CES Day Three: Familiar Names, And Some Cool Upstarts
LAS VEGAS — Tuesday dawned sunny and invigoratingly cool in Las Vegas, so it was time for a little road trip.
In the Central Plaza out front of the Las Vegas Convention Center, to the amazing exhibit of Chrysler Group, back from the dead financially and showing off some of the spiffiest technologies at the Interantional Consumer Electronics Show.
Sue Frederick of Chrysler PR and Joni Christensen of Chrysler uConnect gave me an overview of Chrysler’s new and improved uConnect in-vehicle connectivity service, which seamlessly links everything in the car, from sound system to heating controls, with stuff like navigation and phones.
“The most important thing is that it’s easy to learn and easy to use,” Christensen said.
Included is a built-in Garmin navigation system with voice commands.
The Dodge Charger all this tech and screens are loaded into features three different control systems — there are controls for an awful lot of things on the steering wheel, controls on a big touch screen, and traditional knobs and buttons below that touch screen. That way, Christensen said, drivers can use the controls they’re most comfortable with, and can transition as they wish to touch-screen controls.
Oh, and the Charger also had an absolutely killer sound system, thanks to no less a music personage than Dr. Dre. I’m quite certain it could make a dead man’s ears bleed.
My next stop was the booth of Ada-based Fulton Innovation, which continues to advance the state of the art in wireless power and wireless charging.
Fulton is a spinout of Amway Corp., developing technology Amway invented to get power to a water pump without having to put wires through water.
Fulton is showing off really big wireless power — wirelessly charging a Tesla electric roadster — to really small, cell phones. Fulton is even using wireless power to make consumer packaging blink and glow, using metallic inks. Fulton is working with Western Michigan University, home of one of the nation’s top printing and paper technology programs in this effort. So don’t be surprised if you’re shopping soon and the corn flakes box starts blinking and playing a merry little tune.
Fulton’s Bret Lewis said we’re not far away at all from seeing bins in cars into which you can simply toss anything from a properly equipped wireless phone to a tablet computer to a video player, and have it automatically recharge wirelessly.
As for the charge that wireless power is inefficient, Lewis said Fulton is now achieving efficiency rates of over 90 percent for its wireless charging — comparable to the efficiency rate of a conventional wired charger, which always loses part of its power in heat.
A first-timer at CES is Southfield-baesd Airfoil Public Relations, which has a booth in South Hall amid IT and hardware companies. Airfoil exec Kevin Sangsland said the tech-based public relations and communications agency decided to spring $4,000-plus for a booth at CES because “it’s a really good place to meet brands that are up and coming, especially in wireless and mobility.”
Needless to say, a PR agency like Airfoil is on the CES show floor for visibility and awareness, and will be on the prowl this week for new tech clients.
My next stop was the busy booth of Maylong Group, the Rochester Hills producer of tablet computers, netbooks, navigation devices and computer accessories.
Maylong sells a variety of tablet computers with 7- and 10.2-inch screens that run on the Android operating system and various levels of Flash memory. Included are the M-250, the M-260, the M-285, the M-290, the M-970 9.7-inch touch screen model and the M-1000 10.2-inch touch screen model. All offer YouTube video streaming, WiFi connectivity, Web browsing and email.
Maylong also builds Android-powered tablet PCs, the 5-inch MG-550 and the 7-inch MG-700, and four GPS navigation devices, the 4.3-inch screen FD-450 and ML-415, the 5-inch FD-550.
It’s the sixth year for Maylong at the show, but its first in a larger, 20-by-10-foot booth on a busy corner.
Maylong was founded in 2006 by president David Valade and CEO Ming Wang, who went to graduate school together at Michigan State University. Ming was a technologist at OnStar and Valade owned an HR outsourcing company; they launched Maylong, initially as a GPS company. In May 2007, they licensed the “for Dummies” version of GPS, which they launched later in 2007, including 8,000 CVS stores. They got into the tablet computer business in 2010.
The company makes some very cool touch screen netbooks with a reversible screen and 4 gigabits of Flash memory that it plans to retail for $129.
The company also prides itself on its quick turnaround of cusotomer orders. Valade said he was driving back from the Big Ten football championship in Indiana Dec. 4 when he got a call asking if he could have 10,000 tablet computers in Toys R Us stores by Christmas. He said the company succeeded and fulfilled the order.
The company’s M-250 was the No. 1 tablet computer this past holiday season at Target.com, Sears.com, Kmart.com and Walmart.com. It retails for $99.
The company keeps an office in China and maintains a close relationship with its factory there, Valade said, in order to keep quality up.
