Consumer Electronics Show: A Byte-Size Preview

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South Korean university students take a selfie in front of an International CES sign at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada January 4, 2015. An estimated 150,000 people and 3,500 exhibitors are expected to attend, according to organizers. Steve Marcus/Reuters

The best way to experience the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is to attend the scaled-down, Reader's Digest version the night before, where hosted libations and deadly finger food compete with robots and touchscreens for the erstwhile observer's attentions. One good-sized conference room at the Mirage is far easier to navigate than the two million square feet of microchips-off- the-old-block at the Convention Center the following morning.

Pepcom's Digital Experience! (their exclamation point, not mine) herds 200 companies and 1,000 freeloaders—excuse me, I meant freelancers—into one room for a three-hour preview of cutting-edge technology that one will see endlessly repeated in the big hall for the next grueling 72 hours. With no slight to our noble veterans intended, I have dubbed this annual ritual the "Digital Death March of Bataan." Good thing they have so many capable massage therapists in Sin City, and no, I don't mean the Bunny Ranch. Shame on you.

Hmmm, maybe prostitution is not in fact the world's oldest profession—technological derring-do (fire, the wheel, levers) might well be. Imagine a horde of neolithic techno-geeks lined up around Cave 257 as some crafty DIY'er demonstrated his barbecuing skills for the slack-jawed masses. Thank the yet-to-be-invented lord there were no patent lawyers back then, and I seriously doubt they were passing out mastodon sliders and joy-juice to the loincloth looky-loos.

As a Parrot drone hovered over the martini station—making sure there was no insider olive theft going down—mini-skirted and bespangled young women passed out Pop Rocks and Rubik's Cubes befitting the evening's "Totally 80s" theme. Canny publicists did their level best to attract attention to their wares; for example, a very well-behaved Golden Retriever sat dutifully in front of the Tagg GPS Pet Tracker booth, enduring a thousand head-pats while reps breathlessly touted Fido's connected collar. Not only can you find your beloved pet's location on the device of your choice, you can monitor the air temperature to make sure he is neither sweating nor freezing to death.

Not to diss the fine folks at Tagg, nor to disparage the comfort requirements of our quadruped pals, but a device like Pet Tracker may be an exemplary instance of the "too-much-information" principle that seems to guide so much hardware/software in this app-happy age of ours. With all due respect, wouldn't a cursory morning glance at the weather forecast provide sufficient data to determine whether to leave one's hound outside all day? One is forced to wonder—how in Darwin's name did such beasts survive 10,000 generations of wear and tear without a microchip kerchief around their furry necks?

Not that there weren't a few eye-opening gizmos to honestly admire. Kyle Doerksen, founder and CEO of Future//Motion Inc., was on hand to demo his "Onewheel," a battery-powered, one-wheel skateboard that was well in keeping with the 80s-themed evening. The next best thing to a Marty McFly hoverboard, Onewheel will propel you over hill and dale for four to six miles at 12 m.p.h, guided by sensors and algorithms and a smartphone app to ensure a perfect match between user and vehicle. Think Segway for surfer dudes and you're in the right bailiwick.

The Big Show beckons. With a little luck and a pair of comfortable shoes, I may well survive long enough to see whose screens are the biggest and brightest; whose Bluetooth speakers boom the bassiest, and whether or not there is actually anything new under the perpetual Vegas neon sun.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly called Future//Motion Inc.'s skateboard "Newheel." The correct name for their skateboard is "Onewheel."

Consumer Electronics Show: A Byte-Size Preview | Tech & Science