If you've been to one of Dot Media's events, you'll know that our Innovation Lab hosts companies presenting cutting-edge technology that's poised to transform the market with groundbreaking ideas and solutions.
In that spirit, we take a weekly look beyond the world of apps, ads and handsets with slightly bigger screens, in order to share some of the tech world's most innovative ideas. This week, with CES taking place in Las Vegas, there were just too many weird and wonderful tech announcements to count.
So, instead of our usual quick round-up, we've taken a slightly more long-form look at the best the show had to offer. Enjoy.
Every year, for one week in early January, Las Vegas turns into the centre of the tech universe, as manufacturers, developers, investors and press all flock to CES to catch a glimpse of the latest devices and creations from across the globe.
These may be consumer-ready product launches poised to invade the market, or simply proof-of-concept prototypes that will never be more than one-offs. Either way, CES provides us with a fantastic look at the year ahead, indicating what major trends we can expect from hardware manufacturers.
The big theme that was evident across multiple sectors at this year's CES was the blurring of the line between physical and digital. What started when we began carrying our smartphones everywhere has now evolved to a point where we expect a seamless transition between our real and digital lives, with our environment and belongings bridging the gap.
Smart home innovations were everywhere, from pots that water your plants for you to mobile-controlled pet feeders. Belkin announced an expansion to its WeMo line of sensors which can be deployed around the home, adding door and room, alarm and keychain sensors to its existing line of cameras, lights and even slow cookers, all of which can be connected via a smartphone.
Sleep Number had already premiered its smart bed at last year's CES, but this year brought along its model for kids, which connects to a sleep 'dashboard' on parents' phones to provide them with data on comfort and hours slept, as well as alerting them if a child is out of bed or there's a lot of movement. The bed's firmness can be adjusted as kids grow, and it features lighting which parents can turn off remotely and, most importantly, a monster detector on the app for banishing under-bed bogeymen.
Nest further developed its smart home ecosystem, announcing 15 new partnerships with a variety of appliances ahead of CES. Both Google and Philips announced plans for connected speakers and audio devices that would enable consumers to send music from their phone to speakers with ease, with Philips partnering with Spotify to develop a multi-room system that seamlessly transitions from phones and tablets to various rooms around the home.
Connected cars have had a big year at CES, with everyone from Ford to Mercedes-Benz outlining their future plans for automated driving, gesture-controlled instrument panels and concept vehicles that bare closer resemblance to a Star Trek living room than a car. But it's not just cars that have been getting connected.
French firm Connected Cycle premiered its new smart bike pedal at the show. Thanks to a GPS connection and the firm's cloud platform, the pedal enables owners to track the bike should it be stolen, through an accompanying app.
Cyclists can also track their activity using the pedal, with detailed statistics about how far they've travelled over time, the routes they have taken and how many calories they've burned, all with a discreet piece of integrated tech.
For a more unconventional form of transport, we can turn to Snowcookie's sensor system designed to aid skiers perfect their downhill form, without the need for expensive private lessons.
With two sensors placed towards the front of your skies and your iPhone placed in your front pocket, the companion app tracks your body in relation to your skis, providing you with real-time dynamic feedback via headphones. The company is also working on an app for Recon's HUD goggles, providing tech-savvy winter sports fans with visual data to go with the audio instruction.
Connected Living, Smartphones and Big Data
It's easy to see a theme emerging as we examine all these devices – while there are an increasing number of internet-connected devices out there, the smartphone still acts as the central hub that controls them all. The average consumer already spends 44 hours per month interacting with their phone, and unlocks it over 100 times a day, but as more smart devices fill up our lives, our phones will only become more central.
This has two consequences for marketers. Not only will mobile become an increasingly important channel for reaching consumers, the amount of data generated from our constant interactions with smart and connected devices will grow exponentially.
"Our physical lives are quickly becoming one and the same as those lived in the digital world, and consumers are essentially living online, giving marketers increasingly large datasets to manage," said Konrad Feldman, CEO of Quantcast. "The possibilities of all this data present a host of new challenges for technology companies, along with brands.
"However, we will soon see the winners emerge in the form of brands that make the most of this opportunity by harnessing the data to create the most relevant experiences and tailored connections with their customers across all devices."
Wearables and Weirdness
Of course, it wouldn't be CES (or the Innovation Lab) without some truly out-there creations, and this year didn't disappoint. Breathometer, who a couple of years ago developed a portable breathalyzer that could be plugged into your phone, was back at CES with Breeze, a new and improved design that connects via Bluetooth, and its latest device, Mint.
Using similar technology, Mint measures some of the 300 biomarkers that exist in your breath to analyse breath quality and hydration. As well as letting you know if you need to brush your teeth or drink some water, it can give you a decent indication of your oral health and even help detect conditions like diabetes.
Anyone who's walked the floor at CES will know how loud it can get, with thousands of exhibitors and guests all talking up their products. One company was offering a little peace in the din however. Silentium has used its Quiet-Bubble technology to create the Comfort-Shell, a giant, vaguely helmet shaped object that rests above you as you sit and uses opposing signals, or "anti-noise", to cancel out the hubbub.
While CES guests using the Comfort-Shell had the drone of the show floor replaced with soft, relaxing music, the company's technology is more likely to be deployed in cars, offering a respite from road noise, and even in bedrooms, with a smaller version attached to a headboard letting one partner sleep in silence while the other watched television.
Software maker Eye Tribe was showing off a different sort of creation at CES, with the world's first eye-tracking SDK for Android devices, enabling app developers to integrate eye-based controls into their software.
Among the developers who have already worked with Eye Tribe is Lego, who have developed learning tools and new ways to interact with Lego sets, allowing users to build digital Lego sets with eye tracking.
Like connected devices, wearable technology was a big sector at CES, and while there were plenty of smart watches, activity trackers and wearable cameras, perhaps the oddest piece of wearable tech was the Thync, a device that shocks your brain with electricity to create calm or energised states.
Using two pads (one attached behind your right ear, the other on the right side of your temple) and an app that places the controls in your hand, the Thync sends tiny electric shocks into your brain, creating the same sort of effect that a cup of strong coffee or a sleeping tablet might, without the chemical side effects.
Those who've used the device, which is still only in prototype, have reported that it is an odd sensation that takes some getting used to, but seems to have the effect it claims. While it requires more work before it is released, it's possible this year we'll see the step from wearables that simply monitor your body to those that actively change it being made.
"The prediction that CES would be stuffed to the rafters with wearables was a self-fulfilling prophecy, as we see an unprecedented amount of wearables revealed," said Pierre Naggar, managing director of Europe at Turn. "What these gadgets all have in common is the wealth of data they generate about consumers.
"Effectively an extension of the mobile channel, these devices will provide a new understanding of how people travel through their day and interact with the world around them. This is a huge opportunity for marketers if they can achieve a holistic understanding of the customer journey."
If CES is truly an indicator of what we can expect from the year ahead, it looks as though the definition of the mobile experience is going to grow broader and broader, and mobiles will be more central to our lives than ever before.