22 July 2015
Wearable Tech and Drones Dominate Displays at the 2015 Gadget Show
While the latest generation of wearable tech remained the clear favourite of pundits at this year's Gadget Show, there was still space for innovative household items, audio systems, transport devices and, of course, drones, lots and lots of drones.
This year, the items on offer at the ever-popular Gadgets Show ranged from novel curios to serious quality-of-life-enhancing technologies. Some were well-developed products with established consumer bases, while others used the show more as a means of gauging consumer interest and gaining feedback before beginning the expensive process of product development. Along with the perennially-popular remote control camera drones, wearable technology, in all of its many guises, featured prominently at the event.
While not all the gizmos on show represented truly cutting-edge technology – with many products having been around for a few years or more – their places on the show stands were merited by continuing demand, especially when such items benefitted from compelling demo sessions.
Perhaps not entirely unexpectedly, many experts participating in the Gadget Show Seminars backed connected wearable devices as the coming trend. Kash Ghedia, Technologies Manager of Dixons Carphone Warehouse, a prominent UK electronics retailer, told one seminar audience that his company now treated their stores as if they were online operations, with beacons, tags and interactive posters directing and communicating with customers. He believes that, in the future, wearable devices will become ever more connected. Citing the example of a car journey home, he said the driver would be able to interact with a variety of devices and systems waiting at his destination, including lighting, heating, music and even the kettle.
Following Ghedia – and taking a somewhat different wearable note – was Jenny Griffiths, Chief Executive and Founder of Snap Fashion, a mobile app provider. The actual Snap Fashion app allows shoppers to find just what they want to wear by searching an array of shopping sites. Snap a picture in a magazine or download a picture from social media and the app searches by shape, colour and texture recognition to present a short-list of likely matches.
A prime example of wearable tech was on display at the eye-catching stand of Babol (Buy a brand online), a company providing an innovative e-commerce route to market for a number of brands. The Worcester-based company's newest product, PulseOn, is a wrist-worn optical heart rate sensor and is targetted at those seriously into sport or with particular health concerns.
Explaining its provenance, Simon Ward, a Director of the company, said: "This is an offshoot of Nokia and offers simple wireless connectivity via android apps. Its patented pulse reading technology makes it easy to use and it's got huge market appeal. At just £109 (US$170), we are expecting a lot of interest".
Another 'wow' wearable product on show came courtesy of SunnyCam video eyewear, a British invention that captures life hands-free as it happens. The Worcester-based SunnyCam team believe the product is going to prove very popular in the adventure sports sector. It is already available online with an RRP of US$154.
One of the fastest growing gadgets sectors in recent years has been the camera drone. Clive Coote, Managing Director of Hong Kong's Yuneec Ltd, was in Birmingham to present the Typhoon Q500, the company's new aerial and ground imaging system.
Highlighting the allure of the product, he said: "At just over US$1,000, the Typhoon will appeal to a number of markets. Livestock farmers can save a lot of time checking-up on their animals from the air and it's also affordable for the serious hobbyist".
Moving swiftly past the host of other drone-flavoured offerings, Sprout, the latest product from HP, combines two unique features to create a powerful design PC. An overhead 14 Megapixel camera captures 3D images to be worked on and enhanced, while also projecting the design tablet onto a base for editing without using a mouse or keyboard. At $3,000, it's clearly targetted at serious 3D designers and the education market and comes with a number of apps designed to enhance its touch-screen solutions.
In terms of products of a more household nature, Dyson, the UK-based vacuum cleaner maker, has long been a standard-bearer for British inventions and household gadgetry. Pride of place on its stand this year went to its new 360 Eye robot cleaner. Although not yet available for purchase, it is expected to retail at around $1,200. Programmable via an iPad app, it will set about cleaning the owner's house all of its own accord.
Becky Newmarch, one of the Dyson team, was also keen to highlight one of the company's other new products, The Humidifier. She said: "It has excellent health benefits and its internal ultra-violet light kills 98% of bacteria in the water mist it sprays". In the UK, The Humidifier is currently only available online or via John Lewis. It's RRP is around $800.
On the getting away from home front, Scott Fidgett, the Chief Executive of Airwheel, was at the show to demonstrate his revolutionary range of personal transportation products. The key difference between the Airwheel, and the more established Segway stand-on electric scooter, he said, lies in the Airwheel's giro technology, which allows speed and direction to be dictated solely by body movement. The two-wheel S3 Airwheel model – the company's latest – provides up to 40 miles on a single charge.
Fidgett describes the company's latest development, the Airboard, as a "sideways skateboard, complete with intuitive manoeuvrability". A series of appearances on UK TV is said to have brought the company considerable success of late. It products range in price from $700-4,000 and are available online and through selected retail outlets, while worldwide distribution opportunities are also available.
Not all the gadgets on show were electronic, however. David Newman, Director of The Back Shop, a London-based postural seating specialist, came across his latest product – the Portable Active Saddle Seat – during an overseas trip. He said: "It's the best posture product we've ever seen. It generates wonderful movement." At $185, it transforms any office chair into a ball and saddle seat and is said to help the user sit correctly all day in any office environment.
A section of the Gadget Show Live was also dedicated to the finalists of the British Inventors' Project. One notable entrant, Sara Giblin, had developed a novel and simple solution to city backpacking security. She said: "All the openings to the bag are on the inside, against your body, giving the wearer the security that no one can get to their possessions." Her RiutBag was funded by Kickstarter and is now manufactured in China. It now available online for just over $100, plus tax and shipping.
Representing Australia at the show was Wowzr with its already successful Boombox system. Courtney Miller, the company's UK agent, said: "The Boombox is highly popular in Australia and is now available in the UK. This clever little gadget magnifies sound by vibration – the larger the object that you attach it to, the more sound you create. It can play music from almost any device." Boombox is available online for around $30 and the company is also looking for new retail outlets.
Some 11 years in the making, Inventor Gregor von Bismarck was finally launching his Messenger Floh Kick Scooter at this year's show. Introducing the product, he said: "It's actually three products in one – a kick scooter, a messenger bag and a carry on trolley". While the quality of its engineering reflects its German origins, like many products at the show, it was actually produced in China. The Messenger Floh will be available soon online in grey or black and comes priced at about $300.
Overall, the Gadget Show demonstrated that there were still a lot of inventors – British and otherwise – coming up with unique ideas to improve lifestyles. It also further underlined – if any further underlining were needed – the importance of overseas manufacturing, with most exhibitors still turning to China and the Far East for their production requirements.
The Gadget Show Live was held at NEC Birmingham, UK, from 7-12 April 2015. An estimated 80,000 visitors attended the event, as well as more than 250 exhibitors.
David Wilkinson, Special Correspondent, Birmingham