The Best Of CES 2013: Popular Science’s Products Of The Future

Including e-medicine pods, a 4K tablet, Audi's self-driving car and more

Let’s agree on one thing: CES is a spectacle. Giant TVs, cars of the future, internet-enabled everything. It’s all here. And a lot of it is garbage. But there are always a few products that manage to push the envelope in their respective categories and change conversations. This year, we’ve selected 15 innovations. They include devices that will alter how we game, watch TV, exercise, and even play with Legos. These are PopSci‘s CES 2013 Products of the Future.

Lego Mindstorms EV3

As if a world of hackers and DIYers haven’t done enough with Mindstorms robots–the world-record holder for solving a Rubik’s cube is actually a Mindstorms creation–Lego has now given them an entirely new robotics kit, dubbed the EV3, to tinker with. The most CES-y of the changes is the addition of a Bluetooth radio to the Intelligent Brick, which allows the EV3 to be controlled via an Android of iOS app. In terms of overall capabilities, the processor is 2x faster than its predecessor, the motors stronger and more-responsive, and new infrared eyes allows the ‘bots to navigate semi-autonomously. That should keep all those hackers busy for a bit. ($350, available summer)

Tobii Rex

Tobii’s technology uses your eyes to replace your mouse cursor, and the company’s monitor-mounted REX peripheral now allows virtually anyone to take advantage of it. At CES 2011, startup Tobii and Lenovo launched a custom-designed notebook that used Tobii’s eye-tracking technology. Two years later, Tobii has launched the REX, a $995 developer module that hopefully will be a consumer product in the near future. The REX attaches to the underside of your LCD monitor. After about 30 seconds of training, the REX’s electronic eyes follow your own, allowing you to control your cursor with just your eyes. It’s amazingly accurate, although you’ll still need to “click” with your keyboard.

iRiver ON

For many, a morning run means hauling along three pieces of tech: a pedometer or other fitness monitor, plus an MP3 player and headphones. The new iRiver ON, set to debut in March, combines two into a single product: the Bluetooth wireless audio headset includes an ear-mounted sensor package from Valencell that can determine heart rate, distance, speed, cadence, VO2 max (aerobic fitness level) and calories burned. Valencell’s CEO tells us that more licensees will be announced soon, although iRiver should be first out of the gate. Pricing has not been announced.

Parrot Flower Power

Wouldn’t it be nice if your plant told you when it needed water? Okay, so it can’t–but the Parrot Flower Power, Parrot’s next “project,” is the next best thing. Customers will need to buy one per pot. Once “paired” against a database of plants, the Flower Power will automatically sense whether your plant needs water, fertilizer, or to be moved in and out of shade. It will then wirelessly communicate its needs to your smartphone, reminding you that you’d better water your poor plant before it fries in the sun.


HealthSpot hopes its telehealth kiosks will catch on in pharmacies around the country. Customers sign up for a $59 to $79 appointment, health insurance or not, and then enter the kiosk, sliding the door shut. A video link then connects the patient to a doctor, who can diagnose any ailments via a number of remotely monitored medical instruments built into the kiosk. HealthSpot’s attendant eliminates the “ick” factor by thoroughly cleaning the kiosk after each use; an ultraviolet light then sterilizes it before the next visitor arrives.

Audi’s Self-Driving Car

Move over Google. Audi’s “self-piloting” car is the first licensed automaker to test autonomous vehicles in Nevada, and company executives were busy showing off its coupes weaving through traffic and parking themselves without human intervention. Interestingly, Audi also built a dramatically smaller LIDAR, the rotating laser “eyes” of the car, which it intends to build into the front grille. The next steps? Removing a trunkful of computer hardware and integrating it into the existing electronics, while lobbying more state governments to allow autonomous vehicles.

