Chevy Bolt heads our list of products to watch in 2017
From electric cars to modular LEDs, what's new in the new year
In the tech world, the new year kicks off with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The annual event reveals gadgets and electronics we can look forward to using in the near future. So we'll leave those humdrum resolutions lists to everyone else. Here's our look at some of the intriguing innovations we expect to see in 2017.
Every year there's more choice and variety in electric vehicles (EVs) available to car buyers. Hand in hand are improvements to range, feature options, and even price.
The Chevrolet Bolt has been forecast as a potential game changer in the EV industry. Many of the EVs being driven in Canada were purchased by early adopters more than willing to overlook price and/or inconvenience just for the chance to drive electric. But the Bolt, with a range that approaches 400 km and a reasonable base price – just under $43,000 before rebates – may be the electric that more of us can seriously consider. Chevrolet dealers in British Columbia are taking orders now for the vehicle, which will be delivered early this year.
Tesla vehicles, meanwhile, remain the gold standard for EVs, and with the release of the Tesla Model 3 later this year, the company that Elon Musk built looks to expand its legion of customers. Tesla famously avoids advertising, largely because anyone who drives a Tesla is a promotion, such is their devotion to the vehicles. Tesla says it's pricing the Model 3 so the average family can afford it (estimated at US$35,000 before rebates) and it is expected to have a battery range of about 345 km. The Model 3 is expected to ship to customers later in 2017.
While Volkswagen has electric cars in other parts of the world, the fully electric Golf arrives in Canada this year. The Volkswagen e-Golf has an anticipated range of 200 km and is equipped with a heat pump to help keep the car's interior warm. Volkswagen claims the heat pump can boost the car's range up to 30% during cold weather, as other EVs see their range drop as electricity is used to heat the interior of the vehicle. You can also program the connected vehicle to pre-heat itself so it's comfortable when you're ready to drive.
OLED television sets
When it comes to TV technology, the liquid-crystal display (LCD) has supplanted plasma as the most popular. Watch out, though, because here comes the organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screen. OLED brings significant benefits, including screens that are extraordinarily thin and which can display perfect blacks and more vivid colours than LCD.
At CES 2007, Sony showed the world the first OLED TVs, sized at 11 and 27-inches. The 11-inch model was released commercially the next year at a cost of $2,500 US.
Today, LG is the big player in OLED TVs, and in Las Vegas the company will be showing off its LG Signature line of OLED displays, which support 4K and high-dynamic range (HDR) video. They are also amazingly thin, with some under 6 cm in depth.
But Sony is rumoured to be planning a release of new, large format OLED TVs this year. Panasonic, which sells OLED televisions in Europe, may also start selling them in North America this year.
Virtual reality and augmented reality headsets
Last year virtual reality (VR) came out from the shadows and got people talking. In 2017, it's going to get closer to mainstream.
VR is currently for enthusiasts only. To have the best experience of VR requires expensive headsets connected to expensive computers (the PlayStation VR is the exception to this, but it's still a premium, costly product).
Microsoft recently announced that its Windows 10 operating system is going to support VR headsets from any manufacturer, which opens up the playing field considerably. Expect headsets from the likes of Asus, Dell, and Lenovo.
The other thing that limits VR is that users need to be connected to the computer by a bundle of wires. This year, HTC and Valve are expected to release a wireless version of the Vive VR headset. And computer manufacturer MSI have designed the VR One, a high-end computer in a backpack that provides players freedom of movement by keeping the computer close.
2017 might also be the year that Microsoft gives us Hololens, which promises a compelling augmented reality experience.
LED designer lighting
There are a number of things that make light-emitting diodes such a great source of light. They're energy efficient, yes, but they're also variable. No longer do we have to think of our lighting as coming from a lamp or other light fixture.
The Nanoleaf Aurora, designed in Canada, is a perfect example. These modular LED panels can be rearranged into dozens of different shapes, and they can be configured to emit any colour in the visible spectrum.
Nanoleaf debuted the triangular Aurora panels at CES last year, and this year will enhance what the panels can do with a "music visualization module" that will enable the lighting to respond to music and sound.
