As the high-tech sector tries to buck the global economic slump, inventors from Asia, the US and Europe vied to capture imaginations at CeBIT - the world’s biggest annual hi-tech fair – with ideas to ignite the market in the coming months and years.
The expo runs until Sunday.
Researchers at the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence, which works closely with several industries, was showing off a range of everyday objects rendered “smart”.
Its cutting-edge champagne bottles sound a bell when the bubbly has hit the perfect quaffing temperature, while an intelligent medicine cabinet lets you know when you last took your medication or need to get a prescription filled.
A so-called gentle alarm clock from Germany’s Simple Feature monitors sleep rhythms via a soft wristband fitted with sensors (pictured).
It then chooses a shallow sleep phase within 30 minutes of the desired wake-up time and goes off with a range of alarm tones including bird songs – encouraging what the firm says is a smoother start to a more productive day.
A new navigator developed by GPS device manufacturer Garmin can calculate not only the most direct route, or the one with the least traffic, but also the one that would use the least fuel. What’s more, it even adds up the money you will save on your journey!
“The EcoChallenge feature analyses the driver’s heavy or light-food pedal technique and braking as well as the car speed, and shows how well the driver is doing in the fuel-saving stakes,” the company said.
Innovations in the world of entertainment also drew the crowds.
Taiwan’s Aiptek is offering movies-to-go to with its Pocketcinema portable projector, complete with 2GB of memory to store films.
Dutch firm Adapt Mobile, on the other hand, has a pocket projector that lets you share life-size photos.
Billed as the first Skype video telephone, the Eee by Germany’s Asus is a home phone that allows cheap international video calls in better quality than on a standard computer.
German premium sound specialist firm Blaupunkt unveiled prototypes of what they called the world’s first Internet car radio, promising access to “thousands of stations” via cellular phone networks.
And fashionistas needing a little more bling must look no further than the Asus EEE S121 notebook, wrapped in supple dark leather and studded with Swarovski crystals.
The company also showed off its EEE keyboard PC, which can wirelessly connect to any TV.
In keeping with a “green” theme at this year’s event, USB sticks and photo cards by California-based ITP now come in biodegradable plastics made of corn.
And some of the proceeds will go to tree-planting projects.
Meanwhile, people plagued by the question “Did I leave the iron on?” can relax. Swiss firm digitalSTROM.org has developed a chip that can be installed in ordinary light switches. An “everything off” button switches every device hooked up to the system to “standby”, averting fires and cutting energy bills.
The fair is also showcasing a range of new ultra-thin, ultra-efficient netbooks that are easier on the wallet, including the first “zero-watt” laptop from Fujitsu-Siemens that uses no electricity when idle.
And then there was Japanese giant Toshiba, showing off televisions that use half the power of normal sets.
The CeBIT is spotlighting eHealth this year, featuring products that allow patients to receive better care from home, thanks to the Internet.
Bodytel of Germany has developed a blood sugar monitor for diabetics whose results can be beamed straight to the patient’s file at his doctor’s office via his mobile phone.
Similar devices keep watch on one’s blood pressure and heart rates.
In the Future Parc hall of CeBIT, all eyes have been on the Rollin’ Justin robot, developed by the German Aerospace Centre.
The robot has a humanoid upper body; but instead of legs, there’s a four-wheel omni-directional base that helps it “roll” around.
Justin is also capable of detecting and squeezing through tight areas such as doors, using smart technology to bring its “legs” together, or by lifting them using a spring mechanism, its inventors said.
Its appendages are robotic arms known as DLR-III, which have sensors that can calculate the weight and impact of any object they come in contact with.
This allows Justin to perform complex, delicate tasks such as preparing tea and “shaking a person’s hand without breaking it”, said one of its developers, Thomas Wimboeck.