Checking the Cool at DEMO 09

Just like the Consumer Electronics Show in January, this year's DEMO 09 (produced by Network World's events division) in Palm Desert, Calif., was affected by the continuing gloomy economy. With only 39 companies debuting new products and services, the "glass half empty" people would likely say that there wasn't much to see in the way of innovations, exciting technology or cool products. While there was less to see, there definitely were some shining stars among the demonstrators at this year's event.

View a slideshow on 11 cool tech products at DEMO 09

Here are a few of my favorites:

From a technical standpoint, I like the wireless mesh technology utilized by Avaak in its Vue Personal Video Network system cameras. The system uses a gateway base station that connects to a home router (it can connect via Ethernet or a wireless dongle), and then uses the wireless mesh to connect to individual Vue Webcams. The Webcams are powered by a small lithium-ion battery and can be placed practically anywhere in the home.

A peel-and-stick magnetic mount attaches to the Webcam, which means you can place the cameras on a wall very easily. Once connected, the Vue system can stream video content across the Internet, making this a very easy-to-use "nanny cam" type of system. The range of the system is 300 feet, but optional repeaters can be purchased to extend the range. A basic package (two cameras and the base station) will be available in summer 2009 for US$299, the company says. Additional cameras will cost $99 each.

SmartyCard is providing a way for parents of "tweens" to motivate their kids to learn by providing a rewards program. Parents can buy SmartyCard points, and kids can unlock these points by taking fun, yet educational, quizzes on the SmartyCard Web site. With correct answers (they have to score 7 out of 10), a specified number of points are unlocked (quizzes range from easy to difficult, with harder quizzes earning more points). Kids can take their points and use them to get rewards, such as virtual world time (Club Penguin and so on), as well as Amazon.com books, DVDs, music and more.

The company also plans to sell SmartyCards through retailers (much like iTunes gift cards and other card systems). Some may say that this system is more like bribery, but I disagree. Kids are motivated to learn in different ways (I used to get rewarded by a trip to a favorite restaurant for good grades), so I don't think this is much different. In addition, we now live in a culture that rewards "points" and other such things for succeeding in different things (such as Xbox 360 Achievements in the gaming world), so it doesn't bother me here.

Xandros showed off its Presto utility, which boots up a Windows PC or notebook without actually booting up Windows. It connects to your network (depending on your settings for wired or wireless) and includes applications such as Skype, instant messaging and a Web browser (Firefox). It can access files stored on your system, and with OpenOffice.org integration, will let you edit those documents as well. It's a direct competitor to Phoenix Technologies' HyperSpace software (which I saw at this year's CES), but seems to have some additional features. In addition, the software will cost $19.95, vs. the subscription model for HyperSpace.

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