Robots, virtual and augmented reality showcased at Computex in Taiwan


Posted at Jun 03 2017 12:47 AM

TAIPEI - Four years ago, nearly every booth at Computex featured smartwatches, smart glasses and other wearable computers. Action cameras were also big back then.

This year, only a handful of booths featured wearables and hardly any featured action cams. 

Without doubt, Computex is the biggest tech trade event in Asia. 

Every year, this event attracts major Asian tech companies as well as the biggest electronics manufacturing outsourcing firms that want to showcase their latest products and services. 

With most of the high-tech electronics manufactured in Asia, Computex also points to the emerging trends that may come to define the tech landscape in the near future.

Four years ago, the trend pointed to wearables. This year's trend is a little harder to pin down, but several technologies were more prominent than others. 

It wasn't too long ago when Computex was also awash with virtual reality (VR) devices. This year, most of the minor players in VR have been virtually eliminated, leaving only the big players that are serious about raising the level of VR technology.

Companies such as Asus demoed their VR headsets using games. The fields of architecture, engineering and education were supposed to be rife for VR apps but, so far, games still make the most of VR. 

Besides VR, another trend that promises to be big soon is augmented reality (AR). 

Pokemon Go barely scratched the surface of the possibilities of AR last year. With Google’s release of its Tango platform for AR, the technology may soon gain wider traction, especially in smartphones.

Ahead of Computex, tech journalists were treated to a demo of the Asus Zenfone AR, one of the first phones to take advantage of Tango.

While Pokemon Go merely imposed 2-dimensional animations over footage being captured by smartphones, Tango promises a more immersive 3D, AR experience. 

Robots also made a splash at Computex. A startup company called Robelf demoed a robot that's supposed to respond to voice commands, monitor homes, act as a house assistant, and help parents tutor their kids.

Robelf, which seeks crowdfunding via Indiegogo, said the first batch of units will cost just $349 and will ship in July. 

Another robot, which made an appearance at Computex was Pepper from Japanese tech giant Softbank. Pepper, introduced in 2014, appeared at the Microsoft booth. 

Microsoft said it is working with Softbank to upgrade Pepper's abilities using Microsoft's Azure cloud-computing platform. 

Softbank gave Pepper the ability to recognize human emotions, but was never clear about what purpose the robot might serve. Meanwhile, Microsoft eyes Pepper for deployment in retail industries to help shoppers.

Meanwhile, the Asus Zenbo, introduced at Computex last year, continued to attract onlookers. Zenbo is also a smart personal-home assistant. It can recognize voice commands, monitor the house, call family members during emergencies, help tutor the kids and even function as an entertainment device. 

Zenbo went on sale in Taiwan earlier this year. While Asus CEO Jerry Shen confirmed that the company intends to sell Zenbo in other countries, he said addressing voice- and language-recognition issues is needed before marketing the tech elsewhere.

The days of powerbanks may be numbered as several companies demoed new systems for wireless charging at Computex. 

While most high-end mobile phones today still rely on charging pads, the new systems showcased at Computex promise to charge your mobile devices from a distance.

Korean firm Warpsolution, which makes the wireless charging system, claims that it can charge phones from up to 4.5 meters (nearly 15 feet) away using radio waves. 

While this wireless system presently uses dongles to recharge batteries, Warpsolution said its system can eventually be integrated into smartphones. The company said power transmitters can be placed at offices, cafés and other public places, making wireless charging ubiquitous.

Wi-Charge demoed another wireless charging system that uses infrared lasers to deliver power. As it says on the sign: this train has no batteries. However, the system's drawback is that it needs a direct line of sight from the transmitter to the device.

Like wearables a few years back, some of the emerging trends at this week's Computex may turn out to be duds. But some of them may also prove to be disruptive technologies.

Computex runs until June 3 at the Taipei World Trade Center.