CES 2017: Searching for the sounds of tech

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Can CES delight the ear as well as the eye?

CES is a visual feast of lights, colour, people, costumes – and of course endless gadgets.

There are plenty of striking pictures from the show floor.

But are any of the exhibitors interested in delighting your ears?

Rather like the city of Las Vegas itself, it has its own distinctive beat.

There’s the hubbub of chatter. The hiss of vending cart coffee machines. The thumping bass and discord of various sound systems vying for attention. The amplified echo of a hundred demonstrations. The ringtones and message alerts from thousands of mobile phones.

And also – this being a tech fair – the whizzes and ticks and buzzes and bings of robots and drones.

In a nutshell: it’s extremely loud.

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Robots make quite a racket – just what you’d expect at a football match

After hours of stalking the vast halls of CES besieged by visuals, I decided to try and find beguiling sounds instead.

Things did not get off to a good start.

The first robot I encountered – a service machine designed to guide people around museums – responded to my greeting by asking me whether I was “fickle after kissing”.

Its mortified owner told me it was confused. It wasn’t the only one.

Next, I asked one of the show guides where I could find some interesting noises, and was promptly escorted to a section of the show floor dedicated to in-car speakers.

I had to explain that as much as I admire Lady Gaga, the strains of her hit Bad Romance blasting out of the back of a Jeep rammed floor-to-ceiling with sub woofers wasn’t what I had in mind either.

It was in a start-up zone called Eureka Park that I struck audio gold.

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Some gadgets, like the cuddly Talkies, can’t wait to speak up

I was drawn in by the sound of crickets – very incongruous in a giant exhibition hall with no natural light, let alone greenery. It was coming from an air purifier called Clair with a built-in Bluetooth speaker nestling at a tiny stand towards the back.

“When people sleep they need fresh air and also this kind of sound can help people sleep better,” said a spokesman who introduced himself as Bono from South Korea.

“So, we put them both together.”

Thank you, Bono.

It’s the sort of stuff that’s perfect for radio, in fact. After that, I captured the warm American male tones of a virtual assistant designed for cars and the staccato gunfire of a man who was evidently immersed in a VR game of mortal combat that only he could see.

Next came machine-like marching sounds from a team of forearm-sized Aelos robots playing miniature football, and a delegate attempting to play Let It Be by The Beatles on a Magic Instruments digital guitar. It’s supposed to be easy to learn. Perhaps he tried the wrong tune.

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The Emys robot has a natural sounding voice – and looks like a cross between ET and a Ninja Turtle

I bonded with natural-voiced Emys, a Kickstarter-funded desktop robot that looked like a cross between ET and a Ninja Turtle. It has been designed to teach young children foreign languages (did you know that castle in Spanish is castillo?).

I also hugged a gurgling Talkie – a cuddly little monster with wi-fi that you can use to exchange voice messages with your children.

Olly, a robot that claims to adapt to the personality of its owner, told me about feeling both happy and sad in a mournfully child-like voice.

“By the end of the day I’ll be dead,” complained an uncomfortable promotions girl, fidgeting in a pair of towering stilettos.

“And if I’m not – just kill me.”

Meanwhile, a little bat-shaped speaker chimed like a casino slot machine, as it tried to re-establish a connection with the smartphone it was supposed to be streaming music from.

What’s the sound of CES? It’s all of those things. All at the same time. All day long. And it’s music to my ears.

Listen to Zoe’s radio report on The World This Weekend, on Radio 4 at 13:00 GMT

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