Funky gadgets compete at Comdex

Among the devices, it is definitely the robots who are attracting the most attention on the floor show here. Sony's robot dog Aibo is making another appearance here this year. Visitors testing the robot pet Wednesday tried things like scratching it behind its ears, and stroking its back. The robot dog responded more or less as a real dog would do; for example, snuggling up to the hand that was stroking it.

While Aibo proved popular with show-goers, the competition is closing in.

A friendly, Star Wars-inspired, family robot called iRobot-LE from iRobot also attracted a lot of attention at the show. Unlike the toy Aibo, iRobot-LE is being marketed as a babysitter and general "help" around the house.

The idea is that the user can be anywhere in the world and still control the robot around the house from a Web site. Via a camera, the user can see where the robot is going, from the device's viewpoint. It also has a microphone and speakers through which the operator can listen and speak. Theoretically, you can let iRobot-LE climb the stairs, look in on the kids and read them a bedtime story, even if you are a thousand kilometres away. Besides climbing stairs, the robot can avoid obstacles and see above table tops. The robot is for sale in the US now for $US4999.

Another much smaller product could easily have found a home as a futuristic gadget in a James Bond film ten years ago. Now, it's really no big deal. However, this small pen-like camcorder and digital camera called Aiptek PenCam from Aiptek, created a lot of enthusiasm at the show.

"It's great, it's small, compact and it does video as well. I am going to buy a hundred of them and take them with me back to Australia," said Syd Borg, chief executive officer of PCS Australia, based in Sydney. Borg was patiently waiting in the crowd around the vendor's stand for someone from Aiptek to be free to see him. He said he was not going to leave until he had been able to place an order or get a reseller agreement with Aiptek.

One of the more crazy products shown here at Comdex this year has got to be software that lets the user send and receive scented e-mail.

DigiScents claims to have developed a technology that makes scents digital. It's a new programming language that transforms scents into a digital form and then back to scents again, according to DigiScents.

The user has to connect a device called iSmell to his or her computer to be able to smell their e-mail or use click-and-smell Web services for example. ISmell is a peripheral device that attaches to the serial port of a PC and can emit vapors. ISmell draws on software called ScentStream that synthesises the scents. The user can buy a digital scent index called ReminiScents, which comprises thousands of scents that can be fed into a computer and sent as e-mail, for example. According to DigiScents, this new technology could be used to sample groceries and perfumes before purchasing them online or to send and receive scented e-mail.

Fancy telling your TV to turn down the volume without having to pick up the remote control? Or telling your CD player to change the tune without touching it?

VoiceTel Systems is showing a prototype of a hands-free remote-control unit that is controlled by the user's voice. The user can order the unit to pick up a ringing phone and take a message, and, in the future, it will be able to control household devices and alarm clocks. According to VoiceTel, the user can soon plead with their alarm clock for just a few more minutes of sleep.

Aimed at the nuclear family, 3Com is touting its Audrey gadget. Audrey is a device that is supposed to reside in the kitchen and keep track of a family's whereabouts. It features e-mail functions, a Web browser and a calendar. It also lets the family members scribble messages to each other on the screen in their own handwriting. In addition, Audrey features a recorder and loudspeaker to send and receive recorded messages.

Another cool gadget shown here at Comdex is the Magic Stick, a pen-sized device that is a combined scanner, mouse and PC pen. It is developed by Swedish company C Technologies.

Xybernaut is showing its wearable PC here at the show. The user can wear the computer around their waist, for example. The PC is touch or voice activated.

Photo: Jorgen Skjelsbaek

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