Quirky Gadgets Get Time in Spotlight at Annual Electronics Show

It’s hard to stand out at the Consumer Electronics Show when there are more than 3,500 exhibitors vying for the spotlight.

Still, a few gadgets always manage to grab some attention because they’re unusual or quirky. There was no shortage of such devices -- including a battery-equipped compact mirror and Web-connected plant-health tracker -- at the annual gathering in Las Vegas this week.

At the same time, with more than 160,000 attendees, the show is a prime opportunity for inventors, backers and investors to stumble onto the next big hit, even if some leave people scratching their heads.

Here are some examples of strange products on the fringes of technology.

Quitbit

Wearables such as the FitBit were bound to be joined by similarly named niche gadgets, and the Quitbit is no exception.

Essentially a smart lighter, the gadget tracks every cigarette a user smokes and has a built-in display showing how many times it’s used. An accompanying mobile application helps users reduce or quit smoking by limited how and when the lighter works, and can track the amount of money saved from smoking less.

“This tool is almost like a scale in that it’s used to better yourself and for self-improvement,” said Ata Ghofrani, Quitbit’s chief executive officer.

Quitbit -- which costs $99 and is set to debut in March -- runs on electricity rather than butane, and lasts about a week before requiring a recharge.

Parrot Pot

This year’s CES has already adopted the “Internet of Everything” as a theme. Pushing that definition to its limits, French drone maker Parrot SA is showing off two devices for potted plants.

For those seeking updates on the health of their favorite pet foliage -- or help keeping them alive -- there’s the Parrot Pot and Parrot H2O. The gadgets -- one shaped like a traditional flower pot and other a device that’s inserted into soil -- are equipped with sensors, work with a mobile app, and can water plants at optimum levels.

No pricing information is available for the Parrot Pot or Parrot H20. Parrot’s current flower-monitoring device, called Parrot Flower Power, retails for $60.

Quell

NeuroMetrix Inc. is betting that it can grab a share of the $4 billion U.S. over-the-counter pain-relief pill market with Quell, a wearable device that uses neurostimulation to ease pain.

The product is effective at treating conditions such as lower-back pain and the some of the effects of diabetes, and has been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to the Waltham, Massachusetts-based company.

Pricing information wasn’t available.

Nature Bound Bug Vacuum

Part of a series of nature exploration toys, the Bug Vacuum lets children capture critters without having to grab them.

The pint-sized device is equipped with a magnifying glass kids can use to inspect the creatures, and ventilation to ensure their survival. After inspection, kids can either release the bugs to the wild or store them in another Nature Bound product, the critter barn. The vacuum and barn are part of a collection of toys that includes a butterfly village and a bug net.

“This is a complete play system,” said Mike Searls, CEO of Thin Air Brands, which manufactures the toy. The bug vacuum costs $21.99.

Compact Mirror Battery Pack

Sanho Corp.is touting the Pearl as the world’s first compact mirror with a built-in battery pack. Users of the mirror can apply makeup and charge their phone using the same device, even at the same time.

The battery is powerful enough to charge most smartphones using a built-in USB port, according to the company. The product has already raised $34,768 from 688 contributors on Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site.

There’s also a unique benefit to having a battery instead a compact mirror: lights. The product will retail for about $29, according to the Kickstarter campaign page.

E Ink Prism

Electronic ink has already proved a hit among consumers as the main component in e-book readers.

Now, one of the main manufacturers of the screens, E Ink Holdings Inc., wants to use the technology on walls, by incorporating color pigments. The goal is to create displays and architectural elements that can be controlled, effectively letting people change the design of their interiors and buildings with the flick of a switch instead of a paint brush.

“The goal is that you would use this in very large installations like hotel lobbies, airport terminals, large buildings, corporate branding,” said Giovanni Mancini, Head of E Ink Global Marketing. Pricing information wasn’t available.

Semper Novus

Automakers came out in full force at this year’s CES, with BMW AG and supplier Visteon Corp. showing off technology that will let drivers control car functions with gestures, instead of knobs and switches.

Visteon is promoting Semper Novus (Always New in Latin), which uses motion-capture technology to detect face and hand movements, lighting up digital dashboards when necessary and controlling audio sound and climate with simple gestures.

BMW demonstrated controls that will show up in one to two years on the carmaker’s iDrive infotainment system. A driver can answer a phone call by pointing at a dashboard screen or waving a hand to send it to voice mail. Two fingers pointed at the screen can direct a car to navigate home.

“We’re not here in order to show stuff coming in five to 10 years,” Hildegard Wortmann, head of product management for BMW, said in an interview. “Gesture recognition is something that’s very valid.” Pricing information wasn’t available.

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