A couple of weeks ago a friend and I journeyed into the exhibition centre here in Melbourne to check out the second annual Tech + Gadget expo and it’s clear that we have some work to do as far as consumer electronics is concerned. The expo had a range of technology on show from VR to Home Automation but it lacked contributions from many major developers and a huge variety of products in some areas. The only categories which may be exceptions were Drones and motorised bikes and skateboards these combined seemed to make up more than half of the expo floor. Presumably this focus may have been the result of trying to cater for families as these products could easily be considered kid friendly. On this point the expo was definitely successful since their were copious amounts of kids and teenagers walking around with a new drone tucked under the arm. At least the expo is a starting point and with clear development from last years inaugural event the future looks good. So here are the few of my observations:
The first thing we were confronted with when we entered was e2media’s VR Land which combines VR with hydrologic movement and surround sound to immerse people in an experience. It was worth a wait in line as the pendulum experience we had was powerful enough to make us both a bit motion sick. This might seem counter productive as you may ask why feeling sick would every be considered a good sign, but just go to a theme park and ask anyone who has left a ride feeling a bit queasy. Nearby another major VR player, the HTC Vive provided visitors with more of a home based experience by pairing the headset with controllers for uses to play a range of different games. Finally, Phoria rounded out the category and offered uses a bit more of an understanding of the potential application for VR in a variety of different industries. Despite the clear presence of VR at the expo there were a few noticeable absences from all ends of the spectrum as there was no Galaxy VR or Oculus rift in terms of headsets and there was no sign of any of the mixed reality products about to flood the market in the USA due to Microsoft’s partnership with OEMs. On an experience side Zero latency a clear Leader in VR in Melbourne offering a full immersed experience who could have easily used the event for promotion was also nowhere to be seen. If you haven’t had the pleasure of a full blown VR experience killing zombies it is a must so follow the link, gather your mates and book a session.
Starting as cheap as $50, drones were everywhere last weekend and with a test area provided a great hand on opportunity for the hordes of visitors it perhaps was not really a surprise. Personally, I’m still a little confounded by the popularity of Drones as it either suggests that everyone is a bit of a voyeur or are fascinated with remote control helicopters. The expo was my real first up-close look at a wide range of drones and I am still puzzled by the fascination as the range, 8-12min flight time and likelihood of being lost don’t seem to make a compelling case. On the other hand, the discounted price on offer at several booths with a fully equipped drone with altitude hold for less than $100 made tempting to get one and see the fascination for myself.
There were two main exceptions to most Drones on show. The first being the range of devices from DJI which included the Spark, Inspire 2 and Phantom 4. All of which come with advance intelligent flight technology including Tapfly, which allows the user to control flight direction by a simple tap on the live feed, Flight anatomy, which allows the drone to detect and avoid obstacles, Activetrack and return home. The Inspire 2 and Phantom 4 advanced are capable of 4k video at 60fps and around 30min of flight time which gives them more potential for serious applications in film, sport and industries like tourism.
On the complete other end of the spectrum is the Airblock, a modular drone made of magnetic parts which can be disassembled and reassembled in a variety of ways. Unlike most of the other drones the Airblock does not include a camera and is marketed as a toy for stunts and races. The app even provides users with the opportunity to learn basic coding. Relying on Bluetooth and the uses phone the range of Airblock is limited to 15m horizontal and 5m vertical which is perfect for anyone looking for a bit of fun who doesn’t want to intrude on their neighbours. Not to mention if you follow the link to their Kickstarter page
Tesla was the major player in automotive represented at the expo with both the Model S and Model X on show. Once you get a closer look at the inside of the Model X it’s clear that cars fit a luxury market. Strictly from a design standpoint both cars share a uniqueness which is pushed further on the Model X SUV that lacks the raised cabin of other more traditional manufacturers and narrows towards the rear of the car. This is topped off with the vertically opening doors that are reminiscent of a DeLorean except that they fold and slide down at the middle. It’s certainly unique but as car enthusiasts neither my friend and I thought it looked like an attractive “sexy” car. Obviously, this is not the reason to purchase an electric car but since it starts at $134000 for a 75kWh battery in Australia it is something that consumers think about.
