CES: Gadgets in need of problems to solve

January 7, 2008

The consumer electronics industry churns out thousands of niche devices in a hit-or-miss search to find an actual audience, let alone the next hit product from the likes of Apple or Nintendo.

At the Consumer Electronics Show, MediaFile is turning up lots of examples of device makers solving problems we never knew consumers had.

Talking BBQ Thermometer
Oregon Scientifics’ “Grill-Right Talking BBQ/Oven Thermometer” markets itself as a wireless solution for the problem of cooking meat to perfection while grilling or roasting — from any room in the house. It runs a little over $40 at several e-commerce sites.

MediaFile writers, who collectively boast dozens of years of barbeque grilling experience, wonder whether this problem with the Great American Pastime is one technology is really meant to solve.

For us, the secret of Great Barbeque, besides the sauce, lies in the intimate, hand-to-hand combat between the griller and the piece of meat in question. Remote electronic monitoring seems particularly ill-suited to the task.

By contrast, we see real prospect in the Personal Weather Station, which Oregon Scientifics now offers for $399. The product includes a console for reading a variety of weather monitoring devices the user can place outside their home. Data from the devices is fed wirelessly back to the console, which in turn connects via USB to the user’s personal computer.

iRobotRobot Gutter Cleaner
The “Looj Gutter Cleaning Robot” is a runner-up for the “I Definitely Didn’t Know Technology Could Help Me Solve This Problem” Award.

The iRobot device sports a $99 list price and claims to clean your home’s roof gutters without risky trips up and down rickety step ladders. No more juggling tools at risky heights, it promises.

What’s up, iRobot? Your vacuum cleaner line is a thing of beauty. The company’s bomb detectors are saving lives in Iraq by going to places where human beings don’t belong to defuse IEDs (Pentagon-speak for roadside bombs). But there are limits to the problems current technology can solve. Gutters appear to be one.

sentrysafeFire and Waterproof Hard Disk
SentrySafe, a supplier of secure data storage containers, is offering hard disks that can withstand a fire raging for up to 30 minutes at up to 1550 degrees Fahrenheit — or full water submersion for 24 hours.

The SentrySafe Fire-Safe/Waterproof hard drive contains a Maxtor 160 gigabyte drive in a specially hardened case. Its suggested retail price is $339.99. You are paying five to six times the retail price of the hard disk for fire and water proofing.

Securing individual hard disks against such disaster seems to fly in the face of the widely anticipated industry trend toward networked storage backup, done at far lower cost, by Internet service providers such as Google, Microsoft or Yahoo. Networked storage, to be sure, currently offer less space than the biggest hard drives. But the gap is expected to shrink over time.

Perhaps there are some survivalists out there that are willing to pay the difference.

Round plugs vs. Power strips
roundThe Powramid E-900H from Kreative Power LLC arranges six power plugs in a compact circular configuration rather than running them down one linear strip. Mediafile writers disagree about just how much space is actually saved using the conical format.

Others of us think round plugs could work better than classic power strips in tight spots. But we all agree that the green activity light is far cuter than anything we’ve seen in the product category. Details on pricing and availability have not been released.

(Photos: Reuters/Eric Auchard; SentrySafe image)


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I pay $120 twice a year to get my gutters cleaned so a $99 robot is a bargain if it works.

Posted by Richard | Report as abusive

The wireless thermometer is great for smoking pork or roasts, whole chickens, etc. when you don’t want to open the lid of the BBQ to check the temperature or even look at the meat.

Posted by Randy R | Report as abusive