Thursday, October 27, 2016
  • Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016
CES Report: Opening Day Roundup
In this June 11, 2015, file photo, the new Oculus Rift virtual reality headset is on display following a news conference in San Francisco. The much-hyped Oculus Rift virtual reality headset will cost $599 and ship to 20 countries beginning on March 28, the company said Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
The latest in gadgets: Making apps and robots that think
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Here are several opening day developments surrounding the consumer-electronics show in Las Vegas known as CES.

IBM CEO Virginia Rometty says the future of gadgets is not just connectivity, but the ability to analyze and "think."

While IBM isn't known for consumer technology, Rometty argued that her company's "Watson" artificial brain can enhance a variety of consumer products. In a talk Wednesday at the CES gadget show, she announced new partnerships with three companies that will use Watson, the IBM "cognitive computing" system that ran the table on Jeopardy a few years back.

Under Armour, the athletic apparel maker, is releasing a fitness app that uses Watson to analyze a users' activity, weight and other data to make personalized recommendations for diet and exercise. Medtronic, which makes medical equipment, has developed an app that uses Watson to help diabetics track their blood sugar level, diet and other factors to warn them of impending hypoglycemic events up to three hours in advance.

Rometty also introduced a humanoid made by Japan's SoftBank that uses Watson's intelligence to work as a mobile concierge in banks and stores. The robot uses voice recognition and synthesis to answer questions and recommend products based on the data it collects from customers.

— Brandon Bailey, AP Technology Writer, San Francisco

Celeb power
In an event as large and sprawling as CES, sometimes it takes star power to attract attention — the type of star power that Las Vegas and Hollywood understand so well.

Repeat celebrity CES attendees include former basketball star Shaquille O'Neal, comedian and television host Nick Cannon and radio/TV personality Ryan Seacrest. Shaq is here for Monster, the audio equipment maker; Seacrest has represented iHeartRadio and his own mobile keyboard company in the past. This year, both he and Nick Cannon, who was the event's "entertainment matters ambassador" last year, are leading sessions on tech.

Fitness trackers, of course, demand solid athletic endorsements, which is why sports stars such as football quarterback Tony Romo, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps and baseball hall of famer Cal Ripken Jr. are making booth appearances. All three are representing Under Armour, which announced a new fitness tracker Tuesday.

Most CES celebrity appearances anymore are reserved for evening performances or parties sponsored by various brands.

Hip-hop artist Fetty Wap is featured at a Google cocktail party Wednesday. Chris Brown, a resident performer at Drai's nightclub on the Las Vegas Strip who made news in the New Year when a woman accused him of battery, is the centerpiece of iHeartMedia's annual CES party on Thursday. He's denied any wrongdoing.

— Kimberly Pierceall, AP Writer, Las Vegas

Detroit West
The automotive presence at the CES gadget show in Las Vegas has grown so large that the show's organizers are bragging about supplanting Detroit.

"You could say we've shifted the center of gravity from Detroit to Las Vegas this week," Gary Shapiro, CEO and president of the Consumer Technology Association, said Wednesday at the introduction of Chevrolet's new all-electric Bolt compact car.

Companies that make auto electronics such as computers, cameras, laser sensors and maps are ubiquitous at the Las Vegas show as the march toward autonomous cars gains speed. But they're largely absent from the big Detroit auto show that opens next week.

Big automakers such as Ford and General Motors are now saving technology announcements for CES, leaving the Detroit show for new product introductions.

But those are down this year to 45, 10 fewer than last year.

— Tom Krisher, AP Auto Writer, Las Vegas

General Motors executives say the new Chevrolet Bolt electric car was designed so it can handle a future filled with cameras, sensors and supercomputers on the way toward autonomous driving.

"It is an upgradable platform for new technology," CEO Mary Barra said Wednesday as she introduced the car's production version, which boasts a 200-mile battery range, at the CES gadget show.

The five-passenger Bolt, priced about $37,500 excluding a $7,500 federal tax credit, has a 10.2-inch touch screen and can be recharged to 80 percent of its battery capacity in an hour on a 240-volt charger, she said. It will go on sale late this year as a 2017 model.

The Bolt should help GM in its alliance to provide cars and eventually self-driving vehicles to ride-sharing service Lyft. The company announced a $500 million investment in Lyft on Monday.

GM says the Bolt's higher driving range, which competes with upstart Tesla Motors at a lower price, should draw buyers even with low gas prices. Research has shown that limited range is a big barrier to many drivers, the company said. "This takes that excuse away," said GM product development chief Mark Reuss.

— Tom Krisher, AP Auto Writer, Las Vegas

Sony TV
Sony unveiled a prototype TV capable of showing 4K programming with a brightness level it claims is four times as bright as its competitors.

Using a technology it called Backlight Master Drive, the company said its prototype TV could emit 4,000 nits of brightness, which is four times as high as the 1,000 nits boasted by competitors LG and Samsung on their liquid crystal display TVs. It's about 10 times brighter than most sets today.

