The tech of your dreams
With the big brands unveiling mostly mid-range phones and laptops at IFA 2018 in Berlin, along with some 8K TVs that were eye-catching but which aren't yet widely available, and which will be extremely expensive when they do arrive, the really interesting products were being shown off by the army of engineers, designers and innovators in IFA’s NEXT halls. Here’s our pick of this year’s most interesting new tech and gadgets, from the inspired to the downright odd.
1. Laika interactive companion for dogs
“It’s a life companion for dogs,” says Thomas Samtmann, Co-founder and CEO at French start-up CamToy (opens in new tab) of Laika, a smart toy named after the first dog in space. “It allows a dog owner to interact with their dog from anywhere, so when they’re at work and the dog is alone all day long they can take control of Laika with their smartphone.”
Using the app an owner can talk to their dog via Laika's built-in speaker, get some face-time via a webcam, and even release a treat from the device. It also has an autonomous mode, won't disturb the dog when it’s sleeping, and will send the owner a notification if the dog barks too much. There are plans for versions for cats, horses and even zoo animals. It’s on IndieGoGo (opens in new tab) now.
2. Somnox Sleep Robot
This bean-shaped Somnox Sleep Robot is about the size of a small cushion, and pulses as it mimics soft breathing and emits soft music to help you get to sleep. “It’s a sleep robot that helps you get to sleep faster, but also sleep longer,” says Julian Jagtenburg, a robotics engineer and Founder of Somnox (opens in new tab).
The sensation of feeling with one hand the falling and rising of a breathing robot is odd indeed, but the soft sounds of falling rain/ambient music/the purring of a cat give the robot an unquestionably calming influence, while its sensors enable it to switch off the moment you fall asleep. The battery lasts for just one night, so has to be recharged during the day. It goes on sale in October for £499, which is about $640 or AU$890.
3. Opro9 SmartDiaper
As any parent of a young child knows, things can often get a little wiffy, but as well as overdue diaper changes there are just as many false alarms when clean diapers are wasted. Cue the SmartDiaper (opens in new tab), a sensor on silicon tape that takes away the guesswork by measuring the humidity and temperature inside the nappy and, when the data (suddenly) changes, sends a notification to the parent's smartphone. The app can monitor up to five babies simultaneously (sorry, owners of sextuplets), and there's proximity alarm that notifies you if the OPro9 and its wearer move out of distance from your smartphone.
4. Philips SmartSleep headband
Why wear a Fitbit when you could sleep in some ridiculous-looking headgear? Designed partly in response to research showing that 40% of people between the ages of 25 and 54 have less than the recommended seven hours sleep per night, SmartSleep (opens in new tab) is a soft-touch, lightweight headband with two sensors. The sensors collect delta waves of the deep sleep phase, with Smart Sleep then amplifying them to intensify deep sleep, and also minutely recording sleep phases.
"Unlike other sleep trackers that only monitor a user's sleep pattern, SmartSleep can actively help people sleep more restoratively," said Clemens Drechsler, Marketing Manager for Healthy Sleep Solutions at Philips. The headgear is charged via USB, and links to a SleepMapper app via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It's on sale now in the US for $400 (about £310, AU$550).
5. LG CLOi SuitBot
Need some help with the heavy lifting? LG used IFA 2018 to show off its first wearable robot: the SuitBot, an Avatar-like exoskeleton concept designed with SG Robotics for the manufacturing and construction industries. It’s mostly about mobility rather than increased strength, although the CLOi SuitBot does increase lower limb strength. The feet contain sandal-like shoes, while the joints rotate naturally for easy walking and standing. SuitBot is one of eight devices in LG’s CLOi lineup (opens in new tab), which also includes robots for cleaning, lawn-mowing and delivering room service in hotels.
6. Sleepace Graphene Heating Eye Mask
Put graphene on your eyes? We know it’s a wonder material, but really? Sleepace (opens in new tab), a ‘smart sleep solution provider’ from Shenzhen, China, has created a Lycra eye mask that uses a layer of highly conductive graphene to allow the material in the mask to heat up in three seconds, and reach 38°C in 10 seconds; it's designed to relax the muscles around your eyes that get strained by too much staring at screens. Sweaty eyes? Not a bit of it; it has three temperature modes, and the heating function pauses automatically every 60 minutes in case of ‘irregularities’ (cooked eyes, presumably).
7. Aurai eye massager
You stare at a screen all day. We all do. So how do you rejuvenate your tired eyes? With six-minute eye baths, that’s how.
“It’s the world’s first water-propelled eye massager,” says Nicolas Lee, Sales Manager at Shenzhen, China-based In-Trust Technology (opens in new tab) of a contraption that looks like a pair of VR glasses with a tube attached to one side that leads to a small bottle. “You fill it up with tap water, turn it on, and set the temperature you want for a six minute cycle,” he said. “Generally when you’ve been staring at the screen for hours, we suggest a cool cycle to relieve ocular pressure, then a warm cycle to relax the tension in the muscles around your eyes.”
It’s available from Amazon.com (opens in new tab) for US$239, which is about £185 or AU$330.
Can you fold a shirt? You may never have to struggle with such demeaning domestic chores again if this folding machine comes to fruition. For now it’s just a prototype, and the product we played with at IFA 2018 didn’t actually do much aside from provide a glimpse into what it looks like. However, the premise is very simple: you put a shirt, a towel or any other garment on a tray, FoldiMate (opens in new tab) draws it in, uses sensors to decide what kind of garment it is, then folds it neatly.
It’s genius stuff, although it’s pretty big;– this could be one for American rather than European homes. It won’t be available until late 2019, but you can preorder it now for a target price of US$980 (about £760 or AU£1,360).
9. Flexound HUMU Augmented Audio Cushion
We’ve seen pillows with built-in speakers before, as we have gaming chairs that vibrate, but the HUMU (opens in new tab) from Finish startup Flexound combines the two. A reasonably firm pillow-cum-neck support that contains two vibrating sound boards, it takes any source of audio and produces a rippling, resonating effect that accentuates bass and low frequencies.
Connecting to a tablet, laptop or phone via Bluetooth or a 3.5mm jack, HUMU is able to produce a wider range of frequencies than any speakers or headphones, although it nevertheless seems most likely to be destined for strapping to a gaming chair. It’s on sale now for US$229 (opens in new tab) / £269 (opens in new tab).
10. Smarter FridgeCam
The smart fridge that can monitor your food to cut down on food waste has become a cliche of the smart home, but spending big on a smart fridge just seems counterproductive. So why not just retrofit a FridgeCam?
“Every time you close the fridge door it takes a picture and sends it to your phone,” says Sarah Pieters, Digital Marketing Manager at Smarter (opens in new tab). As well as acting as a reminder of exactly what you have in your fridge, FridgeCam can monitor items as they move around your fridge, and send you a notification the day before an item is about to expire. It can then automatically add items to your shopping list. It’s just launched in the UK, where it connects to Tesco online, for £150.