The only other real display was from Toyota demonstrating the alternative to electric cars with the hydrogen powered Mirai. Not surprisingly the Mirai looks a little more mainstream and the technology is far more adventurous as it produces electricity rather than relying on the grid. Unfortunately, it is even further away from adaption in Australia as while charge stations are very rare and often need an grade to existing infrastructure for home installation, Hydrogen stations are not existent. No matter which way the future goes its clear that Australia will be lagging while that might be a tragedy for the environment the car enthusiasts in me that gets excited by the sound of a combustion engine or the look of Muscle Cars has a wry little smile.
Of course, there was other car tech around like the odd dash cam and Navdy heads up display. It was hardly an extensive range with only one booth and personally I feel there is scope in this category for development. Especially in trying to develop a long-lasting battery-operated dash cam because personally while every day on the road I’m reminded the of the value of dash cams but there is no way I’m running a cable from my windscreen to my centre console or paying more than the device is worth to get it installed, but maybe I’m being superficial. I doubt I’m the only one.
e-bikes & e-skateboards
To be honest this was an area I had very little interest in as even more than drones I just don’t see the point and that’s trying to be kind, since it could be said their raising popularity of a society that is become lazy. In some ways, perhaps an e-bike in the city makes some sense to avoid congestion but in most cases, I’ve still got to wounder why people just wouldn’t ride a normal bike. However, even this reasoning doesn’t explain the fascination with e-skateboards or Segway’s Firstly anyone using the later just look ridiculous and is a danger to themselves and others while the former seem like cashed up wannabe skaters.
Despite my personal ideas about such things the category was well represented with everything from skateboards with large Segway style wheels to those resembling their more traditional cousin with artistically designed decks. The inclusion of a test tract was a master stroke as I witnessed hordes of teens testing out anything that had at least two wheels. This is ultimately the key to sales, put the product in people’s hands and no doubt a few stalls cultivated a bit of interest.
One of the more underrepresented categorise at the expo which is surprising considering the proliferation of fitness trackers and among other things. Firstly, none of the major brands were in attendance and secondly even most of the more niche makers who focus on fitness trackers like Garmin weren’t present either. The only watch like device on show was the HELO LX which is more health monitor than smartwatch in the true sense as it is not used to check emails or make calls. Instead the HELO LX is an active health monitor which tracks blood pressure, EKG, fatigue and soon your blood alcohol level, the later especially I’m sure received some interest from visitors. These features make it a unique but very niche product as realistically the average user is not going to want all this info at their finger tips but for anyone with health problems it is likely the least invasive solution.
The other main piece of wearable technology that peaked my interest as a bit of a GYM junkie was 776bc and their range of active wear. Beyond state of the art compression tights the motion range uses biometric markers to allow you to film, annotate and compare your form to range of athletes. It is defiantly a worth while concept especially if your semi serious about your regime or a technical sport like rowing. However, it is worth noting that there are other products out like Athos training gear that has built in senses to track muscle effort and heart rate at a less affordable price or something like the Lumo Run which is more affordable but provides specialist data for running. Regardless of the merits of each brand it would have been good to see all these different smart clothing options in person just have a look at a few of the other options creeping onto the market with this list from wearable.com.
Unfortunately, the field I was most interested in was also the most poorly represented. Despite the presence of a Philips hue and Google Home display connected to Harvey Norman the Telstra booth was really the only one booth worth discussing. The telco set up a pop up lounge room to display its new smart hub subscription service complete with electric door locks, video cameras, thermostat and lights. The service starting at $25 a month for a starter kit looks like it might be the most cost-effective way to get started but the price could easily add up once you start adding components. Personally, it just made me think about researching other options like the Winx hub 2 among others which will defiantly cost more in the short term but has a wider range of compatible devices.
Unfortunately, Australia doesn’t have a history in consumer electronics and it shows at the Tech + Gadget expo if you compare it to anything overseas. However, it has almost doubled in size from the inaugural event last year so hopefully this means that we can continue to develop change thus perception as there was enough of a turnout to suggest that it is worth the investment.