The Most Interesting (and Bizarre) Startups at CES 2019

From humanoid robots and wearable biotechnology to 4D holograms, autonomous undersea drones, and retro arcade games, these are the most out-of-the-box tech startups we discovered at CES this year.

By Rob Marvin

The massive spectacle that is CES takes over Las Vegas every January, packing every corner of the city’s cavernous convention center and hotel ballrooms with tech companies from all over the world. The show tends to embody the zeitgeist of whatever buzzy technologies are capturing our imaginations. This year, some of the biggest trends were wearables and smart everything, high-profile laptop rollouts, 8K TV, and a ton of futuristic autonomous vehicles.

One of the best ways to get a sense of a huge trade show like CES is to wander beyond the extravagant booths and brand-name device makers and lose yourself in the sea of offbeat startups exhibiting on the show floor. This year, we found companies building cutting-edge AI, biotech, and high-tech drones (in both air and undersea varieties)—and even making old tech new again with recreated arcade machines for your home.

Come down the rabbit hole and check out the most out-of-the-box and occasionally bizarre startups we found at CES 2019.

Arcade 1UP

Sometimes it feels like technology is going backward. In this case, it’s happening in a fun way. Arcade 1UP brings original licensed arcade games including Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Galaga back to life in pre-assembled machines ($299 each) that weigh only 60 pounds despite authentical-size joystick and button controls. We got to check in out on the CES show floor and had a blast playing old-school fighting games. Built by recently launched startup Tastemakers LLC, Arcade 1 UP can be played on a desk, mounted on walls, or even on a door.

Mycroft AI

There’s an odd juxtaposition in tech right now. Companies are releasing more smart speakers than ever at a time when we’re all growing more conscious of how our apps and devices infringe on our privacy. That’s what makes Mycroft AI a refreshing change of pace. This open-source, privacy-focused voice assistant, which does not gather any personal data and keeps all communications private and encrypted, was first successfully crowdfunded in 2015 and shipped its Mark 1 version in 2017.

The Kansas City-based startup is shooting for Q1 delivery on the Mycroft Mark 2, which is priced at $199. The speaker itself has a mic array, dual 10-watt speakers, and a 1080p LCD, plus a physical camera shutter and mute button. The web-based voice assistant can also run on desktops, in cars, or on a Raspberry Pi.

Aeronext

This Japanese startup, which launched in 2018, built a self-stabilizing drone capable of deliveries, industrial use, and most interesting, shooting 360-degree virtual reality footage. Using what Aeronext calls 4D Gravity core technology, the drone is always able to keep its center axis vertical in order to shoot uninterrupted high-res drone footage that can be incorporated into VR content while giving the drone more range when it flies against the wind.

BrainTap

An interesting moment on CES’s show floor was walking past a few attendees laying in deep relaxation, with headsets covering their eyes and ears. It turns out the startup was offering a service called “Braintapping,” which uses what BrainTap Technologies calls a “neuro algorithm” to sync a user’s brainwaves to a specialized sound. The combination of binaural (dual-toned) beats through the headphones and gentle light pulses through the eye mask is designed to induce relaxation and “ensure maximum neuroplasticity” in about 20 minutes, controlled via app.

Robomodix

The award for most eerily human-looking AI tech at CES goes to Robomodix, which was showing off its two prototypes, Alan and Alena. Robomodix is a robotics platform designed to experiment with, test, and refine open-source AI technologies in a robot intended to reduce the stigma of robots with a humanoid form. The Oregon-based company, founded in 2015, sees its prototypes as social robots plus smart speaker and assistant capabilities. Robomodix is integrated with Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and other voice assistants.

Yape

Yape, which was launched in 2018 out of a research group from the Milan Technical Institute, is a compact, self-driving, zero-emissions robot for last-mile delivery. An acronym for Your Autonomous Pony Express, Yape is a two-wheeled electric-motor robot with a range of around 50 miles. It’s designed to avoid traffic in the narrow streets of European cities, traveling at a max speed of around 4mph on pavements and more than 12mph on roads. Most interesting are the types of use cases the robot is being deployed for, in pilot testing on several continents. For instance, Yape is participating in a pilot program run by the Japanese government targeted toward using autonomous vehicles to help service the country’s rapidly aging population. It’s also starting a German food delivery pilot by the end of the year.

