When the lights go out in tech town

What happens to all those internet-connected refrigerators, robots and other devices when the power goes out?

Thousands of people attending the world’s biggest consumer technology show got a chance to test the battery life of the latest gadgets Wednesday when some showrooms and hallways went dark inside the vast Las Vegas Convention Center.

Power went out for about two hours at the annual CES tech show in Las Vegas. Sony, Samsung, Intel, Qualcomm and LG were among the companies with bigger booths in the convention center’s Central Hall, the area that was most affected and evacuated during the blackout. Some meeting rooms in South Hall also lost power.

Rick Rohmer, a product engineer with electrical-systems specialist Legrand, said the power outage affected only part of a booth for Qi, a consortium of companies that make wireless chargers. Most of its display was lit as hundreds of attendees passed by in the dark on their way to a brightly lit giant screen TV over South Hall.

“We lucked out,” he said. “If our extension cord went over there we’d be out of power.”

Officials blamed condensation from heavy rainfall, causing a transformer to go out. It was raining in Las Vegas on Monday and Tuesday — rare for a desert city.

Robots to help the sick

A plush, robotic duck may soon become a fixture in the world of children who have cancer — a social robot that can be silly, happy, angry, scared or sick just like them, and help them cope creatively with their illness through the power of play.

The duck, developed by robotics expert Aaron Horowitz and his company, is undergoing testing and is expected to be widely distributed by the end of this year.

Horowitz said he was diagnosed as a child with human growth development deficiency and had to give himself daily injections for five years. The experience, he said, made him want to help other children with illnesses, which led to his co-founding of the Rhode Island-based company Sproutel with a partner he met at Northwestern University.

Health care facilities from children’s hospitals to nursing homes have been experimenting for more than a decade with the use of robots for social companionship and emotional health. Some devices look like quintessential robots; others are designed as cute animal toys, such as the duck and Paro, a baby seal developed by Japanese researchers to lessen a person’s stress in the same way a real pet might. The machines’ technological sophistication varies, but they have similar aims: improving patients’ psychological well-being, reminding them of health-related tasks or teaching them about health goals.

Hotel tech

It takes just minutes for a room service attendant to respond to a text message asking for a soda, bringing the Diet Coke on a tray with a glass of ice and lime wedges, no need for the modern hassle of placing a phone call.

Thousands of guests at some of Las Vegas’ casino-hotels also can get towels, food and toiletries delivered with just a few taps on their smartphone. It comes as the staples of hotel room technology — a phone on a nightstand and a flat-screen TV — aren’t cutting it anymore in the hypercompetitive world of Sin City tourism.

Guests can use tablets to control room features like lights and temperature. Shower infusers and special lights promise travelers a chance to recharge. And a 4-foot-tall robot can point visitors to the nearest ATM. In the battle for millions of Las Vegas’ tourists, voice-assisted speakers and purification systems also are part of the push to attract ever-more-demanding customers and keep them coming back.

“The hotel brands or the casino brands are trying to make themselves evolve to become more relevant to a younger audience that is highly technologically enabled,” said Robert Rippee, director of the Hospitality Lab at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

I, Robot stripper

On a recent evening in Las Vegas during the CES technology show, robot strippers offered a window into technology's gender fault lines — not to mention our robot future.

From a distance, the mechanical humanoids on a strip-club stage looked something like real dancers in robot drag. But close up, they were clearly mannequins with surveillance-camera heads and abstractly sculpted feminine chests, buttocks and backs, shimmying and thrusting their boxy plastic hips.

On one level, this was a classic Vegas stunt, a cheap way for the club to cash in on the presence of the world's largest tech convention. After all, the android dancers weren't really strippers, since they wore no clothes; in fact, they were barely even robots, since they were tied to their poles and only capable of a limited set of motions.

But they still provided some striking parallels to the much bigger tech show nearby. The robots served a racy but utilitarian function by drawing gawkers to the club, much the way provocatively clad "booth babes" lure CES visitors to wares on the convention floor. And they offered a glimpse of futurism crossed with sex, the sort of thing previously provided by the porn expo that used to overlap with the final days of CES.

"I see robotic strippers and I see half-naked women on the showroom floor promoting products," said Ashleigh Giliberto, a CES attendee who works at a public-relations firm. "It's like, aren't we worth more than that?"

Stevie Wonder-approved

Trying to distinguish your product among the thousands at the CES gadget show is no easy feat, so it helps when music legend Stevie Wonder pays an unexpected visit.

Especially when your product is a "smart" piano designed to teach people how to play.

Piano teacher Gabie Perry was demonstrating the internet-connected device, made by a California startup, when someone told her that Wonder asked to try it. She thought it was a joke.

Wonder spent about 15 minutes playing tunes as a crowd gathered at The One Music Group's CES booth in Las Vegas. Wonder says he likes to visit the conference to "see new things" and meet people. He's among several celebrity musicians who attended, including rapper Iggy Azalea and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry.

