As a technology and gadget-loving geek there is one consumer show that is the highlight of my year, and that is the Gadget Show Live at the NEC in Birmingham. This year I successfully applied for a press ticket, which gave me access to the press preview day yesterday, before the exhibition opens to the public today. I had a really fun day, scouring the halls for the most interesting gadgets and gizmos, and I’ve put together a list of the ten things I found most interesting or fun.
If you’re going to the Gadget Show Live over the next few days, these are the things I think you should look out for.
1 – The British Inventions Project
This area was a highlight of last year’s Gadget Show Live for me, and I’m pleased to report that again there is a lot of interesting stuff to see in this area of the show this year. Here you can find stands showcasing some of the best of British inventions around. These inventions have to win their place at the show, and then one of them is selected as the British Invention of the Year at the show. At this year’s show there are 20 inventions being showcased, and I enjoyed wandering around this area, seeing some really neat products, all born in the UK. Many of these inventions are still at the prototyping stage, and it was interesting to talk to the inventors about their plans. It’s great to walk around this area and see all twenty inventions in action, but the most interesting ones for me were:
SafeSip – a neat little cover which fits onto most drinking cups, glasses or even cans to turn them into a non-spill cup.
Child Angel – a kids wristband with GPS tracking technology which enables you to track where your child is, and receive alerts if they move out of a pre-defined “safe zone”
EasiSpread – a heated butter knife. Why has no-one thought of this before?!
Omnio Rider – this invention was selected as the British Invention of the Year at the Gadget Show Live, having already won the ‘Innovation Award’ from the Baby Products Association (BPA) at the Harrogate International Nursery Fair a few weeks ago. I can see why there is a lot of interest in this product – it’s a lightweight stroller that folds small enough to be worn as a backpack, and fits within all size requirements to be carried as hand luggage on a flight. I’m quite pleased my kids are now too big to need something like this, but I’ll be watching it with interest as the inventors attempt to raise enough money via crowdfunding to buy the tools they need to put this invention into production.
2 – The Kids Tech Toy Trail
If you’re taking kids to the Gadget Show Live this year, you must take them to the Kids Tech Toy Trail, in association with the toy and games manufacturer Vivid.
Kids follow a little path past 4 pods, each showcasing a different Vivid toy, some of which are available now, others of which will be launched later this year.
The toys showcased are:
Crayola Colour Alive – kids can colour in the pictures in the colouring book using the special pens provided, then take a photo of the picture with an app (free on Apple, Android and Windows Phone devices) to make their picture “come to life” on the screen. They can even take “selfies” of themselves with their character.
Real FX – billed as “slotless racing” this set provides two cars, two controllers and a number of track pieces (enough to put together 40 different layouts apparently). The track pieces are smooth, but the cars can sense where they are on the track, meaning you can actually set them to drive themselves around if you want. Or you can control the acceleration and steering from the controller, but be careful because when you do that there is nothing to stop you driving off the track!
My Friend Freddy – a toy aimed at preschoolers, My Friend Freddy is a soft and cuddle bear who can also interact with your child via an app. He will have simple conversations with the child, or play age-appropriate educational games with them. I was impressed with how cuddly Freddy was – he doesn’t have the usual hard battery box inside him that you find with similar toys.
I-Que – This is an intelligent robot with a difference. He not only tells jokes and dances, but he can answer your child’s questions. He is internet connected and can find the answer to any question by searching the internet. There are several layers of parental controls and protection involved in this process so you can be sure that any information I-Que repeats is appropriate for little ears, and he can be configured to refer some questions to an adult rather than attempting to answer them himself.
Of course the downside of taking your kids through the Tech Toy Trail is that they are highly likely to come out of the other end wanting ALL of the items – I know mine would!
3 – The Dyson Stand
Dyson have some really cool technology in their stable, and at the Gadget Show Live this year they have a large stand showcasing some of this technology. There were two products that particularly caught my attention. First of all there is the chance to see their much-anticipated robot vacuum cleaner, the 360 Eye, in action. This little robot will vacuum the floor for you all on its own – the “eye” technology helps it to “see” the shape of your room and then plan a route to ensure the whole area is covered. We have to wait for a while for this device to be available in the UK, but it’s definitely something I’ll be keeping my eye on.
Also at the Dyson stand you can get hands on with their latest cordless vacuum, the V6 Fluffy. The Fluffy has a new head which is specially designed to pick up larger debris (it’s fluffy, hence the name!), and I had a fun time clearing up the mess of sequins that the Dyson team kept putting down on the floor for testing purposes!
