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CES 2024: Cell phones get buttons again and people get a turbo

Hardly any place stands for crazy inventions as much as the Consumer Electronics Show CES: More than 4,000 exhibitors are currently showing off their devices and services in the huge exhibition halls in Las Vegas. These include large corporations such as Samsung, Siemens and Sony, but also more than 1,000 start-ups. ZEIT ONLINE is there and tested seven gadgets that are particularly noteworthy. It is not clear whether all of them will come onto the market: CES is also the place for so-called vaporware , for big promises that soon fizzle out.

Overview:

  • Clicks: the iPhone keyboard
  • Moonwalkers: the turbo shoes
  • Skyted: the telephone mask
  • The LG AI Agent and Ballie: the robots for the smart home
  • Willcook: the microwave bag
  • Rabbit R1: the device that could replace the smartphone
  • Parkie: the never-park-again robot

Clicks: the iPhone keyboard

Back to the future: keys on the cell phone

It’s 2024, and push-button phones are apparently cool again. Wild times. Clicks is an iPhone case with a keyboard on the bottom and may be the gadget that generated the most social media buzz in the run-up to CES . Be it because of rampant BlackBerry nostalgia, the bright color or because a physical keyboard can be really useful for people who have problems with touchscreen keyboards due to visual impairment.

When tested at the trade fair, a normal-sized iPhone with the case felt less huge than expected. However, you can only use the buttons with two hands. Nice gimmicks also include a backlight and keyboard shortcuts. During the short test, however, the keys were rather stiff and not as clicky as they would have been nice. It will soon be possible to find out whether this was only due to the measuring device: Clicky will be released on February 1st for 139 US dollars (around 125 euros) and will also be shipped internationally. An Android version will come later.

Moonwalkers: the turbo shoes

With the Moonwalkers you walk like you’re on a treadmill.

In the future, we’ll all be a little bit cyborgs, at least according to some of the CES exhibitors. A good example of this is the Moonwalkers from Shift Robotics. They look like roller skates with Starlight Express flair, but they’re more of a turbocharger for your own gait. You get in with street shoes, walk normally, and controlled by artificial intelligence – as befits the CES 2024 – the wheels ensure a threefold increase in walking speed without the risk of tipping over: the boots adapt adaptively to your own gait at.

The Moonwalkers By default, the rollers lock – so you can climb stairs, for example – and the booster is activated with a quick turn of the foot. It works impressively well, it feels a little like walking on a treadmill at the airport. However, Shift Robotics is thinking less about harried managers on the way to a connecting flight and more about companies that want to relieve the burden on their warehouse employees. Or exploit them even more, that may be in the eye of the beholder. According to Shift Robotics, Ikea is already trying this out. There is no price yet, but the predecessor costs 1,400 US dollars (around 1,275 euros).

Skyted: the telephone mask

The Skyted mask usually comes without a screen – but if you want to write “Do not disturb” over your mouth, you will also be happy.

Another return from last year is the French start-up Skyted. However, what still looked absurdly large in 2023 is now not much larger than an FFP2 mask (you remember). The idea is simple: Skyted blocks all noises that escape from the mask and a built-in microphone passes them on – so you can make phone calls in almost silence. This will probably be possible with a cable ($249) or Bluetooth connection ($299) from December 2024. Skyted is currently still collecting money for this through crowdfunding.

During the test in the admittedly noisy exhibition hall, nothing could actually be heard from the outside. This is made possible by an absorption material from the aviation industry. Skyted also has an interesting business case for them: In the future, the start-up would like to cooperate with airlines that could, for example, only open their aircraft WiFi for voice over IP calls that are made with a Skyted mask. A lot would be gained for humanity if Skyted managed to mute blaring telephone users in the ICE rest compartment. Whether they see a need for it, however, is another question.

The LG AI Agent and Ballie: the robots for the smart home

They’re both cute. But it is not yet certain whether they will ever be sold.

No CES without robots, that’s an unwritten rule. In addition to the dog-like robots from Boston Dynamics, which deliver (accompanied) between the exhibition halls, two South Korean companies primarily attracted attention with robots this year: on the one hand, Samsung with the cute-looking and cutely named Ballie – a football with wheels – and on the other hand, LG with the also very cute, but very basic named LG AI Agent, which looks like a small dog with headphones.

Both robots can be imagined as Alexa on wheels. They should be able to switch smart devices on and off, control them using voice commands and also check whether their flesh-and-blood pets are doing well. Ballie also has a projector that can project films or recipe videos onto the wall. Both robots were shown at CES, but only behind barriers. At a choreographed demo, Ballie suggested exercise to an actor, provided information about air quality and called the local florist. It is unclear whether, when and at what price the mini household helpers will appear.

Willcook: the microwave bag

In addition to the purpose of the cooking function, one can certainly also discuss the aesthetics of the Willcook bag.

Have you ever wondered how you can maximize every last bit of free time in your life? Then Willcook could be something for you: a bag that gets so warm inside that it can not only keep food warm, but even cook it. This makes it possible to save on sandwich butter and meal prep and instead cook lunch directly in the subway on the way to work. “The microwave becomes portable” is how the start-up advertises its product, which it currently only sells in Japan. But it is already planning an additional microwave backpack.

With an internal temperature of 80 degrees Celsius specified by the manufacturer, Willcook tends to use low-temperature cooking, but that has been in place for a few years anyway (if you have a different opinion, throw in the first sous vide stick), for example for beef fillet or leg of lamb. At the fair, the bag felt really warm inside – but due to the lack of a beef, let alone its fillet, we couldn’t try cooking it.

Rabbit R1: the device that could replace the smartphone

Teenage Engineering is responsible for the design of the Rabbit R1. And that’s good.

No device presented at CES probably gave as many people a “I want it!” feeling as Rabbit’s R1. Within 24 hours of the presentation, the start-up sold 10,000 devices. It’s not easy to understand what the R1 actually is: Imagine a device half the size of a smartphone that doesn’t run any apps, but where you enter every command by voice. The device interprets what is said using artificial intelligence and executes it exactly as you want. Feedback is available either via a display or via voice output. Basically an AI walkie-talkie. “ It’s that simple ,” says Rabbit founder Jesse Lyu.

The special thing about the R1 (besides its cool design by Teenage Engineering) is that it is not just an Alexa-Siri assistant with AI: the R1 can be connected to various services via a web portal called the rabbit hole (as in other things). connect. In the company presentation, Lyu showed how he orders pizza with the R1 after connecting R1 once to the delivery service DoorDash. The R1 can also operate music services such as Spotify, plan and book trips, or use the built-in camera to answer questions about the surroundings and give recipe tips for the contents of the refrigerator. The $199 device would do what current AI agents fail to do – a big promise that will be proven starting at Easter when the R1 ships.

Parkie: the never-park-again robot

These autonomous panels go under every car – and lift it up.

Anyone who has ever looked for a parking space in a German city center knows the situation: There is actually a parking space there – but a gentleman (it is always a gentleman) has interpreted the position of the parking space boundary quite freely in his Mercedes B-Class. So he’s in the middle of it. And now it would take the talent of a heart surgeon to park your car without any paint damage. So the half-blocked parking lot remains empty.

Parkie from the South Korean company HL Mando is intended to eliminate this problem and any parking stress in general. It is a moving platform that is just under a centimeter high. Two of them are supposed to drive autonomously under a car, lift it and then park it perfectly and worry-free. This should even work with ground-hugging sports cars and heavy SUVs. For the same number of cars, significantly less parking space would be needed in the city – sounds almost too good to be true. The system will be tested south of Seoul starting in April.

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