Weird gadgets at CES: Motorized unicycle, anyone?

January 16, 2012 By PETER SVENSSON , AP Technology Writer
In this Jan. 12, 2012 file photo, an exhibitor demonstrates a Solowheel at the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The one-wheeled device, which has no frame or saddle, uses footboards that fold out from the wheel and a gyroscope that helps keep the rider upright. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)

A motorized, seat-less unicycle, a video game you control with your eyes, and a mind-reading headset that serves as a game controller were among the more bizarre gadgets being shown off at this year's International Consumer Electronics Show.

Some 3,100 exhibitors attended the show, and although there were plenty of mainstream technologies on display, the show attracted a fair share of off-beat . Here's a roundup of some of the weirdest devices:

- SOLOWHEEL. Picture a unicycle without a frame or saddle, and you have the Solowheel. Not working for you? Ok, add this to the picture: footboards that fold out from the wheel. To ride it, you stand on the footboards and straddle the wheel. Lean forward, and the wheel engages a battery-powered electric motor that can send it -and hopefully its rider- zooming along at 10 miles per hour. The wheel has a that helps keep the rider upright. In other words, it's like a Segway with only one wheel.

Because of the rechargeable battery, which has a 15- to 20-mile range, the Solowheel weighs 26 pounds. That's as much as a folding bike, but the Solowheel is more compact. It's sold by Inventist LLC for $1,800. Its creator is a serial inventor, Shane Chen, previously came up with the AquaSkipper, a human-powered hydrofoil.

Who's it for? Brave people with a good sense of balance, who want to utterly surprise everyone they meet.

- FOAM FIGHTERS. Toy companies are eager to link their products with smartphone and tablet games, creating toys that are an amusing blend of virtual and real. Foam Fighters are made of two sheets of thin foam, painted and shaped like World War II fighter planes such as the famous Mitsubishi Zero. Toss them in the air, and they fly like paper airplanes. Better yet, you can attach them to a plastic arm with a suction cup that, in turn, sticks to the back of an , or Android phone, right next to the camera. The airplane shows up on screen, and if you download a free app, the fighter plane will look like it's zooming around in war-torn skies, controlled by the movement of the phone or tablet. Foam Fighters go on sale in April. A pack of two, with a stand, will cost $10.

Who's it for: AppGear is aiming at kids, ages 8 to 12, but it could appeal to frustrated fighter pilots of all ages.

- HAIER BRAIN WAVE. The Chinese appliance company brought this wireless mind-reading headset to the show, and demonstrated how it could be used to control a TV set. It holds one sensing pad to the wearer's forehead and another that clips onto an earlobe. The big limitation is that the mind-reading capability (actually just measurement of brain waves) is crude. The set can only be used to sense if the user wants something to go up or down. For any other direction, you need the remote. In a demonstration of a simple maze-like game, the wearer guided a figure up or down with his mind, and right and left with the remote. Haier said it's developing something that lets the wearer change channels by thinking about it.

Haier is selling the set in China, but has no plans to bring it to market in the U.S.

Who's it for: No one outside of China, yet. Eventually, this could be a dream come true for the laziest of couch potatoes.

- EYE ASTEROIDS - Continuing on the theme of controlling electronics without moving, Swedish company Tobii brought its eye-controlled arcade game to the show. To play, you stand in front of it and look at a screen, where asteroids hurtle toward your battle station. It shoots laser beams at the asteroids you look at, destroying them. So yes, looks can kill.

The game cabinet contains cameras that track your gaze. The arcade game is really just a technology demonstration. What Tobii really wants is to have these gaze-tracking cameras built into laptops and other computers, so we can dispense with the mouse. But it does sell the game for $15,000.

Who's it for: Arcade owners who want the latest.

- SIGNA POWERTREKK - This New York company showed off an alternative to batteries: a fuel cell the size of a big sandwich, powered by small, light "pucks" of a silicon-based material that produces hydrogen when water is added. The fuel cell is expensive, at $200, but the pucks are cheap, at $12 for three. Each puck will produce the equivalent of six AA batteries of electricity. That means it can charge an iPhone twice, through the included cables.

SiGNa will be selling the cell through outdoor retailer REI this spring.

Who's it for: Campers, hermits and others who need to go a long time without electricity.

Explore further: User interface revolution coming to computers, TVs


Related Stories

Nintendo gives 2nd glimpse of Wii U game machine

January 10, 2012

Nintendo Co.'s upcoming Wii U game console will come with a controller that has a big, touch-enabled screen. At first glance, that seems like an obstacle to the kind of casual multiplayer gaming that made the first Wii console ...

Stockholm techies use water to charge mobile phones

January 12, 2012

( -- A Swedish company headquartered in Stockholm has figured out how to power smartphones using a system that includes some water, a tray, a little round container, and an eyeglass case styled cover. The company, ...

Recommended for you

A not-quite-random walk demystifies the algorithm

December 15, 2017

The algorithm is having a cultural moment. Originally a math and computer science term, algorithms are now used to account for everything from military drone strikes and financial market forecasts to Google search results.

US faces moment of truth on 'net neutrality'

December 14, 2017

The acrimonious battle over "net neutrality" in America comes to a head Thursday with a US agency set to vote to roll back rules enacted two years earlier aimed at preventing a "two-speed" internet.

FCC votes along party lines to end 'net neutrality' (Update)

December 14, 2017

The Federal Communications Commission repealed the Obama-era "net neutrality" rules Thursday, giving internet service providers like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T a free hand to slow or block websites and apps as they see fit ...

The wet road to fast and stable batteries

December 14, 2017

An international team of scientists—including several researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory—has discovered an anode battery material with superfast charging and stable operation ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2012
That SOLOWHEEL looks hilariously fun. It even utilizes recharging when going downhill or breaking.

That's a far cry better than those silly wheel shoes that go 2 miles and charge for 2 hours.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.