Every year, the Gadget Show Live draws huge crowds of people, be they journalists, exhibitors or, in the majority, people who just love the cutting edge of technology. This year was no different, and we headed over to the Gadget Show Live 2016 to see what great technology we could get a look at. These are our highlights.
Virtual Reality – HTC VIVE
Virtual Reality (VR) was always going to be a big winner at this year’s exhibition, and as soon as we got into the hall, we were presented with a huge booth containing room-sized spaces for people to test out the HTC Vive in safety, to stop them bumping into people or knocking anything over.
We got in quick and booked a test slot immediately, knowing that the booth would be packed with people later on (and just an hour later there were people piling up in rows around it to watch) and we were one of the first to have a go.
The virtual reality headset rested surprisingly comfortably over my head and my glasses, which I didn’t think it would, and it was immediately immersive. Physically walking around moved my view perfectly in sync with my head movements, and there was no discernable lag or issue. It even gave a warning if I was moving too far from the centre and in danger of hitting a wall.
I was taken through a series of different demos to show off what the HTC Vive can do. The very first one was simply a balloon-generating mode. Using the two controllers, I could generate balloons and bat them around the room. A simple program which showed me as a user how to use the controllers.
The trial soon moved onto more breathtaking experiences, however, as I found myself standing on the prow of a sunken ship, far below the surface of the sea. Little fish swam round me in every direction, and reacted to my hands as I swished the water around me. The attendant in my booth encouraged me to walk to the edge of the ship and look down into the depths below, an experience so vivid I couldn’t help but feel trepidation and a bit of vertigo as I carefully peeked over the edge. I was then told to look to my right to find myself face-to-gigantic-eye with a massive blue whale. It was so realistic and vast that I was taken aback and even more awestruck.
Next came a fun simulation of an office work-life, and a little robot talked me through plugging in my computer and making myself a cup of coffee, all which I did with the dual wireless controllers. There was also a demo of a program called Tilt Brush which came from Google, and let me paint in the air in three dimensions.
Last of note is the main actual game demo that I played: Space Pirate Trainer, which was a lot of fun. The controllers became virtual guns and I was tasked with shooting robots out of the sky, with the option of deflecting laser bolts with a hand held shield, or simply dodging them (this made me feel a lot like Neo from the Matrix trilogy, but I’m sure made me look very weird to the people watching on the side lines).
The experience of being in the game, and of me being able to fire in a perfect trajectory to wherever my hand was pointing, was incredibly immersive, and quite simply, it felt really cool.
The HTC Vive really pulled this off well, powered as it is by the Steam VR, and I can completely see how VR tech is going to take the video game industry, and even the whole tech industry, by storm.
Also making use of the VR, Hive used a simulated ‘advert’ to show off their latest tech, and highlight the uses of it.
The products showcased are all aimed at making the idea of a smarthome a reality. First and foremost is a thermostat which can accurately change the temperature of different parts of the home. Having revamped the generic, dull look of the vast majority of thermostats, Hive are really pushing with this modern designed and practical home.
As well as the thermostat, they offer tech which can track whether your doors and windows are open and closed, as well as locked, and tech which can change the light settings in your home, as well as boost the water heating so that it is nice and hot for when you go for a shower.
All of this comes together and is controlled through a wireless box which connects to your home WiFi, and can therefore be controlled from a smartphone when you are out and about.
Even more stalls were dedicated to sound and vision gadgets, all aiming to improve the tech in your home and make it ever better, including from Otone Sound With Vision and Devialet’s Phantom. Philips also had a tiny little projector which somehow manages to produce a 100 lumen display directly from a laptop or tablet.
Other standout tech
There were other pieces of technology that were eye catching and interesting. Packed Pixels is a way to reliably and easily bring multiple monitors to laptop users. It utilises an elastic mount which attaches to a laptop of any screen size, and can be used to hang two smaller screens off the side, in a sort of ‘wing mirror’ formation. The versatility of the design means that the screens can be held portrait or landscape, and can face forward or backward, very useful for meetings when both the user and the audience need to view a presentation.
It is a fairly simple idea, but one which seems to have been executed perfectly, making use of the fact we can now create high resolution screens that are incredibly lightweight and small.
SAM: The Ultimate Internet Connected Electronics Kit also held a SAM Labs booth, showing off their kits and modules which are aimed at helping people to build their own ‘internet of things’. Using Bluetooth modules that are routed through a computer, the kits can be used to build anything from an automatic drum kit, to a door bell, to a little robot that is activated by a Tweet.
Using simple software, the SAM kits can easily teach anyone about electronics and the way that the so-called ‘internet of things’ will work in our society.
In a similar vein, the Raspberry Pi resurfaced, this time in tandem with a device which was essentially a gutted laptop. It could be filled with Raspberry Pi devices, and easily be used to network and wire them together, forming a whole device together.
Best British invention
The gadget Show crowned this year’s Best British Invention during the live show segment of the day, and the honour this year went to eFOLDI, a foldable, electric, mobility scooter. The inventor, Sumi Wang, received a cheque of £1,000 to help boost her along in the development of the eFOLDI. The scooter is durable, yet can be folded down to the size of a suitcase, making it very useful and easy to transport, and could drastically improve the lives of people with mobility issues and their carers.
In second place, of the total of 20 runners for the title of Best British Invention, was VRGO, an odd new approach to VR controls. The device is basically a swivelling chair with tilt controls, the movements of which translate immediately to the VR world, helping to make this incredibly immersive technology even more immersive.
In third place was a device called CleanGrow, which can measure concentrations of different nutrients in water or soil to a very accurate degree, but works immediately on-site, giving the potential to help remote corners of the world to improve the way they grow plants, and make the whole system more efficient and affordable.