Credit: Consumer Technology Association.

Just over 11,000 kilometres away, CES is in full swing in Las Vegas. Well, more like partial swing, thanks to companies dropping out for Covid-related reasons, and the eerie ghost town vibe that certain parts of the exhibition halls have as a result.

But whether virtual or in-person, alongside the genuine game changing innovations, CES has always presented plenty of off-the-wall left-field solutions to problems we never knew we had. Or, more likely, problems we don’t actually have but that companies wish existed.

Here are the seven strangest CES 2022 products to crop up so far.

LG Virtual Ride

Flexible screens are now an established part of the phone landscape in foldable phones, but LG wants you to think bigger. Meet the Virtual Ride which… lets you experience an approximation of a lovely outdoor bike ride without actually having to stray too far from the sofa. As long as you don’t look left or right, anyway.

To be clear, this is only a concept and could well stay that way, but it’s certainly a bizarre one. To replicate a form of exercise that’s existed for around 200 years, the setup involves three vertical 55in OLED screens to make it feel like you’re actually leaving the house. This, to be fair to LG, does sometimes feel like a pre-Covid extravagance.

All the same, and not for the first time, it does feel a bit like tech companies are watching dystopian films and thinking “now there’s an idea!” This time around, it’s the Black Mirror episode 15 Million Merits:

Toto Wellness Toilet

Proof that not everything benefits from having the word “smart” put in front comes from Toto — though presumably not the band that recorded ‘Africa’. Toto’s Wellness Toilet will go through your waste with a (thankfully figurative) fine tooth comb to give you creepy and invasive dietary advice.

“Toilets and people have two unique touchpoints that cannot be found elsewhere — the skin and human waste,” some poor copywriter typed out on the company’s behalf

“The Wellness Toilet  is in direct contact with individuals’ skin when they are sitting on it, and it analyses the waste they deposit — a wealth of wellness data can be collected from fecal matter,” the press release continues with perhaps the ickiest definition of the word “wealth” to date.

On the plus side, installing one of these is probably a good way of deterring guests from outstaying their welcome. Or ever coming back.

Sony Bravia Cam

Compared to the Wellness Toilet, the Sony Bravia Cam seems positively uninvasive. It’s a camera that will come bundled with the company’s top-of-the-range TVs, but which can also be bought as an accessory for cheaper models.

Obviously its main function is to allow video calls from your sofa without balancing a laptop or tablet precariously on your lap, but it has more tricks up its sleeve than that. For one, it can detect when people are too close, and turn off the screen until they back off to prevent square-eyedness. It’ll also use this spacial awareness for practical purposes, like adjusting brightness and voice emphasis based on how far back you’re sat, or turning off the TV if everyone has left the room.

There are also a bunch of gesture functions that have tried and failed once with Xbox Kinect. Look, if you want to turn up the volume by waving your hands around like a lunatic then that’s your prerogative, but the remote control is right there too…

Mutalk VR microphone

You have to accept looking a bit weird to enter the world of VR. But if you really want to complete the look then the Mutalk VR microphone appears to have been inspired by a horse’s nosebag. Only without the tasty treats contained within.

It’s essentially another headset for your chin, only this one is to prevent sound leakage so anybody you’re communicating with will only hear you, and not any ambient sound from the same room. The battery will last ten hours — a lot longer than the Oculus Quest 2’s cell — and the device will cost an optimistic US$200 (~NZ$293) when it’s released this summer.

Noveto N1 invisible headphones

On the subject of targeted audio, the Noveto N1 is another product that’s too clever for its own good. It’s a mini soundbar which uses beamforming tech to direct binaural audio to one set of ears: the person sitting in front. Everyone else, meanwhile, will hear just “a whisper of sound” with a 90% audio reduction one metre away from the target.

In other words, it functions like a pair of invisible headphones, in case you want to pretend you’re listening to some obscure electro tracks rather than Abba Gold on repeat. 

The only issue here is that headphones already exist and offer the same functionality with a whole lot more portability. Still, if you fancy it, it’ll be released in mid-2022, though no price has been revealed as of yet.

Yukai Engineering’s Nibbling robot

CES also gets its share of tech-filled toys, and this year’s oddball breakout is the Amagami Ham Ham from Yukai Engineering. To give you a small crash course in Japanese, “Amagami” apparently means “gentle bite” and “ham” means “bite” and that’s what this soft toy does when you pop a finger in its mouth, with 24 nibbling patterns available, selected by a built-in “Hamgorithm.” 

Here’s what you’ll be popping your finger in, if you’re brave enough:

“Most people like the nibbling sensation but know they need to teach their children or pets to stop it, because kids and animals will otherwise bite them with full force eventually,” Yakai Engineering CMO Tsubasa Tominaga told TechCrunch. “Amagami Ham Ham is a robot that frees humankind from the conundrum of whether ‘to pursue or not to pursue’ the forbidden pleasure.”

Those seeking to enjoy said “forbidden pleasure” should look out for a crowdfunding campaign running this spring.

Cyberpower’s Kinetic PC case

If Amagami Ham Ham is a bit too cutesy for you, you could sidestep loneliness by making your desktop PC look a bit more sentient. Cyberpower’s Kinetic PC case has a series of vents that open and close algorithmically, to give the impression of a computer case that’s breathing.

It’s actually for cooling rather than aesthetics. The company reckons that it not only keeps the temperature lower, but does so with reduced noise and limiting the amount of dust getting trapped inside. Whether that’s worth having something that looks like an evil sentient computer in your study is another matter entirely, however…