4 – The Hewlett Packard Sprout
I hadn’t heard of the HP Sprout before, but as there was an entire stand devoted to it I thought I had best check it out. And I’m glad I did. This is a Windows 8 based desktop computer with an added twist – an integrated overheard camera/projector allows the desktop to be expanded on to your actual desk top, and you can then interact with it in a very natural feeling way with gestures. One of the apps on display was a Crayola kids colouring app, and I could imagine how much my kids would enjoy “drawing” on the table with this. The Hewlett Packard team have some very slick demonstrations of the capabilities of this computer, so it’s worth paying a visit to their stand to see it “in the flesh”.
5 – The iFit Stand
Last year’s Gadget Show Live had a large section of stands showing off the latest fitness tracking technology. There weren’t as many stands of that type this year, but I was very interested to see the line-up of gadgets from iFit. They have a selection of health and fitness trackers, including some with analogue displays. I particularly liked the iFit Duo which has a reversible watch face so that you can flip it between analogue and digital display. With these wearable fitness devices becoming more and more popular it’s nice to see some that double up as attractive watches as well.
The iFit Duo transforms between a digital and analogue watch face #gsl15 @ifit A video posted by Ruth Arnold (@r2uk) on
But iFit don’t just do wearable fitness trackers they have a whole “ecosystem” of connected devices. They have an app that collects data from your tracker, and also allows you to enter your food diary and other information. It’s a no-brainer to add scales to the equation, but they also have exercise equipment that connects to the app, and even an internet-connected bed that tracks your sleep and can adjust the incline of the bed depending on how well you’re sleeping! They also offer an aromatherapy unit which will select the correct blend of essential oils for any deficiencies in your system, and a juicer which will prepare the perfect concoction for you (for example if you’ve just completed a heavy workout session it might suggest a protein shake).
6 – PowerUp 3 by Powered Paper Planes
Frustrated by making paper planes that then refuse to fly? The Power Up 3.0 is a simple kit that allows you to connect a propeller and rudder to your paper plane and then control it via a Bluetooth connection to your phone. Apparently you can get about 10 minutes flying time out of a single charge. The geekdaddy has already berated me for not buying him one of these! Although after we had to rescue his drone from a tree a couple of months ago, I’m not sure I’m going to let him have any more flying toys!
7 – MaKey MaKey
I’m always on the look out for cool ways to introduce the world of technology to kids, and MaKey MaKey ticks all the boxes for me. A simple electronics kit that allows kids to turn anything that conducts electricity into a keyboard. They were demonstrating a keyboard made out of carrots and a drum kit made out of saucepans. If you’re heading to the Gadget Show Live then you and your kids can get hands on with these kits too.
8 – iStick
I’m a sucker for a sign that says “The World’s First…”, and that is what drew me to the iStick stand. This is a neat little USB stick with a twist – one end is a standard USB connector and the other is a Lightning conductor for more recent iOS devices. This is an interesting idea as it makes it easy to copy pictures and videos between your Apple device and your computer without having to wrangle iTunes into submission.
9 – Instalens
My iPhone is my primary camera, and recently I’ve been getting more interested in systems which allow additional lenses to be connected to it, allowing for wide-angle or macro shots. The market leader in this category uses a system where the lenses clip over the edge of your phone, and you can see them at the Gadget Show Live this year, but you can also find another system, which is new to the UK having only arrived in this country 5 weeks ago. instaLens uses a magnet system to hold the lens on to your smartphone, making them compatible with pretty much any smartphone on the market.
10 – Little Bits
Sometimes the thing that catches my attention is a small part of a big display, and that’s what happened with Little Bits. I became aware of this kids electronics kit a couple of years ago when it’s inventor did a TED talk, and I loved the idea of turning electronics into components that plug together like Lego. At the time it was only available in the US, so, knowing that it would be something we wanted to have in the house, I ordered a kit from there, with exorbitant shipping costs. At the Gadget Show Live this year I spotted the kits on the TNS Distribution stand. I was delighted to learn that the kits and components are available now in Ireland and will be coming in to the UK later this year. And even though it’s just a couple of shelves on a larger stand, the visitors to the Gadget Show Live had been having fun plugging the components together to make different circuits!
So that’s my top ten picks of things to see at this year’s Gadget Show Live. If you’re visiting the NEC over the next few days remember to download the Gadget Show Live app (it’s free, and available on iOS, Android or mobile web). This has loads of information about the show, and an exhibitor list and floor plan so you can make sure you don’t miss anything.
If you’ve been to the Gadget Show this year, what were your favourite things that you saw? Let me know in the comments!
Disclosure: I received a complimentary press ticket to the Gadget Show Live press day this year. I am under no obligation to write about the show or any of the products listed above, they are my personal highlights.