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CES 2019 – bringing the best of tech
January 13, 2019, 12:11 pm

The technology extravaganza CES, held each year in Las Vegas opened to the public on 8 January. For more than 50 years, CES has served as a proving ground for innovators and their breakthrough technologies. The 2019 show, which ran till 11 January and showcased all the latest gadgets and gizmos before huge crowds of enthusiastic technophiles, was attended by all the big names in the tech industry, with the exception of Apple.

IBM has unveiled a 20-qubit quantum computer; Bell showcased its Nexus air-taxi; LG showed off an astounding rolldown 4K display and Sony announced a giant-sized 8K TV. There was also other brilliant, innovative and some downright whacky items on display from a door-lock that you could open in five secure ways, a fitness ring that authorizes payments, a video kit that turns your phone into a mobile recording studio, and even a beer-holding karaoke speaker.

IBM launched its 20-bit qubit computer system labeled Q System as the world’s first fully integrated universal quantum computing system designed for scientific and commercial purposes. The 20-qubit system combines into a single package the quantum and classical computing parts it takes to use a machine like this for research and business applications. It includes everything a company would need to get started with its quantum computing experiments, including all the machinery necessary to cool the quantum computing hardware.

It is worth noting that IBM stresses that this is a first attempt and that the systems are “designed to one day tackle problems that are currently seen as too complex and exponential in nature for classical systems to handle.” Right now, we’re not quite there yet, but the company also notes that these systems are upgradable and easy to maintain.

Whatever its capabilities, the Q system is a work of stunning design. The three-meter cube housing the computer is an airtight box, with the quantum computing system suspended like a chandelier in the middle with all other parts neatly hidden.

Also staying with IBM, the blue-chip computer pioneer unveiled the Global High-Resolution Atmospheric Forecasting System (GRAF), a new global weather forecasting system designed to provide more accurate and timely forecasts around the world. It updates every hour and provides forecasts for smaller, more specific areas.

Bell Nexus air taxi is a concept design for a hybrid electric air taxi with seats for five and huge rotors that will lift it into the air. Bell, the company behind the Nexus, is a well-known US manufacturer of, among other products, helicopters, having built the original military models in the 1940s to the latest V-22 Osprey tiltrotor that is produced in collaboration with Boeing and bridged the gap between helicopters and winged aircraft. Bell is also one of the companies on Uber's short list of aircraft manufacturing partners.

The Nexus concept shows the company’s commitment to build a small, consumer friendly aircraft that comfortably seats four passengers and a pilot. Despite the technical, commercial and legal challenges the company could face before it takes off, Bell said it hoped to have its first test flights early next year and a consumer service not long after that.

Google Assistant was big at CES, having a huge presence literally, with a booth that was three times larger than that of last year, a monorail to take people around and a slew of new announcements. The search giant began by beating its chest with the latest numbers that its Google Assistant was now on more than one billion devices, a sheer doubling from the 500 million devices that it was on in May of last year and a cool 900 million more than the number Amazon said its Alexa assistant was on.

Manuel Bronstein, the company’s vice president of Google Assistant, added the caveat that the largest footprint was still on phones. “On Android devices, we have a very large footprint, with smart speakers and other connected home devices comprising a notable and growing portion,” he said.

Besides the billion milestone, Google also announced that its Assistant now works in 30 languages and is available in 80 countries. The next logical step for the company would be to take it to emerging markets where there are more feature phones than smartphones.  A voice-first interaction is ideal for feature phones with their characteristic small screens that are not ideal for typing or viewing content.

Google also announced that its Assistant will soon be able to act as a real-life translator in 27 different languages. The ‘interpreter mode’ on Google Assistant will allow you to translate in real time so you can hold conversations with someone who does not speak the same language.

The ‘interpreter mode’ is still basic and more will be needed before seamless conversations are possible. For the moment, Google Assistant will translate the words you speak into text that you can then read to the other person, whose reply the Assistant then translates into text in your language. Google Assistant also plays back the words in your native tongue. However, if both people speak at the same time, which often happens during conversations, the Assistant would not be able to comprehend.

The ‘interpreter mode’ is expected to first roll out on Google Home devices and then over the next few months on third-party smart displays from Lenovo, LG and JBL, among others. Currently the ‘interpreter mode’ is available in the following 27 languages: Arabic, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian and Vietnamese.

Another announcement from the search giant was that its Assistant would soon be able to automatically insert punctuation when you dictate messages to the app. This would help in making it redundant to repeatedly say, “period”, “comma” or “question mark” in your sentences, as the Assistant would be able to sense pauses and voice inflections to insert the right punctuations.

Secure Pro is out to thwart the smartest of burglars with a smart lock that has five ways to lock it, but also giving potential thieves five ways to unlock it.

The digital keypad on Secure Pro generates numbers in random order every time you need to enter your passcode. Each input on the keypad is actually three numbers, so even if someone watches along as you tap the code in, they are unlikely to guess what you have actually entered. In addition to the keypad, there is a fingerprint scanner and a way to unlock through either a mobile app from the manufacturer or through voice assistant command. And if all else fails, there is a physical lock you can open with a regular key.

To let guests in, you can give them access codes generated by the app, which the company claims are ‘offline’ and therefore safer from any potential hacking. While the lock does not have a voice assistant built-in, it is compatible with Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant, and the company is also said to be in talks with Apple, so it should work with most smart-homes.

Lockly, the Silicon Valley-based company that manufacturers Secure Pro, is taking pre-orders for the lock at $300 and expects to begin shipping within the next two months.

SanDisk launches 4TB flash drive, which, though a prototype, heralds the way storage is headed in the future. While flash drives have been a boon to many looking for low-cost storage solutions, their limited capacity was always a shortcoming. ScanDisk is clearly out to fill that capacity constraint with its enormous 4TB prototype USB-C flash drive.

However, we could quibble about whether it is actually a flash drive as it has an integrated USB-C cable, which technically makes it a very small SSD. But, semantics aside, it still packs quite a punch in a form factor that could get lost in your pant pocket.

No date or price or specifications were available about the product and it is highly unlikely that ScanDisk would go any further than a prototype. A similar ultra-small 1TB drive that ScanDisk displayed at last year’s CES has still not materialized on store shelves.

Lapscreen is a paper-thin 12.5-inch USB-C monitor that can run entirely off a single cable plugged into your phone or laptop. Measuring 28cm by 21cm, the whole screen is roughly the size of a sheet of paper, and at 4mm thick at the top and 8mm at the bottom it is only as thick as several sheets stacked together.

The thicker bottom portion houses the ports and other components that power the standard 1080p display panel with a 178-degree viewing angle. It can be either connected via USB-C, for both power and display data, or over HDMI, although then you will need to power the screen via the USB-C. The idea is that you have got an ultra-thin, ultralight at 400g display that can go into a folder file and be ready for use when you need a larger screen


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