We've been using cellular and mobile phones for decades, but it was only one decade ago that Apple changed everything when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone.
Given that it's the 10th birthday of the first iPhone, many believe that Apple is planning a major change to its handset. Rumours around the iPhone 8 include that the anniversary iPhones will be all glass, that they will feature wireless charging, and that they will have OLED screens. We might also see a removal of the home button. By placing the fingerprint sensors beneath the screen, we get an even larger screen.
At the same time, Samsung will be revealing the flagship Samsung Galaxy S8 handset, which is likely to include a digital assistant along the likes of Microsoft's Cortana and Apple's Siri. And along with an update of the Google Pixel smartphone, we might also see a smart watch from the company.
Home entertainment and gaming
Last year, both Microsoft and Sony released new versions of their respective video-game consoles. The PS4 Slim and Xbox One S are smaller and more energy efficient devices than the original models.
This year, the new, higher-powered Xbox, codenamed Project Scorpio, will be released. Like the PS4 Pro released in late 2016, Scorpio will have more processing power and storage capacity to better support the improved graphics that new televisions can display. There's a good chance that Xbox Project Scorpio is being built to support Microsoft's Hololens, and it might also work with Windows-based virtual reality headsets.
Nintendo, too, will be releasing a new game console. In March, Nintendo Switch will arrive. It's a curious hybrid of mobile game system and home entertainment console, with the main game unit being completely portable, but able to dock and be used with a television.
Computers and home office
You may have multiple laptops in your home or office, and there's nothing more challenging than knowing which charger goes with which computer.
And if you're a Windows user, many manufacturers ship their laptops with heavy, bulky transformer boxes.
The FINsix Dart is a single charger that works with nearly any Windows laptop. When compared to standard power adapters, it is four times smaller and six times lighter. Not only is it more manageable, but the company says the Dart has a peak efficiency of 94.5%, compared to the 88% found in typical laptop chargers.
FINsix also recently announced the Dart-C, which works with laptops using USB-C chargers, including Apple's MacBook and MacBook Pro, Dell's XPS 13, Lenovo's ThinkPad 13, and the ASUS ZenBook 3.
If you've got a laptop that is designed with fewer ports – doing so enhances portability – you may benefit from USB and Thunderbolt docks. This is helpful if you're running a desktop and essential if your primary machine is a laptop. These hubs expand the number of USB – including USB-C – and Thunderbolt ports you've got, including USB-C connections, but it also connects secondary monitors, including those that display in 4K resolution. An audio jack and built-in SD card reader make them even more useful.
Gadgets for the automated home
Programmable thermostats are great for making our homes more comfortable while saving energy, because we can let them cool when it makes sense to, and we can heat them up when we need to.
Many of these devices make it even easier for us, because we don't actually need to program them; they learn our patterns and habits and make adjustments automatically.
The Ecobee 3 learning thermostat, designed in Canada, differs from competitors because it takes into account local weather information when making changes to the temperature of your home. And you can also get additional Ecobee sensors to place in different rooms of your home so, if your heating system permits, you can warm things up where you are, while leaving the unoccupied areas of your home a bit cooler.
And if you're home outside of your usual schedule – perhaps you're at home with the flu – the Ecobee will detect your presence and keep things comfortable.
If that happens, there's nothing more handy than an easy to use thermometer. The Withings Thermo uses some 16 infrared sensors to take temperatures from a person's temporal artery and displays the reading, almost immediately, with bright LEDs. You can sync those readings to smartphones so you can track the temperature readings of multiple "patients" and see trends over time.
Blaine Kyllo is a freelance writer from North Vancouver and a regular contributor to BC Hydro's Connected eNewsletter.
Also in January's Connected eNewsletter:
- Smart thermostats and other ways to limit your winter energy bills
- 'Dad, can you turn on the TV?': Wemo switch controls TV from outside the home
- 10 ways to soundproof and limit noise in your home
- Buildings We Love: Pacific Autism Centre nails efficiency and keeps things quiet
- In with the new, out with the old: Where to recycle almost anything