The company said the technology was unique to Sony. It also said it would launch an app called Ultra so users could buy and stream 4K movies that were also encoded for a new standard called high dynamic range (HDR). Titles to be made available include Sony Pictures films like "Elysium," ''Chappie" and "Fury."

Sony also showed off a flagship TV it calls the X93D it will launch later this year to show 4K HDR movies and shows. It said it would brand all its new TVs that are capable of playing the new format with the "4K HDR" label, not the "Ultra HD Premium" label that is sanctioned by the UHD Alliance, a group of electronics makers and studios of which Sony is a member.

— Ryan Nakashima, AP Business Writer, Las Vegas

FTC on Big  Data
The government says companies shouldn't use "big data" to discriminate.

The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday released a report with recommendations on how companies should use big data, or huge sets of information, when they incorporate it into decisions like hiring or lending. Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said during a talk at CES that it's important for companies to realize that using such data sets could exclude or hurt minorities.

The FTC's recommendations are not binding on businesses, but if they aren't followed, the FTC may scrutinize their practices.

The agency also says it will continue monitoring to see if companies' practices violate existing laws and "bring enforcement actions where appropriate."

— Tali Arbel, AP Technology Writer, New York

Droning on
The Federal Aviation Administration says it has developed a smartphone app to show drone operators where it's OK to fly and what areas are off limits.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta also announced at a news conference at the CES gadget show in Las Vegas that by early Wednesday, 181,061 operators had registered their drones as new rules require.

The FAA launched online registration Dec. 21. Officials say they hope registration will help them trace drones caught flying too close to manned aircraft or over crowds, and create a "culture of accountability."

The smartphone app, B4UFLY, uses maps that identify the operator's current location and restricted areas in a radius around the operator. It's available now for Apple devices from the App Store and for Android devices from the Google Play Store.

— Joan Lowy, AP Writer, Washington

Netflix growth
Netflix subscribers watched 12 billion hours of programming on the Internet video service during the final three months of 2015, a nearly 50 percent increase from the previous year.

CEO Reed Hastings disclosed the growth during a Wednesday presentation in Las Vegas at CES, a high-profile showcase for gadgets and technology services.

Netflix entered the fourth quarter with 69 million subscribers compared to the previous year's 53 million, a group that watched 8.25 billion hours of programming. That means Netflix subscribers watched a weekly average of 13 hours of programming in the 2015 period versus 12 hours in 2014.

The company's periodic revelations about the behavior of its subscribers are one of the few ways outsiders can gauge the popularity of its series and movies.

Netflix's stock rose $2.40 to $110.07 in early afternoon trading.

— Michael Liedtke, AP Technology Writer, San Francisco

Oculus Rift
The much-hyped Oculus Rift virtual reality headset will cost $599 and ship to 20 countries beginning on March 28, the company said Wednesday.

Bundles that include a powerful computer needed to use the device will be available for pre-order in February starting at $1499.

The pricing details and shipping information had been long awaited. Oculus, which Facebook bought in 2014 for $2 billion, began accepting pre-orders for the device at 11 a.m. E.T. on Wednesday.

It will also be available in some undisclosed retail locations starting in April.

The Rift comes with a built-in headphones and mic, sensor and an Xbox One controller. It also comes with a remote to help navigate virtual worlds.

PiperJaffray analyst Gene Munster said the cost of the Rift is higher than the $449 he expected, but said he still expects a few hundred thousand units to sell during 2016.

— Mae Anderson, AP Technology Writer, New York

Startup nirvana
The CES gadget show, which officially opens at 10 a.m. today in Las Vegas, has begun catering more heavily to startups hoping to break through the noise. The sprawling show has sections for wearable fitness gadgets, drones, autonomous vehicles, education, virtual reality, video games, robots, 3-D printers and smart homes.

The startups will help fill a gap left by many of technology's biggest names, who have been no-shows for some time. That roster includes Apple Inc., which has skipped the show since the 1990s, Microsoft Corp., which abandoned its keynote slot after 2012, Google's parent company Alphabet Inc. and Inc.

The Consumer Technology Association that runs CES is aiming for attendance this year at or below last year's record 176,000.

Shawn DuBravac, the CTA's chief economist, argues the show's maturity is a good thing because its focus has shifted over two decades from the "technologically possible" to the "technologically meaningful." In other words, it's no longer about a robot that can walk up steps. It's about robots that actually mow your lawn.

CES is first and foremost a venue for promoting the tech industry, and sometimes the hype falls flat. 3-D screen technology unveiled at CES in 2010 went from the next big thing to a mostly unused feature. Netbooks introduced in 2009 took a back seat to the iPad released a year later. And concepts such as the smart home have taken a really long time to materialize.

— Ryan Nakashima, AP Technology Writer, Las Vegas