The Consumer Electronics Show is the shiniest, gaudiest, most over-the-top show in technology. It's known for its zillion-inch televisions, booths larger than rural villages, and bodacious marketing campaigns for products that don't justify 150-foot banners across the front of the Las Vegas Convention Center.
The last several years at CES have been particularly big on glitz and thin on substance. But, I'm happy to report that everywhere you turn at CES 2015, there are companies with real products solving problems worth tackling.
We'll be reporting on them in greater detail throughout the week on ZDNet and TechRepublic, but I'll sum up the most encouraging stuff I've seen in four main takeaways.
1. Practical healthcare solutions
It's no secret that wearables are one of the main events of CES 2015 and most wearables involve health trackers. But the health care story at the show goes way beyond fitness bands and smartwatches. A few of the best things I've seen so far include smart hearing aids that use Bluetooth to connect to a smartphone and tablet (ReSound LiNX), hands-free temperature monitors for babies (Temp Traq), a game that helps you move to a healthier back (Valedo), and a UV sensor that floats in a pool to tell how much sunscreen you should put on your kids (Vigilant LilyPad).
2. Practical clean energy and green tech solutions
Cleantech made a big comeback in 2014 and CES 2015 is full of solutions that want to help you get more energy efficient with your gadgets, in your office, and in your home. For example, I saw a pocket-sized solar charger that can grab a full day's charge for your phone after just 90 minutes in the sun (Solpro), an iPhone case with its own solar charger built-in (Surfr), and a product that turns any air conditioner into a smart air conditioner (Sensibo).
And, there are also more bigger, ambitious solutions tackling our challenges in sustainability and transportation. For the first time, I laid my eyes on the Tesla Model X, the all-electric SUV with the doors that open like a Delorean. I also saw some electric-assisted bike technology that Panasonic is helping bring to regular bikes and the Gogoro electric scooter system with swappable batteries, NFC keys, and dashboard analytics.
3. Tech to help kids learn tech and science
Another one of the best developments of CES 2015 is the creative use of technology and apps to help teach children science, math, and tech. Wonder Workshop (formerly known as Play-i) showed off its fun little robots that teach kids computer programming concepts with the help of an app that visually organizes coding blocks. Ozobot uses drawing, design, and color patterns to help kids learn about robotics and computer programming.
4. Crowdfunded projects are now CES vendors
Wonder Workshop is also an example of a project that was recently crowdfunded and is now a vendor at the world's biggest technology show. In fact, that's a growing -- and encouraging -- trend at CES. A bunch of crowdfunded 3D printers (including the popular 3Doodler) were at CES 2015 en force as part of the new 3D printing pavilion at the show. Another example is the Scio scanner that lets you scan foods and medicines to determine their nutritional value and chemical components.
While not all crowdfunded products are useful, the fact that the community has voted on them with their money makes the process more democratic and proves that the products have real demand. The Eureka Park pavilion at CES 2015 is dedicated to startups and crowdfunded companies and it features 375 of them this year, compared to 200 last year.