Lilliputian Systems Nectar

Until now, the most power a person could carry in a re-charge brick was about four smartphone recharge cycles. The Nectar fuel-cell charger more than triples that. The card-deck-sized charger runs off a replaceable butane cartridge. Powering with butane is nothing new, but the designers had to contend with an extremely hot chemical reaction to make the Nectar safe; the solution is a network of silicone-nitride tubes that capture and re-circulate temperatures up to 1,800 degrees. The device can juice a smartphone once a day for two weeks, which would’ve come in handy near PopSci HQ a few months ago. ($300, available May)

LG “Hecto” 100-inch Laser TV

Even if we don’t all have rooms large enough a gigantic TV, many of us want one anyway. The best way to get a huge screen is to opt for a projector instead of a physical TV set; trouble is, projectors don’t work terribly well in small spaces, because they need to be set up across the room–typically 10 or more feet from the wall they’re projecting onto. LG’s laser-based Hecto projector, though, can sit less than two feet from the wall and still create a bright, 100-inch image, distortion-free. That all means the Hecto can sit on your existing TV console, instead of forcing you to reconfigure an entire room around it. LG throws in a 100-inch wall-mountable screen with each Hecto system. ($10,000, available March)

Panasonic 4K Tablet

Panasonic seems to have asked itself a simple question this year: why should TVs have all the 4K fun? Their 20-inch 4K tablet has just as many pixels as Sony’s whopping 84-incher or Westinghouse’s confounding 110-inch model. On the surface the sell is simple: the images are beautiful. Ad they better be; Panasonic is touting the device as a perfect tool for creative pros, such as architects and photographers, who need crisp precise rendering. But alas, as is so often the case with beautiful things as CES, we have no idea when this will go into production.

Samsung 45mm 2D/3D Camera Lens

Typically, shooting 3-D photos or videos requires a pair of cameras, or at least two lenses. But Samsung borrowed some tech from their active shutter 3-D glasses to create a more efficient solution. Their new NX300 camera shoots 1080p video at 60 fps. TwoLCD shutters inside the lens open and close in an alternating fashion leaving you 1080p 3-D video at 30 FPS. We saw the footage on the show floor and it looks great. The best part, though, is that turning off the 3D feature leaves you with a full-featured 45mm 2-D lens, taking it out of the realm of specialty, or even novelty lenses. ($500)

Nvidia Project Shield

Announced on the Sunday before CES, Project Shield was the first bonkers prototype we saw this year. It’s like someone’s wildest dream of an Android gaming device: a full controller, wireless beaming of games from a PC, 5-inch touchscreen, 4K output…it’s like a checklist of top-tier specs brought to life.

Sony 56-inch 4K OLED TV

One of the trademarks of CES in the past few years has been a single display that instantly takes the crown of “the best screen I’ve ever seen.” This year, that was Sony’s 56-inch 4K OLED, an absurd riot of vividness and clarity. Colors pop almost violently, blacks are deeper than the black heart of CES itself, movement is perfectly clear. It’s downright breathtaking.

Basis Band

This is a first for us: we’ve chosen to award the same product two years in a row. And that’s because the Basis Band, a fitness/health tracking device shaped like a wristwatch, underwent some changes that really make it a totally different device this year than it was last year. What’s most amazing about the Basis Band is that it’s smart now, thanks to software updates; it doesn’t just give you data, it analyzes that data and gives you recommendations based on it. It’s truly the next generation of fitness trackers–not just “hey, here’s a chart,” but more “hey, you should probably get up and walk around the office for 15 minutes if you want to meet today’s health goal.” Awesome.

Xi3/ Valve Piston Steam box

Steam has quickly become the go-to spot for PC and Mac game downloads, sort of like the iTunes music/video store for computer gamers. And just like the iTunes store needed the Apple TV to get all that content onto the TV, we’ve been waiting for years for the fabled “Steam box” that’ll get that content onto a TV–and here it is, in the Piston. It’s a tiny, modular computer that acts like an upgradeable console, and uses a special interface so it’s easy to buy games and navigate with a controller from 10 feet away while sitting on a couch.

Razer Edge

The Razer Edge is a gaming-focused Windows 8 tablet. Imagine a mid-range gaming PC stuffed into an iPad-sized tablet, running a full version of Windows. Cool! Now give it the ability to pop into a keyboard stand for keyboard-and-mouse gaming, give it a dock to beam its content to a monitor or TV, and give it an awesome dual-joystick dock that makes it some kind of mutant ultrapowerful Wii U controller–but with the full catalogue of Windows games. Plus, it’s actually one of the most promising Windows 8 devices we’ve seen–one of the few that legitimately is great and could not exist on any other platform.