CES, held in Las Vegas earlier this month, is the world's largest trade show and focuses on consumer electronics. Walking its aisles, one can identify what amounts to digital bandwagons that multiple companies have hopped onto: fitness trackers, sleep enablers, Alexa-linked appliances, medical wearables, GPS-enabled dog-locator collars.
The show is organized around 25 "marketplaces," from smart homes to gaming and virtual reality, but absent is an area dedicated to what is predicted to soon be the largest industry in the world: travel.
This made it a bit challenging to locate advancements related specifically to our industry among the 2.5 million square feet of exhibition space in the three primary venues -- the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Sands Expo and the Westgate Paradise Event Center.
To be sure, travel products were there. Hotels could find them in advancements in beds and sound systems and lighting, many compatible with the Amazon Echo, aka Alexa. In fact, the Wynn Las Vegas has already announced an Alexa in every room. The Internet of Things offers seemingly endless possibilities for the development of smart hotels.
On the day I arrived, I interviewed Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Technology Association, which runs the show. Not only does he negotiate bigger room blocks than any other association executive, but he is himself a road warrior of the first rank.
I asked him how technology could make his travel experiences better.
His answer tapped a technology that is positively ancient: Night lights. He said he's invariably given a large suite, and maneuvering to the bathroom in a dark, unfamiliar and expansive landscape could be greatly aided by a dim light along the floorboards.
His other desires were equally simple: Supply a running map. Put an iron in the closet; don't make him call down for one. He does not need, nor want, a high-tech toilet.
I'll second all that. My brother calls me the Prince of Peeves, because with very little prompting I'll list a series of simple suggestions for hotels. For example, have bath towels within arm's reach of the shower, and please don't layer them so I have to remove the washcloth and hand towel first. (And especially don't layer them like that over a toilet. Those washcloths sometimes drop during the unlayering process.)
Also, replace the safe that was designed to hold a gentleman's cuff links with one that has room for a laptop plus a few other gadgets, and position it horizontally so I don't have to be prepared to catch everything when the door opens.
Keep lobbies on the ground floor. What makes anyone think guests want to wait for an elevator once to check in, then again to get to their room?
But I digress. What I went looking for as I roamed the aisles of CES were ways to reduce, rather than expand, the number of things I currently bring on a trip. I can forgo the toothbrush that also renders a "3-D mouth map."
I checked out several Bluetooth earbuds, not only seeking a minor weight reduction but to ditch wires that get tangled. But the versions I saw invariably came with chargers that added weight, and I realized that until airline entertainment systems adopted Bluetooth, I'd still have to pack the wired ones, too.
Activity-tracking options have exploded, and monitors can be found within shoes, rings, watchbands and designer-name watches. The Chinese were there in force, offering very inexpensive, attractive tracking watches.
If you acquired every wearable monitor of bodily health that I saw -- heart rate, alcohol level, blood-sugar level, etc. -- you'd have more bracelets than a 13-year-old girl who had been given a $100 gift card to Claire's.
Personally, I'm not ready to give up my analog watches for a wrist tracker, but I did look seriously at fitness-tracking insoles that slide into ordinary shoes.
There were two things I came across that, if they work as advertised, I'd buy: First, a lightweight, electrically heated long-sleeve shirt that detects your need for warmth and turns on and off automatically, eliminating the need to bring bulky jackets or additional clothes to layer in cold climes. It's not windproof, so you'd still need to bring a shell of some kind, but it would be a huge step in the right direction.
Second, Mymanu earbuds claim to translate (with a five- to seven-second delay) 37 spoken languages, whispering into your ears in English what is being said to you in a foreign tongue. The inventor said his demo models were held up in customs, but if they actually work, I'm in.
Some things I saw came to my attention a little late. Where were the radiation-proof boxer shorts before my daytrip to Chernobyl?
I do think there is a business opportunity for a company that can outfit a "smart traveler" in lightweight, integrated accessories the way a smart home brings the controls of appliances and environmental and security systems under a central command.
Being a well-equipped smart traveler won't stop me from becoming cranky when the towels are nested wrong or I stub my toe in the dark, but I know my overall mood will improve. And hopefully, I can shake the Prince of Peeves label if I pare down my burgeoning burden of gadgets.