Flux Planet

This Seoul-based startup, the brainchild of former Samsung employees, has built a 4D scanner and 3D projector for mapping and rendering AR/VR content. The company is releasing what it calls the first-ever consumer 4D scanner this spring for a hefty $50,000. It uses 250 cameras for full-body movement and cloud-based software to reconstruct complex models. Flux Planet’s eye-catching show floor demo featured a photo-realistic hologram using a model from the 4D scanner.

Amo Lab

Another South Korean startup, Amo Lab is using bioelectric medicine in a wearable sleep device called the Amo+ that looks like an amulet or necklace. Electromagnetic signals from the device stimulate nerves in the chest to reduce stress and stabilize your heart rate. The company started development in 2012, was officially founded in 2016, and plans to launch the Amo+ in the US and Europe this spring for under $200. Amo Labs is also developing another device that helps with blood circulation, respiration, and more. The science behind the device’s cVES (cervicothoracic vagus electromagnetic stimulation) therapy is to stimulate the vagus nerve with mild electromagnetic signals to balance the parasympathetic nervous system.

Notilo Plus iBubble

The autonomous subsea iBubble drone from Notilo Plus can dive to a depth of up to 200 feet and use AI to follow a diver around from up to 60 feet away with no cable attached. The diver can control the drone with quick gestures from a smart waterproof wristband, or the drone can be controlled from a remote on the surface. Right now, the Marseilles-based startup is touting the $4,500 device, which launched in October, as an underwater filming drone that you can connect to a GoPro or any other camera. In the future, Notilio sees a range of autonomous undersea drone applications, from scientific research to underwater infrastructure inspection.

Plott

This New Jersey startup, which won a CES Innovation Award this year, built a combined hardware and augmented/virtual reality platform to automate home improvement projects. Plott has a mobile app with which you take a photo or use AR capture mode to map a background and 3D objects. You then use Cubit — its electronic level, launching in March — to measure exactly where the object should be placed or mounted in a room. Plott also has a measuring wheel product called Carta launching this summer that maps a space’s distance as you walk it to get exact measurements. The Cubit level costs $99 and will be sold in Ace, Home Depot, and other hardware stores.

Pocketalk

SourceNext, a Japanese startup with a US home base in Palo Alto, began selling its simple electronic translator device in the US this past October. The $299 Pocketalk, which includes a global SIM card, has a simple interface to translate two-way conversations quickly into 74 languages and counting. Two-way speakers and dual microphones with noise cancellation can keep accurate conversations going in loud settings—like, say, on the CES show floor, where the device quickly translated a conversation from English to Japanese.

Bell.AI

A 2019 CES Innovation Award winner, Bell.AI and its Bell robot products for kids ages 3 to 13 are STEM education tools intended to help kids learn coding skills via DIY robotic kits. The modular Mabot robot kit lets kids build, customize, and program a robot they then control via an app. The robots are compatible with Lego and programmed in a drag-and-drop environment designed on Scratch. Another kit, Rebot, uses aluminum parts to make even more advanced robots.

Sisu Sense

Although 10-year-old Akervall Technologies is definitely not a startup, its Sisu Sense smart mouthguard is worth a mention. The device, made of a smart polymer, tracks head impacts and concussions with precise measurements of force. The Sisu Sense’s built-in HitSense technology, including an embedded microchip, accelerometer, and Bluetooth capability, measures a 10g (minor) or 40g (major) hit to help track the millions of undiagnosed concussions in the US each year. The device sends wireless tracking data and hit reports to a mobile app. It can be used by professional athletes or families worried about a child’s contact sports activities. Akervall hopes the data the mouthguards gather will help change behaviors on the field and game regulations.

Vault Logic

Last but not least were, of course, some blockchain and crypto startups hawking their wares at CES. One of the more interesting was Vault Logic, which is building intelligent blockchain-powered ATMs where users can buy and sell cryptocurrencies with dynamically adjusting cash-to-crypto prices. The startup is also pushing “cash-as-a-service” applications such as the addition of third-party cash apps, bill pay services, and shopping, to turn its physical ATM into a crypto services machine.

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Originally published at www.pcmag.com.