The company has 15 employees working on design and engineering of its products, and about 12 sales representatives around North America.
At CES, Valade said, “we’re meeting with retail customers in the U.S. — Best Buy, Target, many different retailers, come see the new products and talk about 2012. There’s such a lead time, it’s amazing. A lot of the big guys have set what they’re doing for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day already.”
Valade said to stay tuned to Maylong for announcements on new products and local manufacturing.
And the company’s name? It’s a combination of a shortened version of the Chinese words for “dragon” and “eagle” — in other words, China and the United States.
From there it was a quick visit to Fuse, the company formerly known as FoneGear LLC. Based in Rochester Hills, this company is in its eighth year and is selling all many of phone accessories, chiefly for the iPhone.
Senior product manager Jonathan Stein said the company’s Power Slice, a device that charges up to four portable devices at once, continues to sell well.
New on the market is an anti-bacterial screen guard. Stein said there’s real interest in the technology from the hospital market, where infection can be a life or death issue.
Fuse also continues to make hay with its Harley Davidson motorcycle branded merchandise — everything from phone cases to tablet computer covers. Much of the merchandise is ruggedized, rubberized and water resistant, meaning it’s actually intended to be used on the bike. Other hot sellers are Mossy Oak Break Up camo gear, now sold at Bass Pro and Cabela’s stores.
Fuse is also adding electronic gear like audio cabling, headphones and headphone splitters.
The company has 19 employees and no immediate openings, but Stein noted that “We have some plans for 2012 that if they work out, we will be expanding.”
I next visited one of those little companies that makes me really glad I come to CES — one of several such companies I would see Tuesday, in fact.
Smart Cord is the brain child of Arnold Goetzke of Ypsilanti and his ZMote Corp.
Essentially, it’s a Bluetooth-controlled extension cord. Plug something in to this baby and download the app, and you can turn the cord on and off with your smartphone.
“I used it this year to control my Christmas lights,” Goetzke said.
Goetzke is a former Chrysler Corp. employee who left the automaker five years ago. He’s here at CES, paying $4,000 for a small booth to chase an entrepreneurial dream.
And in fact it’s already happening. Smart Cord, at a retail price of $39.95, goes on sale at Amazon.com at the end of the month.
More at www.zmote.com.
Next up, another of those little entrepreneurial companies — Williamsburg-based Twin Bay LLC, which ias developed a device called 3feet. It’s a plastic bracket designed to hold your smartphone, tablet or e-book at a comfortable angle for hands-free reading.
“A couple years ago I was coming back from the East Coast and I wanted to read on my iPad,” said Twin Bay president Albert Werth. “After two hours of holding it I got tired, so when I went home I went on the Internet to buy something to hold it, but there wasn’t anything. So I decided to build one.”
Werth’s Twin Bay makes most of its living by making highly engineered plastic parts for medical devices, so a tablet stand was a snap. It also has the advantage of being engineered out of medical-device-quality materials. And if it gets dirty, Werth said, just toss it in the dishwasher to clean it.
This is Twin Bay’s second year at CES after winning a new product award last year. The product is selling best in Japan at this point, Werth said, and he’s back at CES seeking more sales.
More at www.3feet.com.
Next up, Whitmore Lake-based Vanguard USA Inc., which sells a wide variety of really cool tripods for photographers, as well as optics like binoculars.
New this year, Vanguar’s Brian Jacobs and marketing manager Jody Lamb told me, was tripods that use levels to automatically make sure the picture will be taken straight. Very cool, at a price point of $169 to $249, and capacities from 22 to 44 pounds of camera gear.
Then it was outside to the huuuuuuuge display tent of Van Buren Township auto supply giant Visteon Corp. Last year, Visteon was showing entire cars loaded with its concepts. This year, said Tim Yerdon, Visteon global director of innovation and design, Visteon is showing the components that will go into new concept cars next year.
My favorite was an automotive dashboard display that’s customized by the country of the consumer — heavy on graphic symbols and not words for the United States and China, heavily hierarchical with lots of levels of menus to suit the German character, and a lovely blue inspired by Lord Krishna for India.
Eventually, Yerdon said, the idea is to have cars that customize themselves to you automatically through a smart device — whether it’s your personal car or a rented car.
Then it was back into the Las Vegas Convention Center’s South Hall for a visit with another entrepreneurial company, Lethal Protection of Owosso.
Sort of like yesterday’s PC Treasures and today’s 3feet, company founders Brian and Melissa Zoll said they searched in vain for a product that would hold a smartphone or a tablet at a convenient angle for viewing — including hanging from other objects.
