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Years ago, futurists imagined a world where everything was connected to the Internet. The idea has sputtered forward since it was first conceived. But if this year's annual International Consumer Electronics Show tells us anything, it's that the so-called Internet of Things is here in full force. At this year's show, dozens of vendors unveiled a range of gadgets that can be controlled via websites or smartphone apps or both. Think toothbrushes, dog collars, smoke alarms, crockpots and automobiles. Here we look at a few of our favorites.
Sony CEO Kunimasa Suzuki displays the company's latest fitness band, the Core. Just about everyone and their uncle is jumping into fitness band craze. The wearable bands have sensors that track a runner's or walker's steps, monitor pulse rate and even a person's sleep. Although many showed up at CES without the corresponding smartphone app, they're coming and consumers will soon be able to chose a fitness band especially for them.
Each FootLogger insole from 3L Labs has eight pressure sensors and an accelerometer that turns any shoe into a health monitor. Wearers can track their fitness activity as well as stride -- a metric that could come in handy for older folks with walking issues.
This interactive cooktop from Whirlpool turns a kitchen surface into a stovetop. The Internet connection allows any cook to find recipes, look up cooking tips and post photos of the final dish on social networking sites.
Belkin introduced its Crock-Pot WeMo Slow Cooker, which allows users to control and monitor cooking times and temperatures via a smartphone.
Nest Labs, who released a thermostat in 2011, introduced the Smoke + Carbon Monoxide detector. This alarm gives talking alerts, illuminates hallways and delivers notifications to smartphones or tablets. Other companies including Honeywell and Allure Energy, showed off voice-activated Internet-connected thermostats.
The Kolibree toothbrush has a sensor that detects how much tartar is being removed and records brushing activity so users can maintain a consistent cleaning each time. Because like all of these products, it connects to the Internet, it's able to convey brushing information to a smartphone app. That could be good for parents who want to monitor their kids' teeth cleaning efforts.
Several carmakers including Audi, Chevrolet, GM and more are joining Ford by embedding high-speed, wireless 4G technology into their cars. Audi and Chevrolet specifically are teaming up with AT&T to offer onboard Internet connectivity. Passengers can access video, radio, news and social media over the car's built-in Wi-Fi connection.
Parrot, who showed off their AR.Drone at CES back in 2010, this year presented the MiniDrone, which comes with clip-on wheels that allow it to drive as well as fly. The wheels also protect it if it bumps into furniture. Users control it via an app through Bluetooth Low Energy instead of Wi-Fi.
Orbotix already has fun app-controlled balls, but their latest Sphero 2B is upping the ante. The tubular robot has interchangeable wheels, tires and hubcaps designed for rumbling up to 10 miles per hour over a variety of terrain.
The Voyce dog collar is a fitness tracker for your furry friend. An accelerometer tracks Fido's activity and inactivity, calculating calories burned. It also uses a built-in radio frequency device to measure heart rate and respiration. Owners can upload data about their pet's health to a website or share it with vets or on social networking websites.
The Babolat Play is the world's first connected tennis racquet. Sensors on the handle collect information about the player's swing, power, endurance, technique and ball impact and then send it to an app. Players can use those data points to adjust their play and improve their skill.
Yttrium. Praseodymium. Dysprosium. These are some of the elements known collectively as rare earth metals, and while you may have never heard of them (or may not be able to pronounce their names) you likely encounter them every day. Pull out your smartphone.
There they are, embedded in the screen, the circuitry and the speakers. With millions of smartphones and countless other electronics built every year using rare earth metals, supplies of these high-tech materials may someday become scarce. A new study shows, however, that an untapped source of rare earth elements may lie under the sea.
The potential deep-sea sources of rare earth elements are nodules of iron and manganese that are abundant on the ocean floor. These nodules, called ferromanganese deposits, build slowly over time as dissolved iron and manganese in seawater attaches to seafloor sediments. Many other metals hitch a ride and become incorporated into the deposits, but in much smaller quantities than iron or manganese. Those include metals such as cobalt and nickel, as well as rare earth metals.
Geochemists in Germany developed a method to efficiently extract rare earth metals from ferromanganese nodules using the solvent desferrioxamine-B, also known by its commercial name, Desferal, a treatment for the iron-intoxication disease hematochromatosis.
Desferal binds more strongly to some metals than others and when applied to ferromanganese nodules, effectively and efficiently extracts rare earth metals, leaving other metals behind in the nodules. By refining their ore-leaching method, the team was able to extract up to 80 percent of four rare earth metals from some ferromanganese nodules.
Their results are published in Applied Geochemistry.
With around 130,000 metric tons of rare earth metals mined each year, and 95 percent of those mined in one country (China), the value of an alternative, efficient source of high-tech metals is clear. And as demand increases, these deep-sea rocks could become components in future solar panels, wind turbines and, of course, smartphones.