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Consumer Electronics Show Highlights Internet-Connected Gadgets


Things are getting smarter - phones, speakers, bathroom sinks. What does it mean when your stuff seems to know what you want before you do? NPR's technology correspondent Shannon Bond went to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to find out.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: CES is filled with some of the most familiar names in technology; Google, Amazon, Samsung - Weber grills?

CHRIS SCHERZINGER: The Weber Connect platform can turn any grill into a smart grill, and so it gives you a step-by-step grilling experience to make sure that you get the very best food on the back end.

BOND: Chris Scherzinger is CEO of Weber. For the company's CES debut, he's come prepared to talk the technology talk - platform, smart grill. He shows me what he means at Weber's outdoor barbecue here in Las Vegas. There's hardware - a big black grill with a small display on one side.

SCHERZINGER: That screen will tell you the temperature of the grill itself. It'll tell you the temperature of each probe that you're using. So in this case there's a probe going into this brisket, and you'd read that on the screen.

BOND: It's lunchtime, and the air is filled with the smoky smells of brisket and chicken being grilled for tacos. The smart grill syncs up to Weber's new smartphone app, Weber Connect. You open the app and pick the meat you want to cook. The app tells you the right seasoning, when to flip it, when it's done.

A lot of the companies that showed up at CES this year make products that are hardly known for technology - grills, toilets, mattresses. So why does every product today need to be smart or connected? Some people here at CES tell me it's about using technology to free ourselves from technology.

JONATHAN BRADLEY: Eighty percent of consumers bring a phone into the bathroom. We're trying to reverse that a little.

BOND: Jonathan Bradley is a product manager at Kohler, which makes bathroom fixtures.

BRADLEY: We want the bathroom to stay a place of rest, relaxation, calm and recharging and only have technology when you actually need it.

BOND: At CES the company is showing off its new showerhead, Moxie. It has a removable, waterproof speaker right in the middle where the water comes out. You operate it through Amazon's Alexa voice assistant or your phone's Bluetooth connection. Moxie joins other tech-ified (ph) fixtures in Kohler's Konnect line. There's a mirror you can ask to brighten or lower the light or play your favorite radio station. The mirror can even tell the shower to turn on and off, at least when the Wi-Fi at CES cooperates.

BRADLEY: Alexa, ask Konnect to start my shower.

ALEXA: Sorry, something went wrong. Please try again.

BRADLEY: Oh, here we go.

BOND: Can I try turning it off?


BOND: Alexa, ask Konnect to stop my shower.

ALEXA: Turning off shower.

BOND: Kohler is not the only company I run into that thinks technology can save us from our bad tech habits. At another booth, there's a line to try out Muse. It's a headband that gives voice-guided meditations. The sounds you hear change depending on your brain activity, heart rate and breathing. Co-founder Ariel Garten says using her product to meditate has given her some distance from her smartphone.

ARIEL GARTEN: I can sit with a little bit of discomfort of wanting to check my phone and say, nope, it's OK. Move my mind away, onto something that matters to me. So it's a little bit ironic that we're using technology to disconnect from technology, but it really works.

BOND: It sounds tempting, but the line is long and other gadgets beckon.

Shannon Bond, NPR News, Las Vegas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shannon Bond is a business correspondent at NPR, covering technology and how Silicon Valley's biggest companies are transforming how we live, work and communicate.