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Weird and Wonderful Are on Display at Vegas Expo

Connect To browse a photo gallery of devices and gadgets presented at CES, go to www.latimes.com/ces

January 10, 2002|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — A digital alarm clock that measures body fat. An electronic bracelet that tracks a child's or teenager's location 24 hours a day. A set of 3-D glasses that can view a lingerie show online.

If you think these products are too weird to be true, you've never been to the Consumer Electronics Show,the annual trade extravaganza that brings together thousands of manufacturers, inventors, dreamers and schemers.

Many of the items on the cavernous display floors of the newly expanded Las Vegas Convention Center this week belonged to well-known product categories: flat-screen TVs, MP3 players, car audio systems, hand-held computers, multi-use watches, vibrating chairs and robot dogs.

But often the most wonderous, amusing and even disturbing products were found in small booths, sans the dancers, costumed characters, autograph-signing celebrities and magicians that the big operators lavish on their booths. Some of these gadgets already areon the market, others are scheduled to go on sale in the next few months, and a few will never make it into the real world of retail.

The show is a combination of the sublime and the ridiculous. And sometimes you get the feeling these products were developed just to make you smile--either with delight or bemusement over the question: "What were they thinking?"

Here are some highlights:

Body Mass Index Clock

What time is it? Time to put down that Krispy Kreme.

This digital alarm clock comes from the fertile gadget fields of Oregon Scientific (www.oregon scientific.com), a company known for its radio-controlled clocks, home weather stations and sports products. At 31/4 inches by 31/4 inches, the clock is small enough to sit innocuously on the nightstand. Only you know its secret function.

Pick it up by the finger holds and the clock emits a tiny electrical charge to measure body-fat ratio, from 5% to 60%.

The company also introduced its Vibrating Alarm Clock Radio, which has a disk that slips under a pillow. At wake-up time it vibrates, allowing you to rise and shine without disturbing your partner. It also comes with six "sound-soother" modes to lull you to sleep, including waterfall, birds and ocean waves.

Lasershield Home Security System

Despite the name, this has nothing to do with lasers. "It's a common term used in the field. People associate it with security," said Tony Dohrmann, chief executive of Lasershield Systems (www.laser shield.net).

The product looks like a miniature of Las Vegas' Luxor pyramid and won't easily blend into most decors. But it is an ingenious product that, in some cases, minimizes the need to have a hard-wire security system installed.

The 8-inch-tall pyramid contains a motion detector that can monitor about 35 feet of surrounding space. It can be activated with a key-chain remote (eliminating the keypad that comes with many home systems) and plugs into a telephone line. If the alarm is triggered, the monitoring company is notified.

The beauty of the system, if it works as advertised, is that it can be picked up and carried to a new abode if you move.

The cost of the main unit, which the company hopes to have on the market in June, will be $150, plus a $15.95 monthly fee for monitoring. Smaller, satellite units (also pyramids) for additional rooms will sell for $60.

Ectaco Universal Translator

If we had to pick one product at CES that gave us the most delight, it would be this hand-held, voice-activated unit that translates spoken English phrases into Spanish, French or German.

"It has 3,000 phrases, which covers a lot of human conversation when you are traveling and don't know what you are doing," said Andrew Ageev, product manager for the unit, which was developed in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The demonstration did not start out well. Ageev's colleague, Davydov Arkadiy, chose Spanish on the unit--which is about the size of a PDA--and put his mouth near its built-in microphone. He carefully asked, "Where is the subway map?" After a moment, the digital screen displayed the line, "Where is the taxi?" and then pronounced the phrase in Spanish.

A second try with the subway question resulted in the phrase, "I want to cancel this."

But from then on, it was mostly smooth sailing. I said into the translator, "What size is this?" and it correctly translated the phrase into Spanish. I asked: "What is the exchange rate?" and it came up with, "What is the exchange rate for dollars?"

"Look, it works!" Ageev said with a laugh.

But then I tried, "How much to mail the package?" and it said in Spanish, "How much to mail a postcard?"

"Well, a postcard is nicer," said Ageev, who added that the translator will eventually recognize 10,000 phrases.

Even with the mistakes, the unit--which allows cancellation of a translation before it's uttered--was impressive. Distributed by Ectaco (www.ectaco.com), it's currently available for $250.

GPS Personal Locator for Children

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