“Brain was listening to the iPod int he truck with the dog, and the dog kept knocking the iPod around, and he thought, ‘this thing needs legs,’” Melissa Zoll said. “He built the first prototype in our basement.”
After a year of building the devices, called Life Phorm, one by one at home and selling them online, Melissa Zoll said she and her husband are now negotiating with a company in India to build them for the mass market.
Life Phorm, which somewhat unsettlingly resembles a spider, sells for $69. A high-end version made of aircraft-quality metal sells for $149.
The device is cool enough that it won a CES Innovations 2012 award. Melissa Zoll said they should be available in commercial quantities by late April. She said the company’s concentrating on finding a distributor and selling on Web sites like Amazon and Newegg
More at www.lethalprotection.com.
Then it was over to North Hall, where I would spend the rest of a very long day. My first visit there was Elektrobit, the Finnish-German automotive software company that is building a U.S. presence in Farmington Hills.
At CES, Elektrobit is showing off the automotive world several pieces of innovative software — Street Director, a “white label” navigation device software system that Elektrobit’s customers put their own look and feel and branding on; EB guide, human-machine interface development software that helps automakers combine information from inside the car with devices outside it, all seamlessly, and in a manner that doesn’t distract the driver; and embedded control unit software that helps automakers control auto systems.
The target market, of course, is automakers and Tier 1 suppliers. Gosh, this CES is getting downright automotive.
Elektrobit software is already famous, you just might not have known it — it was behind the original Ford Sync database, and it also powers General Motors’ gorgeous (and just-unveiled) Cadillac Cue vehicle infotainment system.
The company has 25 employees in Farmington Hills, and of course, it’s looking for software engineers.
Next it was a stop at the booth of Waterford Township-based Silent Call, which makes devices that warn the deaf and hard of hearing of dangers like fires, tornadoes and break-ins.
The deaf, after all, can’t hear the doorbell, much less a burglar alarm, weather alert radio or smoke alarm. Silent Call makes a device that not only warns the user of danger, it displays a different code for each type of danger, whether burglar or fire alarm.
Company officials say they build every one of their devices locally and test each one before it leaves the factory, which contributes to a tiny device failure rate of .01 percent.
Like so many other companies, Silent Call is at CES trying to meet new distributors and dealers.
More at www.silentcall.com.
Grand Rapids office furniture maker Steelcase was my next stop. The furniture giant is dipping one small toe into the CES pool, displaying a single product in a CES area devoted to higher education technology.
That product, media:scape, allows collaboration between different participants in a meeting, regardless of the type of device they’re packing — PC, Apple, tablet, smartphone, whatever.
There are versions of the device that build into conference tables, or sit on them. There’s also a media:scape unit mounted on a rolling cart with space for a 40-inch TV monitor. Prices range from $6,000 to $20,000.
Customers can visit Steelcase’s media:scape Web site at this link http://www.steelcase.com/en/products/category/workspace/freestanding/media-scape/pages/overview.aspx for a free demonstration.
Wow, did I really visit 14 companies today? Yeah, I guess I did. Last but certainly not least was Sonic Alert. This Troy company has been supplying amplified alarm clocks, telephones, signalers, and personal listening devices for over 39 years. There’s a bit of overlap with Silent Call, but not everything.
New this year at Sonic Alert is Sonic Bomb Jr., an amplified alarm clock with a bed-shaking vibrating device, and at just $35 it’s just the thing for the hard of hearing person or heavy-sleeping college student on a budget.
Sonic Alert has also introduced new amplified phones with big button displays that automatically adapt to hearing aid wearers, intended for those with hearing and vision problems.
Sonic Alert is always on the prowl for new distributors and is also looking for CES press (hey, that’s me) to get the word out to baby boomers on the products. You know, since we’re all going deaf from too much loud rock’n'roll and all.
More at www.sonicalert.com.
Well, after pounding the pavement at the Las Vegas Convention Center from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (that’s 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Michigan time), I was beat, so I headed back to my modest (I promise, boss) room at Bally’s, where I’m hoping to finish up the newsletter at a decent hour after staying up well past 3 a.m. Eastern time the past two nights.
Yeah, I know, waah, poor baby, thousands of nerds would probably gladly take my place right now. Okay, fine, but I bet their feet would be hurting right now just as badly as mine.
I’ve got one more day at CES tomorrow and plan to make the most of it, visiting the rest of the Michigan companies at the Las Vegas Convention Center and just taking in some general sights. Tally ho technology!