I don’t know about you, but for me, January is the most depressing month of the year. Failed diets, winter weather which gets worse every year, and oh yes, the credit card bill!
However there is now one glimmer of hope, especially to a techie. And that is CES. The Consumer Electronics Show is one of the biggest technology shows anywhere in the world and features thousands of exhibits from companies across the USA and around the world. This is the place where you’ll find out not necessarily what will be on the shelves in the coming year, but what is on the horizon. The art of the possible, if you will.
This year the event was in full swing again in Las Vegas, featuring everything from rolled up televisions to smart diapers that can tell you when your baby has pooped. It truly is a marvellous world isn’t it?
Now I’ll be honest. I wasn’t always particularly interested in these big tech shows. For years most of the technology that was discussed wasn’t really accessible to me. It was all lovely but I’d never buy it. It just wasn’t a blind person’s thing. However, I’m glad to say all that has changed in the last few years. With accessibility becoming mainstream and the ability for more of today’s gadgets to be more accessible to us, things are looking up in a big way.
I’m not going to go through every single gadget that I saw covered from the various sites that excite me as this post would end up going on for months. Suffice to say, anything with Alexa or Google Assistant built-in is surely a good thing for us, because we will be able to control whatever it is with our voice. TV’s are featuring more smart assistants these days from the likes of Google and Amazon, but Samsung for example are installing their own Bixby smart assistant in all new TV’s which gives us more control to change channels and access content. Headphones are even getting in on the game as well with products from Jabra, Sony and JBL and others featuring Alexa which you can summon from a button on the headphones themselves. No more needing to ask your talking watch for the time! Smart assistant integration is even coming to the kitchen and bathroom with a range of products such as smart showers that allow you to control the switching on and temperature control of your morning shower with your voice from U by Moen. Kohler is a company that showed off an entire smart bathroom which included a smart mirror, a free-standing bath, lighted three-piece vanity, smart lighting and of course, a smart toilet. The Numi 2.0 Intelligent Toilet goes for $7,000 (or $9,000 in black) which apparently will offer a fully-immersive experience, meaning who knows what. Regardless it will be able to play your favourite songs with its built-in speakers and will respond to voice commands.In the kitchen, Whirlpool showed off a Smart Countertop Oven. It’s got a built-in camera and object recognition which means the oven can recognise the food placed inside and set the temperature and cook time on its own. It also has Alexa and Google-Assistant as well and costs $799. And if that’s not enough, appliance company Gourmia showed off three new smart assistant devices: a seven-quart digital air fryer, an 11-in-one deluxe multicooker (which can do everything from sous vide to roast) and a 10-cup coffee maker and grinder. All of these connect to a company-specific mobile app so hopefully that’s accessible.
As you can tell, a lot of the technology that was on display is not out of the reach of us which is great. What was also encouraging was the inclusion of a dedicated Accessibility area which coverd a number of areas including senior citizens, deaf people and those who have mobility issues. The blind contingent was supported by APH (American Printing House for the Blind) and Vispero, the company that is known for its screen reading and magnification solutions JAWS and Zoomtext. APH showed off a new product that has been gaining a lot of attention around the world. It’s called the Bristol Braille Canute and is essentially the first braille e-reader on the market. It displays around 9 lines of text at 40 cells per line and gives the capability to read a whole page of text at once just like someone with a Kindle. Also on show was the Giraffe tactile reader which has been created in partnership with Orbit Research. It gives users the ability to feel tactile images and diagrams. Vispero (formely known as VFO) showed off its popular JAWS screen reading software and its Focus Blue braille displays as well as other magnification devices.
For blind musicians, getting access to accessible electronic pianos has been a challenge. In recent years, Yamaha have attempted to make this easier by installing a voice-output on some of its range, but it’s far from universal. It’s clear that Roland wasn’t intending to make pianos more accessible to the blind but the new feature they showed off in their latest offering at CES described how you could use your voice to change settings. A step forward for sure.
Overall CES 2019 is going to be the event we look back on and laugh at all the crazy inventions that showed up, but for us as blind people, and specifically for me, this is the event of the year and most of the tech, be it intended for blind people or not, was accessible and available to me. I am very positive about the future of technology and more importantly of our ability to join in on the fun.