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Are You Eating Too Fast? Ask Your Fork

Jan 7, 2013
Originally published on January 7, 2013 6:19 pm

What's the coolest new gadget at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week? It's too soon to tell. But I have an early favorite for the title of oddest new gadget: the HAPIfork and HAPIspoon. They may sound like characters from a nursery rhyme, but this fork and spoon connect to the Internet and can monitor and record how you eat.

The HAPI utensils measure how long your meals last, how long you pause between each bite and how many mouthfuls of food you consume.

If these utensils think you are eating too fast, they will vibrate — it feels kind of like a silent ring on a cellphone — to let you know to slow down.

Unfortunately, they are not yet programmed to beep or issue electric shock if you chew with your mouth open. However, you can plug them into your computer when you are done with your meal and upload the data about what you just ate. And you can share it all on Twitter.

Sensors, Sensors Everywhere

As odd as the HAPI utensils may be, they actually touch on a couple of major themes here this year. One is that computers and sensors are being built into everything from forks to ski goggles.

The second trend that the HAPI utensils epitomize is the proliferation of gadgets designed to monitor your weight or how much you exercise or to keep tabs on your eating habits. Most of these little gadgets make it possible to post all of this information online — or analyze it on your smartphone.

A company called Withings helped kick off this trend a couple of years ago by launching an Internet-connected scale. Withings is back with more monitoring devices. But it's a crowded field.

There are at least a half-dozen companies from FitBit to Jawbone UP to Nike's FuelBand competing to make little gadgets or bracelets that can measure how fast you run or how many steps you take, your pulse, or even your sleep.

I met one poor woman who worked for Withings public relations who has now been posting her weight on Facebook for years.

All of which makes me wonder if these products really appeal to anyone.

There are millions of dieters in America, but do they really want to share details about every pound lost or gained? And of course, there are hardcore athletes who want to collect detailed data on every workout, but that's not exactly a mass market.

This category hasn't really broken through to the mainstream. So perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that some companies that make these devices are talking to health insurers and employers about using them to create employee incentive programs

For me, though, that tiptoes right up to the creepy line.

Convergence In The Living Room (Again)

But enough about exercise and eating right. CES wouldn't be CES without something for the couch potato.

There are literally acres of TVs in every possible flavor from 3-D to the new super-high-def 4K televisions.

One of the tech trends I'm interested in is the ongoing effort to get your TV to play nicely with your smartphone, tablet or PC.

So far, one of the most interesting and surprising things in this space has come from Nvidia. Its graphic processors power countless video games and the fastest supercomputer on the planet.

But Sunday Nvidia launched its first ever consumer gaming device. It allows gamers to stream either Android games or PC games from this little tablet — the Shield — right onto their big-screen TV in their living room.

But that's not the Shield's only trick.

Basically the Shield is an Android tablet with game controllers attached. But it can also tap into PCs equipped with Nvidia's latest processors and can access all the movies and content in the Google Play store — and throw all of that content up on your TV.

"You should be able to sit on your couch and if you decide that you would like to share the movie that you are watching on television you simply have to beam it to your television," said Jen-Hsun Huang, Nvidia's co-founder and CEO.

For a device like the Shield to become a commercial success, it has to be incredibly simple to use. It just has to work. Judging from Nvidia's demo Sunday night, it's not there yet.

There were some hiccups — long pauses and awkward moments — while executives onstage tried but failed to connect the device to a PC and a TV. But even if this particular gadget doesn't catch on, I think it's clearly pointing in the direction consumer electronics are headed.

Copyright 2013 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. And time now for All Tech Considered.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: The Consumer Electronics Show is kicking into gear this week. The annual bacchanal for gadget junkies takes place in early January every year in Las Vegas. The show floor doesn't open to the public until tomorrow, but media were given a sneak peak over the weekend, and many companies are unveiling the products they hope will find their way into our living rooms in the coming year.

NPR's Steve Henn is in Las Vegas and has been checking it all out. He joins us now. Hi there, Steve.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Hey.

CORNISH: So I'm jealous. What's the coolest gadget you've seen or heard about at the show so far this year?

HENN: Well, I don't know about coolest, but the oddest gadget might just be the HAPIfork and the HAPIspoon.

CORNISH: Is there any other kind? Is this...

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: They sound like nursery rhymes.

HENN: Yeah. Well, actually, HAPI is spelled H-A-P-I. It stands for Health API. And this fork-and-spoon set are connected to the Internet, and they monitor and record how you eat.

CORNISH: This sounds terrible, but I'm curious. How does it work?

HENN: Well, basically, they measure how long your meals last, the pauses you take between bites, how many mouthfuls you consume. And if the HAPIfork thinks you're eating too fast, it will vibrate to let you know to slow down.

CORNISH: Oh, God. Does it beep if you're chewing with your mouth open?

HENN: Not yet, although after you're done with your meal, you can plug it into a USB port on you computer and upload all the data about your meal.

CORNISH: So did anything else catch your attention? I know sometimes sort of themes emerge over the course of the show.

HENN: Yeah. Well, one of the interesting things is the HAPI utensils actually touch on a couple of big themes. One of them is that computers and sensors are being built into everything, from forks and spoons to ski goggles. The second trend that the HAPIfork is right in the middle of is this proliferation of gadgets that want you to monitor your weight, your exercise and diet, and then make it possible for you to post all of this information online. A company called Withings helped kick off this trend a couple of years ago by launching an Internet-connected scale.

They're back again this year with more monitoring devices. I actually spoke to a woman in their P.R. department who has now been posting her weight on Facebook every day for years.

CORNISH: That is brave. OK, what I mean, who else...

(LAUGHTER)

HENN: Right.

CORNISH: ...would this appeal to?

HENN: Well, you know, honestly, I'm not sure - dieters I guess and there are millions of those. And then hardcore athletes might want monitors to get all the data about their workouts, but I think this category has really struggled to break through to the mainstream. And I've heard recently that some of the companies that make these devices are talking to health insurers and employers about using these gadgets to create employee incentive programs, which at least, to me, sort of tiptoes into the creepy.

CORNISH: All right, Steve, we've been talking about food and exercise. Isn't there anything for the couch potato?

HENN: Yes. Yeah. There are acres and acres of televisions, and one of the trends I'm going to be following is this effort to get your TV to play nicely with your smartphone and your PC.

So one of the most interesting and surprising things I've seen so far at CES this year is a gadget for gamers called the Shield. It was introduced by Nvidia last night, and it lets gamers stream Android games or PC games from this little tablet, the Shield, right onto their big screen TVs. But that's not its only trick.

Here's Jen-Hsun Huang, Nvidia's co-founder and CEO, introducing it last night.

JEN-HSUN HUANG: Movies work. Frankly, it's a pretty terrific entertainment device. This set-top box, if you will, just can travel with me wherever I want to go, and with a connection to television, it replaces really just about everything I own.

HENN: Basically, this little thing is a just an Android tablet with game controllers attached, but it can also tap into your PC and access all the movies and content in Google's Play Store, and then it can throw all of that stuff up onto pretty much any TV.

HUANG: And so you should be able to sit on your couch, and if you decide that you would like to share the movie that you're watching on your Shield on television, you simply have to beam it to your television.

HENN: So I think for anything like this little Shield to become a commercial success, it has to be simple to use. It just has to work, right? And I don't think Nvidia is there yet. There were some pretty major hiccups last night during Nvidia's demo. But even if this particular gadget doesn't catch on, I think it pretty clearly points in the direction consumer electronics are going to be headed.

CORNISH: Steve, thank you.

HENN: Oh, my pleasure.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Steve Henn speaking to us from Las Vegas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.