer version of it. So that's a lot of why I like to go because it's the only place I can try it all in one place, from robots to wearables to everything.
SIMON: What did you see this year that bowled you over?
SYDELL: A $9 computer. I don't want to say it bowled me over so much as it just showed how cheap computing is getting. But at $9, you can buy this device and it will allow you to hook up to a keyboard and to your television. It has Wi-Fi. It has Bluetooth. And it's open-sourced. It only has a four-gigabyte hard drive, but if you can connect to the Internet, there's still a lot of things you can do on it. I did visit with some robots.
SYDELL: And actually a robot danced for me this year. How's that? A dancing robot. It had arms and it could talk to me and say, look, I can dance (laughter).
SIMON: Oh, my word, the Fred Astaire of robots - and well?
SYDELL: I think its sense of rhythm was a little off, Scott, but it was cute. It looked good. It just didn't do that much other than dance and give you some nice statistics. It still couldn't bring my breakfast to me, you know what I'm saying?
SIMON: Oh, oh, yeah. That's the mark of a great robot, right?
SYDELL: (Laughter) Yeah.
SIMON: NPR's Laura Sydell, thanks so much.
SYDELL: You're welcome.
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