Tech Goodies off the Beaten Path

With more than 1.8 million square feet of convention hall space and more than 2,700 vendors, it can be a little daunting for some of the smaller technology companies to get attention at the annual International Consumer Electronics Show. So, while the multibillion-dollar companies like Sony, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft were busy laying out their plush carpet and readying their glossy brochures for today's opening there were some off-site media events that introduced products that are sure to impress in 2008.

Vectrix Zero Emission Vehicle — $11,000

A motorcycle that is powered 100 percent by electricity. A stylish, speedy, powerful ride for urban commuters with a conscience. There is no gas in the vehicle. Most of its 500-pound weight comes from a giant rechargeable battery. More than a scooter, the Vectrix can go 0-50 in seven seconds and can cruise at up to 62 mph making it highway legal. The battery lasts an average of 50 miles and recharges in two to three hours. It runs so quietly that the Rhode Island-based company added a subtle hum so people knew it was coming. The thing looks sporty, goes quickly and the efficient rechargeable battery will save the environment and cost only a penny a mile.

Franklin Speaking Spelling Bee (SSB-210) — $99

Franklin's been sponsoring the National Spelling Bee for years evening awarding the winner a $5,000 scholarship, but now it is bringing the fun, or maybe it's the anxiety, home to fourth-graders and above in an innovative little package. The Speaking Spelling Bee has a color screen, three levels of difficulty and three levels of interactivity.

Practice rounds allow you to rehearse and remembers the words you get right and asks you again about words you get wrong. Game Show rounds pit one user versus the computer. Pass Along competition allows up to six players to battle it out on each device. The game is designed for anyone fourth grade and above and Franklin promises adults they will have as much fun attempting to solve the more than 7,000-word vocabulary. There are an additional four games included and room to download more.

Spot Satellite Personal Tracker — $150 for device; $99 a year subscription

The Spot is a little orange box that may just save your life. If you've fallen and you can't get up in the outdoors you may wish you had a Spot attached to your hip, so you can live to tell about it. Cell phones tend not to work when you are stranded in an avalanche, but this device will use a Global Positioning System and satellite technology to send a distress call to a 911 center so that help will know how to find you.

Its one-way messaging also allows for the owner to send OK messages so that loved ones at home can track your progress up the mountain. A setting allows for spot tracking on Google Maps every 10 minutes. A pair of AA batteries will last a year if you only want to use the Spot for emergencies, but if you leave on the tracking you will need to change the batteries every two weeks. The young company rescued its second emergency caller last week after a snowmobile accident left the owner unable to get off the mountain and unable to use a cell phone. The distress signal is received in its Texas-based call center and the location was relayed to the rescue team who was on site within 15 minutes. The device works on land and at sea and on most continents.

Gibson Les Paul Robotic Guitar — $2,500

Music fans may not know about the technology that goes into instruments past the "pickup" that amplifies the sounds, but guitar giant Gibson gained attention with its self-tuning strummer. Limited to an early 4,000-unit run, the guitar has standard-sized tuning keys that are controlled by a CPU in the neck.

There are six pre-sets that are adjusted by a single strum that the robotic ears, brain and motors use to bring all six strings into perfect tune. Musicians have to tune their instrument each time they sit down and the Gibson robotic technology promises to make tuning faster, easier and hassle-free. An unnamed Gibson rep's assertion that, "chicks will dig it" couldn't be immediately tested, because all 4,000 guitars have been already spoken for, but Gibson promises to bring this technology to future products including other stringed instruments.

Cricket Laptop Stand — $39.95

Anyone who travels with their computer or actually puts a laptop on their lap will want a Cricket Laptop stand. The Cricket is fully adjustable, lightweight and available in three colors. The stand boosts your laptop into the air into any of six different positions to boost the computer into an ergonomic viewing and typing height. No more hunching. A simple concept that will make working on the road bearable.

iTornado - USB based micro computer that makes transferring files between Mac and PC easy — $79.95

Macs and PCs just don't want to get along and the iTornado is here to end the war. The small plastic disc has two retractable USB plugs that will each fit into a Mac and a PC. The onboard micro computer will allow the Mac and the PC to instantly access each others files for transfer. There are is no software to load. No settings to adjust. Connect the two computers and instantly start transferring. Four hundred photos take about two minutes to move between machines. Whether you're a switcher from one platform to the other or you use both types of machines you will enjoy the convenience and ease of this neat transfer gizmo.

Medis Power Pack Plus — $29.99

Fuel Cell technology for consumers has been a promise for some time and after two years of promises Medis is ready to start selling a small power pack that is ready to travel. The company recently opened a plat in Ireland to produce the devices. The eco-friendly power pack has almost no metal, can run a cell phone for up to 30 hours or media players by up to 80 hours and has significantly less total environmental impact than energy from traditional battery products. Medis has been working with standards organizations and although the fuel cell is liquid based the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration will allow each passenger up to three units on a plane. Fuel cells are safer and better for the environment and it is good to see that the innovation is becoming available for consumers.