OnQ

Dispatch from the edge of CES 2015

22. Jan. 2015

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

Kyle Monson is a tech journalist and co-founder of Knock Twice. The views expressed are the author’s own.

CES is the world’s biggest tech show, with almost all of the big global tech brands represented. They’re in the cavernous halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center, and their so-called “booths” are actually massive installations. (You can get a look at Qualcomm’s booth in this CNET photo tour. Also, Qualcomm was judged to have the best carpet at the show by Business Insider, but that’s neither here nor there.)

But besides the big brands, CES is also one of the best conferences for looking at the inventions and hardware innovations being developed by startups around the world. There’s a worldwide maker movement happening, and it’s never been easier to do the rapid prototyping necessary for inventing a viable product and launching a hardware startup.

The Sands Expo hall is ground zero for these companies at CES, but they’re also on the fringes of the bigger halls at the convention center as well. They aren’t easy to find though. Their booths are small. Sometimes only as big as a card table and some signage. They tend to be at the extreme sides or the back of the halls. But it’s at these booths that we can see what it means to be an inventor in 2015. And just because the booths are small doesn’t mean they don’t have good products, massive potential impact, or a good story to tell.

I spent two days wandering the show floor, talking to as many people as I could, and looking for good stories. I found one way at the back of the South Hall, literally the last booth before the back wall. A young lady dressed as a kangaroo (a “sexy kangaroo,” if such a thing is possible) invited me to check out a tablet cover with a built in swivel and kickstand. The idea is you can swivel, prop up, and arrange your tablet any which way without taking it out of the cover. The product is called rooCASE, and the founder told me their story.

“What does this look like?” he said, pointing to the swivel mount.

I looked closely. It was a camera lens cap.

Lens caps turn smoothly while staying securely attached, but the technology was apparently never patented. The rooCASE guys saw an opportunity to hack that technology, and they invented a product and built their own company out of it.

Will it change the world? Nope. Do they need sexy kangaroos to grab the attention of showgoers? Probably; they’re the very last booth on the entire show floor. But they’ve got a product and they’ve got an interesting story to tell, way out in the hinterlands of CES.

Another example is Keen Home, a startup that my company works with. Their booth is as small as any booth I’ve seen at the show—just a simple table with some product samples, right in the middle of the Sands show floor. But from that tiny space they’ve gotten a bunch of media attention (including CNET’s and Mashable’s “interesting stuff at CES” lists) based on the strength of the product idea. They make smart vents, which intelligently adjust the climate control throughout a home by controlling the vents. That can save the user money on their energy bill without affecting their comfort—a great example of how the Internet of Everything can improve lives.

I’ve been attending CES for almost 10 years, and I’ve never seen so many startups and inventors at the show, demoing new products and interesting ideas. They aren’t always easy to find among the bigger, louder, flashier booths at the show, but the hidden gems here are worth digging for.

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