Fridge Cam! BedPhones! Here's a First Look at the Gadgets and Trends at CES 2016

The first preview event of CES 2016 is in the can, and I have some thoughts.

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Jan 5 2016, 2:53pm

Image: Nicholas Deleon

The show technically doesn't begin until Wednesday—Tuesday is a press preview day—but after several hours at an event called CES Unveiled on Monday evening I'm already comfortable drawing a few early conclusions about CES this year.

  • Sensors are everywhere, and are now crammed into every single gadget imaginable. (The old Rocko's Modern Life gag of "Even my bathroom is a bathroom" comes to mind.)
  • Tech companies are now increasingly looking to monetize that which was previously unmonetizable: your sleep.
  • And if you look hard enough, beyond the big brands that have enough money to sponsor major sports teams, you can still find some novel tech worth a second look.

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Take Smarter, a UK company that first received a degree of notoriety with an internet-connected kettle. Coming later this year to the company's lineup are the Smarter Fridge Cam, Smarter Mats, and Smarter Detect.

Image: Nicholas Deleon

The Fridge Cam needs little explanation: once placed inside your refrigerator, it periodically takes photos so you can check with a smartphone whether, say, you're out of milk, or whether you should pick up another case of beer because your roommate graciously killed the last one. Smarter Mats takes that idea one step further: they're placed directly underneath items like milk or beer and measure how much is remaining, with the app then alerting you when it's time to re-stock.

Image: Nicholas Deleon

The final item, Smarter Detect, is batshit crazy—and I mean that with all due respect. According to Smarter Sales Manager Barnaby Sellers, the device "learns about what's going on in your kitchen through the sounds that your kitchen makes." But of course! As Sellers tells it, the Smarter Detect will learn the sound that appliances like dishwashers and microwaves make when they turn on and off. Why on earth would you want such a thing? Well, according to Sellers, if you're hanging out in your backyard waiting for the dishes to wash before heading out for the evening, you can let Detect alert you, via an app, when the dishes are all done.

And while I can almost certainly hear a certain Twitter account groaning in sheer terror, Smarter is smartly positioning these gadgets as being for people who don't want to, or can't, replace their refrigerator with a high-end, internet-connected behemoth from the likes of LG or Samsung; they're for normal folks looking to add a bit of internet smarts to the heart of their home.

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Another trend at CES Unveiled: the explosion in devices relating to sleep. I saw not one but two headphone solutions (SleepPhones and BedPhones) designed for people who want to listen to and fall asleep to music while in bed (I personally find this useful: I tend to fall asleep while listening to podcasts, but typically can only put one earbud in while laying on my other side), and at least one device (SensorWake) designed to wake you up from sleep with pleasant smells like espresso or the beach.

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One final item that caught my eye was Triby, a connected speaker designed for use in the kitchen. The device itself is not new—it debuted at CES in 2015—but what is new is integration with Alexa, Amazon's voice recognition and digital assistant service that's currently found in the Amazon Echo and the new Fire TV. In and of itself, OK, neat: now you can say things like, "Play my cooking playlist" and Triby will oblige thanks to the new Alexa capabilities. What I'm most intrigued about here is the possibility of more and more third-party developers baking Alexa into their products: Why shouldn't I be able to ask my crock pot how many cups are in a gallon as I'm making a hearty winter stew? More to the point, how would the widespread adoption of Amazon's Alexa impact the brewing "A.I." battle between Facebook and Google?

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One day down, many, many more to go!