Thursday 21 January 2016

TRE Talk Radio Europe gadgets for January 2016

My 'gadget guru' conversation on TRE Talk Radio Europe this month included a few products that had been showcased at CES, the consumer electronics show held in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago:

As well as providing a good idea of the trends we’ll be seeing in technology, CES also offers an opportunity for manufacturers to grab the headlines with some particularly audacious products. One such company was Ehang, based in China, which has scaled-up the concept of a regular remote-control drone and has made one big enough to carry a person.

Ehang 184 passenger drone

These days, what most people describe as a drone is a remote-control aircraft between 30cm and a metre across, with three or four sets of battery-powered rotor blades that spin horizontally to keep the device in the air. They often have a camera attached and some can be controlled from your mobile phone or tablet.

The Ehang 184 follows a similar principle. It has an aluminium frame with four pairs of propellers, it runs from rechargeable batteries and can carry a person weighing up to 100kg (around 16 stone).

Flight time is around 20 minutes, with the batteries taking two hours to charge. It’s not meant to reach the heights of an aircraft – it’s designed to fly by to 500 metres off the ground, although it can go higher – and has a top speed of 63mph.

During the flight the pilot/passenger sits inside an air-conditioned cockpit that looks a bit like a helicopter. They program the route into a tablet, then tell it when they're ready to take off and when they want to land. After landing, the propellers can be folded upwards so the whole thing fits in a car parking space.

Pricing is expected to be something like £175,000 when it goes on sale this year, according to the company. Of course, the big question is where you’ll legally be allowed to use it – there are already plenty of regulations about smaller drones, never mind one that’s holding a person.

LG HOM-BOT Turbo+ vacuum cleaner

This was also on show at CES: it's being described as the industry's first robotic vacuum cleaner equipped with augmented reality technology.

We’ve had robot vacuum cleaners for a few years now. Generally speaking, they look like a fat Frisbee, they run off rechargeable batteries and drive themselves around your floor; avoiding furniture, going under the sofa and remembering where they’ve been.

LG has been making these for a while... and now they’ve added augmented reality technology (a feature called 'HomeJoy') to their new cleaner, which is the HOM-BOT Turbo+. This lets you use a special app on your phone to tell the vacuum cleaner about parts of the room that need extra cleaning. You take a photo of the room using the camera of your phone and then tap on the appropriate part of the image. When you’ve done that, your HOM-BOT Turbo+ heads over there and begins cleaning. You can also steer it there yourself, using your phone as the controls, depending on your preference.

Like some other robot vacuum cleaners, this LG machine has camera sensors that record the surrounding area to track where it has already cleaned. It also has a camera on the front that you can watch on your smartphone. One of the things you can do remotely is control the vacuum and clean your home from wherever you are – but, perhaps more importantly, you can also use it as a security camera. It can even send you photos when it detects movement in the house.

Availability and price haven’t been confirmed yet but I’d expect it to be upwards of £500 when it goes on sale.

Withings Thermo WiFi-connected thermometer

Withings makes a lot of health-related technology, from watches that monitor your running to bathroom scales that keep an eye on your weight.

They’ve now come up with the Withings Thermo, which they describe as a WiFi-connected temporal artery thermometer. It looks like a slightly flattened cylinder; nothing like a conventional thermometer.

Apparently the temporal artery at the side of head is a particularly good place to measure body temperature. The challenge is doing it accurately.

So the Withings Thermo has 16 infrared sensors to detect heat. When you hold it against your head and press the 'on' button, those sensors take 4,000 measurements in 2 seconds – and it also works out how it’s being affected by the ambient temperature in the room.

It then sends the temperature readings via WiFi or Bluetooth to your smartphone where they can be seen on a special application. This means it’s much easier to keep track of someone’s temperature if they’re ill: you can see if it’s going up or down every time you check, without needing to write it down each time.

There’s also a display on the device in either Celsius or Fahrenheit; it’ll glow green for normal temperature levels and either orange or red if the person's temperature is higher than it should be.

It runs off two AAA-size batteries and should go in sale in the new few weeks for around $99.95 (around £70).


Away from CES, this is a project that’s on Kickstarter. It’s a tiny little device called SoundBrake – and it’s designed to alert you to outside sounds when you’re wearing headphones.

So, for example, you could be on a train, listening to music through your headphones and you might miss an important announcement. Or you’re wearing headphones in the office and someone calls to you but you don’t hear them. Or you’re at home wearing headphones and you don't notice a knock on the door.

That’s where SoundBrake does its job. It’s a little box that’s about an inch-and-a-half square, with a standard 3.5mm headphone plug on one side. In it is a microphone, some clever electronics and rechargeable battery that’ll last for up to 100 hours.

This tiny box works with almost any audio player to alert you to outside sounds. So you plug it into your music player, your phone or your computer, and then you plug your headphones into it.

You then set a volume alert level that’s higher than the current average background noise level. So if you’re in an office with air conditioning, you can make sure it’ll only respond to noises that are louder than the air conditioning. There’s a button to set the level automatically and there are a couple of buttons to fine-tune the level up or down.

When there’s a loud noise, SoundBrake temporarily turns off your audio to let you know that something’s up.

Pricing is $49 (£35); availability is due in April.