From smart home technology to panel discussions, accessible technology continues to become a bigger part of one of the largest trade shows in the world
By Andy Nemann
The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas just gets bigger every year. This past January, more than 3,900 companies from around the world packed almost 50 football fields of exhibition space throughout the city with the latest and greatest technology soon to be hitting store shelves. Plenty of that space is filled with the newest TVs, video games, cars, computers and other amazing electronics. However, one of the fastest-growing segments at CES over the last few years has been products to help people with disabilities and/or senior citizens live independently. Accessible devices such as eye-gaze technology, hearing aids, wheelchairs and much more could be found in dedicated areas like the Accessible Marketplace and Eureka Park. However, CES isn’t just a place where new products are displayed. It’s also a place where ideas are exchanged. A number of events were held to showcase how the power of technology has helped people of all abilities. This included panels focusing on how smart home technologies are enabling greater independence for people, regardless of age or ability, and examining the benefits self-driving vehicles for the aging and disability communities. Of course, the bottom line for an event like CES is what upcoming products could make a difference in the life of someone with a disability. Some of these devices have already been detailed in several PN Innovations articles earlier this year. This article is a roundup of the other interesting and amazing accessible technology from this year’s event.
Another area that continues to grow at CES, and one that’s becoming more focused on how it can help people with disabilities, is smart home technology. There seems to be no end to the number or type of household devices that are getting connected to the ecosystem sometimes called the Internet of Things (IOT). Samsung is the latest tech giant to join that growing group with its voice assistant named Bixby. Similar to Apple’s Siri, Bixby offers users a simple, personalized way to fully utilize the ever-expanding list of IOT devices. Samsung says Bixby can not only make household devices easy and more convenient to use, but it will also allow users to speak to Bixby on one device and command it to access and control multiple other devices.
Displayed at CES in a giant pavilion set up to cover every room in a typical house, Samsung representatives showed how you can tell Bixby to turn your smart TV to the right channel and dim the lights in the living room. When it’s time for bed, but your show isn’t over, Bixby can transfer the show to your bedroom TV and even pull down the shades. In the kitchen, Bixby is designed to work with Samsung’s new Family Hub refrigerators. Bixby will allow Family Hub to recommend a recipe based on what you have in your fridge and in accordance with your dietary needs. You’ll also be able to check on the status of compatible connected devices like Samsung’s QuickDrive washing machine, and Bixby will let you know exactly how much time is left in your wash cycle. Bixby is already a part of the Samsung Galaxy smartphones and is being integrated into all of its new U.S. smart TVs this year.
For more information, visit samsung.com/us/explore/bixby.
Grab Some Zzzs
If buying a new smart TV, washing machine or fridge really isn’t in the budget, but you would still like to have a smart home, Zlink Smart Home Hub could be your answer. Costing less than $20, Zlink is billed as the “world’s most affordable, compact and fully featured smart home hub.” The device plugs into a USB port and allows you to use your voice via Amazon’s Alexa to control your home’s lights, thermostat, shades, security system and more. Zlink can communicate with any device or product using Z-Wave technology. Z-Wave is a secure communication platform that uses low-energy radio waves to allow appliances to talk to each other.
While Z-Wave may not be a well-known name to the general public, the technology is widely used. You may even have some of these devices in your home now. There are more than 2,100 products from hundreds of companies such as LG, AT&T, Sharp, Panasonic and Samsung that use Z-Wave. The company started with Amazon’s Alexa as its first smart home assistant because it says Alexa was “the most developed and stable voice assistant currently available.” Future plans include the addition of Google Home and Apple HomeKit.
For more information, visit zlinkproducts.com.
See The Future
If you find the idea of smart tech for your home intriguing, how about some sharp-looking smart glasses for your eyes? The Vuzix Blade Augmented Reality Smart Glasses are like having your computer or smartphone screen information right in front of you, wherever you go. It can connect directly to the internet via WiFi and be paired with Android or iOS phones via Bluetooth. All the convenience of a smartphone is right in front of your eyes without having to fumble around to get the phone out of your pocket or a bag. Websites or smartphone features are viewed in a small screen only you can see on the side of the lens. The screen’s brightness and location on the lens are adjustable to what works best for you. The 3-ounce Blade is also prescription-ready.
The glasses have touch control on the sides, but you can also navigate the internet and all the other Blade features with your voice. Vuzix has partnered with Amazon to have Alexa integration built into the glasses. The voice integration provides multitasking convenience for someone who has his or her hands busy doing something else — such as pushing a wheelchair. Just say the word and directions, menus, weather, events, stocks, video conferencing, sports updates, social media feeds and more are available right in front of you. Vuzix is expected to have the Blade ready for consumers later this summer.
For more information, visit vuzix.com.
High-tech shades weren’t the only accessible technology for your eyes at CES this year. Eyetech Digital Systems was in Las Vegas demonstrating its latest eye-tracking technology that uses infrared light and high-speed cameras to allow people with paralysis to control computers, TVs and even their wheelchairs using only eye movement. Eye-tracking technology isn’t new, but Eyetech says its system provides a “smoother and faster experience” than other such devices because of a number of innovations, including:
- A special light filter for better operation near windows or outside
- Increased head motion tolerance
- An aluminum housing rather than plastic to better protect it
- The VT3 XL allows for long-distance tracking of devices such as a 60-inch TV from up to 10 feet away
- The TM5 Mini for smaller devices, such as tablets and laptops, is only 10 inches long and weighs about 7 ounces
- The system runs on either Windows or Android through a USB port
Besides eye-tracking hardware, the Mesa, Ariz., company also has specific software for better and quicker operations. QuickACCESS lets you control a Windows desktop, including Microsoft’s Excel and PowerPoint, and also allows you to zoom in anywhere and see a real-time view of the screen. Eyetech is a business-to-business company that works through distributors, but its products are covered by most insurance companies and purchased by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
For more information, visit eyetechds.com.
So far, you’ve read about tech that’ll make your home, smartphone and the internet more accessible and convenient, but what about when you’re traveling? Going through an airport while using a wheelchair and trying to drag luggage around isn’t easy without help. However, a robotics team in San Francisco may have the solution with a fully autonomous suitcase. Travelmate will follow you almost anywhere, including the airport, as well as when you’re going to work or shopping. The suitcase has a variety of sensors and GPS that allow it to navigate crowds, obstacles and other complex situations. Able to travel vertically or horizontally, Travelmate works with a smartphone app but can also recognize simple gestures and voice commands. You can even give it a personal name, and it’ll respond to that specific name.
Obviously, having your luggage traveling behind you in a busy airport could tempt some would-be thieves, but the developers thought of that. To start, Travelmate has a touch-enabled lock system that uses your fingerprint to open it. You’ll also always know where your Travelmate is because you can see its location via the app and the onboard GPS. There’s an additional security feature that’ll lock its wheels if it senses that it’s not following you anymore. Available in three sizes, including carry-on, Travelmate has a built-in scale so you can avoid extra baggage fees, and it is compliant with Transportation Security Administration rules.
For more information, visit travelmaterobotics.com.