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The hidden economic boom at CES

Patrick Thibodeau | Jan. 7, 2015
The show appears to be mostly about novelties or expected tech toys -- unless you look hard enough.

ces press event photo
Much of the press attention at the International CES trade show has been on trends and novelties, but there are some compelling technologies to be found as well. Credit: Patrick Thibodeau/Computerworld

LAS VEGAS -- The forecast from Harvard that the Internet of Things (IoT) will unleash a new economic boom is not immediately apparent at this year's International CES. Most of the new technologies on display here are forgettable novelties.

The most immediate trend by device makers is to add a wireless radio, processor and sensor to anything with space to house them: toothbrushes, baby pacifiers, bicycles, and sports equipment -- all connected to a data recording app. Gesture technology, very prevalent, is nice but no must-have. Home automation and wearable products proliferate. Photographers from around the world get on bended knee to snap a photo of the latest connected coffee pot.

IoT-related demonstrations are mostly incremental. The big Panasonic new conference Monday that included its IoT home security device might have been interesting in 2011. The Sharp "near 8K" TV, also revealed Monday, was stunning in its clarity and brilliance. But these kind of advances are expected these days and rarely excite.

There has been, so far, no breakthrough technology unveiled.

But there is something interesting going on at CES. It's still on the fringes and is championed by people with backgrounds in computational systems biology, physics, electrical and software engineering and other hard science skills. They see the ocean of wearables and imagine something completely new arising.

These scientists, part of team of about 16, work for LifeQ and were something of an oddity at CES. This firm had no technology to demonstrate, and consequently, there was no line of reporters waiting to attend its news conference. But this firm will be selling a service that may turn wearables, such as smartwatches, into devices that can save your life.

LifeQ is an applied mathematics firm. It is using medical data collected over the last 100 to 150 years to create models that describe human physiology and then connecting those models with the input from sensors, said Riaan Conradie, a founder of LifeQ. Conradie has a PhD. in biochemistry.

An optical sensor pumps light into the skin at different wavelengths. There are certain molecules that absorb some of the light, and a portion of that light gets reflected back. From the patterns of reflected light, you can deduce a lot: hemoglobin levels, glucose levels and respiration data, among many other things, Conradie said in an interview.

"We deliver almost all the metrics that you need in an ICU setting," he said. The models can also determine stress and training levels, and because the body reacts differently to the types of food a person consumes, it's possible to know whether someone is eating a carbohydrate-heavy meal or a protein-rich one. In time, this system will be used to predict heart attacks or a higher risk for diabetes, he said.


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