LAS VEGAS – At International CES, it's easy to understand why IT managers are losing control of technology-buying decisions.
CES is not a conference aimed at IT managers. The focus is on new electronic technologies for consumers, and many attendees are marketing managers and buyers.
But the show includes technologies to help companies sell these products, including virtual reality and robotics, along with tools for ongoing customer service. It's the IT department that will deploy, integrate and secure these technologies.
Here are some examples:
For retailers, Toshiba demonstrated its 3D contour sensing and fitting technology. It uses a 55-in. screen that provides an image to the person standing in front of it that's indistinguishable from a mirror. With simple hand gestures a user can change outfits. This technology, judging from the reaction of people giving it a try, is doing a good job virtualizing how clothes will look.
The system will be available in March, said Toshimasa Dobashi, a chief specialist at Toshiba. The hope is that fashion lines will incorporate their clothing in this virtual environment.
Panasonic announced a virtual mirror that analyzes a face and then virtually applies makeup to test beauty products. The system may find a place with retailers selling cosmetics, as well as at home.
Virtual reality teleconferences
AltspaceVR showed its social virtual reality system here. To try it out, users put on virtual reality goggles, and once in the virtual environment , they were able to interact with other participants represented by avatars. When someone moves their head, so does the avatar.
"That person knows exactly where someone else is looking," said Eric Romo, the founder and CEO of AltspaceVR.
In one example, the participants were playing volleyball, including this reporter, and virtually knocking a ball around. But the system can also be used in a business environment.
AltspaceVR can support Web browsers and connect people globally in a virtual meeting environment. Participants will feel "like we're all in the same space," Romo said.
A virtual reality conferencing system is a potential alternative, or possibly the future, of telepresence technologies.
The system was displayed at Intel's large showroom space at CES and was using its RealSense 3D camera system, designed for virtual meetings.
Services were part of the mix at CES, including Lexifone, which offers in-call translations in these languages: English-U.S., as well as English used in the U.K., and Australia; French Canadian, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Mandarin-China, Mandarin-Taiwan, Polish, and Portuguese both Brazil and EU, as well as Russian, Spanish-Mexico, Spanish-Spain.
A users dials into Lexifone, identifies the language that needs translation, and then reoriginates the call, or dials out to the other party. When a caller stops talking, the cloud-based system, after an approximately four-second pause, will translate. The accuracy for languages such as Spanish can be as high as 95%, and for Mandarin, the most difficult, about 70%, but it's improving, said Patrick Tata, vice president of marketing. The service is available to consumers as well as businesses.
Robots may become an increasingly common sight, both in commercial and home settings, if the trends at CES are any sign.
One Korean company, Future Robot, is building systems that include facial recognition that can also sense emotion, such as happiness or anger. These robot systems are more likely to find their way into customer service uses such as retail and other venues that involve many people.
Robots are also being turned into interesting toys. When it's released in August, the Meccanoid G15 KS from Spin Master, the same company that produces Erector sets, will come in a kit to assemble for kids ages 10 and above. It will be priced at $399.