When the lights go out in tech town

What happens to all those internet-connected refrigerators, robots and other devices when the power goes out?

Thousands of people attending the world's biggest consumer technology show got a chance to test the battery life of the latest gadgets Wednesday when some showrooms and hallways went dark inside the vast Las Vegas Convention Center.

Power went out for about two hours at the annual CES tech show in Las Vegas. Sony, Samsung, Intel, Qualcomm and LG were among the companies with bigger booths in the convention center's Central Hall, the area that was most affected and evacuated during the blackout. Some meeting rooms in South Hall also lost power.

Rick Rohmer, a product engineer with electrical-systems specialist Legrand, said the power outage affected only part of a booth for Qi, a consortium of companies that make wireless chargers. Most of its display was lit as hundreds of attendees passed by in the dark on their way to a brightly lit giant screen TV over South Hall.

"We lucked out," he said. "If our extension cord went over there we'd be out of power."

Officials blamed condensation from heavy rainfall, causing a transformer to go out. It was raining in Las Vegas on Monday and Tuesday — rare for a desert city.

The internet of yet more things

Today's vision of a smart home has more to do with what's technologically possible than what people really need.

Thus the endless parade of internet-connected wine openers, water bottles, meat thermometers and refrigerators, and a dearth of automation that would clean and fold our laundry, pick up things around the house or assist aging people as their physical strength wanes.

Not that some tinkerers aren't trying to come up with life-changing tools, often while trying to persuade consumers to share their routines and shopping habits to make all this work — and potentially opening the doors to hacking or surveillance in their homes.

Want to book an Uber ride from your fridge? Samsung has you covered with one of its latest refrigerator models unveiled in Vegas. Of if you're looking for a water bottle that "helps celebrate when you've met your hydration goals," the internet-connected Hidrate Spark 2.0 has arrived.

You can command a Whirlpool microwave to switch settings with your voice, but per regulations, you still have to walk over to push the button to start it (and of course put food in and out). A meat thermometer made by Apption Labs will send a notification to your phone app when your steak is fully barbecued.

Robots to help the sick

A plush, robotic duck may soon become a fixture in the world of children who have cancer — a social robot that can be silly, happy, angry, scared or sick just like them, and help them cope creatively with their illness through the power of play.

The duck, developed by robotics expert Aaron Horowitz and his company, is undergoing testing and is expected to be widely distributed by the end of this year.

Horowitz said he was diagnosed as a child with human growth development deficiency and had to give himself daily injections for five years. The experience, he said, made him want to help other children with illnesses, which led to his co-founding of the Rhode Island-based company Sproutel with a partner he met at Northwestern University.

Health care facilities from children's hospitals to nursing homes have been experimenting for more than a decade with the use of robots for social companionship and emotional health. Some devices look like quintessential robots; others are designed as cute animal toys, such as the duck and Paro, a baby seal developed by Japanese researchers to lessen a person's stress in the same way a real pet might. The machines' technological sophistication varies, but they have similar aims: improving patients' psychological well-being, reminding them of health-related tasks or teaching them about health goals.

Google vs. Amazon

The flash of the CES technology show in Las Vegas was all about robots, drones and smart gadgets. But its subtext was all about Google versus Amazon.

Both companies usually shun conventions like CES, preferring to debut gadgets at their own press events. But the tech giants built an imposing presence there this year as they worked to weave their voice-operated digital assistants more deeply into our personal lives.

Google plastered digital billboards and the Las Vegas Monorail with the "Hey Google" wake-up command. It announced a range of new gadgets featuring its assistant on everything from smart displays to pressure cookers. And it sent out the clowns — a jumpsuit-wearing army of advertising associates wearing brightly-colored Converse sneakers and hovering around partner firms' booths to explain how Google's technology works.

Amazon, which grabbed an early lead in this market, opted for a more subtle approach. Instead of an advertising blitz, its Alexa digital assistant merely popped up regularly in "smart" products across the convention — everything from mirrors and toilets to headphones and car dashboards.

Hotel tech

It takes just minutes for a room service attendant to respond to a text message asking for a soda, bringing the Diet Coke on a tray with a glass of ice and lime wedges, no need for the modern hassle of placing a phone call.

Thousands of guests at some of Las Vegas' casino-hotels also can get towels, food and toiletries delivered with just a few taps on their smartphone. It comes as the staples of hotel room technology — a phone on a nightstand and a flat-screen TV — aren't cutting it anymore in the hypercompetitive world of Sin City tourism.

Guests can use tablets to control room features like lights and temperature. Shower infusers and special lights promise travelers a chance to recharge. And a 4-foot-tall robot can point visitors to the nearest ATM. In the battle for millions of Las Vegas' tourists, voice-assisted speakers and purification systems also are part of the push to attract ever-more-demanding customers and keep them coming back.

"The hotel brands or the casino brands are trying to make themselves evolve to become more relevant to a younger audience that is highly technologically enabled," said Robert Rippee, director of the Hospitality Lab at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.