Christmas shopping - in September

by Matthew Reynolds

It’s almost October, so Thanksgiving is about a month away – which means that the holidays are basically next week. In preparation for the holidays, I attended the Pepcom Holiday Spectacular event in New York on September 15th, where some of the tech world’s most innovative new gifts were on display. Most of these were quirky, niche items that are interesting as a holiday treat– a Roomba that mops kitchens, a temp-controlled coffee thermos, ergonomic wireless earbuds, a magnetic music speaker designed like the Death Star - but others showed that, even on the broader, consumer side of innovation, some concepts show interesting potential.

Immediately, I noticed a miniature 3-D printer (about the size of a coffee maker) that was making a small toy car. Using a spool of green polymer that looked like a green-tea udon noodle, it methodically layered melted plastic over itself until I recognized that it was, in fact, a toy car. It took a little over an hour, but I made sure to take a peek every time I walked by the table. Here at OE, we generally think that 3D printing could change the way we manufacture goods. But actually seeing a 3D printer work in front of me was both awe-inspiring and...anti-climactic? I mean, the technology is incredible - you punch in a template, it produces a product, game set and match. But watching it work was tedious; it moved slowly to create a product that didn’t seem worth the effort. I’m going to chalk this up as a natural windfall of commercializing a machine, and assume that 3D printing will become more efficient and exciting in the future.

There was, however, a product that had the exact opposite effect on me. A “smart mirror,” of all things - strange, considering that when I look in mirrors, I’m usually disappointed with what looks back at me (ha ha). This smart mirror takes a picture of the user, then analyzes it for dark spots, blemishes, wrinkles, etc. It points out how severe these are on a 0-100 scale, then connects to the internet and suggests products that are most beneficial for that area. It also sets up a daily schedule, instructing the user what to use in the morning and at night. Facial recognition software will certainly be used in security plans moving forward, but to see it used in a harmless, user-friendly way was an unexpected and pleasant surprise.

But the most amazing thing I saw at Pepcom was a Keurig-style, home-brewing, beer kit. As someone who’s labored through the 2-3 month home brewing process, finding out that the entire process has been scientifically simplified to one week blew my mind. The ingredients come pre-packaged online in a biodegradable container, are inserted into a brewing machine, and boiled in a few hours. It takes 5-7 days to ferment and carbonate the beer, and by the following weekend, it’s drinkable. This has nothing to do with 3D printing or facial recognition technology. It’s just really cool.

The Pepcom event was full of innovative entrepreneurs, enthusiastically sharing knowledge about their products. I didn’t see anything that stuck out as changing the way companies do business, but I didn’t expect to see anything that would immediately do so. But I did see the Power Vision PowerEgg Drone: a civilian-level drone that operates by “gestures” (think of the controller for the Nintendo Wii). At least I know what I’m buying myself for the holidays.

Matthew Reynolds is an Editorial Assistant at Oxford Economics, where he aids research programs in a variety of industries.