By Jeff Berman / Special to the Miami Herald
The first products that come to mind when thinking about the annual technology extravaganza known as the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which was held through Saturday in Las Vegas, are probably not medical alert bracelets and facial masks to treat wrinkles and other skin-related issues. But several South Florida tech companies touting devices like those as well as more traditional electronics products were among the more than 3,600 exhibitors this time.
The show’s increased emphasis on newer, nontraditional consumer electronics product categories is underscored by the recent decision by the Consumer Electronics Association, which produces CES, to change its name to the Consumer Technology Association. CES is clearly no longer just about audio, video and computers.
Boca Raton-based MobileHelp (www.mobile"help.com) and Sunrise-based MDLIVE (https://www.mdlive.com/) are among a growing number of companies that exhibit at the show’s Health & Wellness Marketplace as the digital health field continues its energetic growth, thanks largely to the increased role that mobile devices play in consumers’ lives.
“This is a really great venue to announce new products,” said MobileHelp CEO Robert Flippo. Products get great national exposure because of all the media at CES, he said. The show also provides a good way for companies to forge business relationships with retailers, suppliers and other companies, he said. The company was started in 2006 and made the MobileHelp Medical Alert System available to consumers in 2009. The company first exhibited at CES in 2010.
This time, MobileHelp used CES to introduce devices including a Bluetooth emergency button that works together with the company’s medical alert devices and the MobileHelp Connect app it introduced for mobile devices in 2014. The button can be worn around the wrist much like a watch, but it also can be easily removed from the wristband and worn around the neck or attached to a key chain, Flippo said. In case of an emergency, users just have to press the button and they will automatically be able to access MobileHelp’s trained emergency call center operators, who can send help if needed. The button costs $19.99 (plus $15 a month for full monitoring services) and is the first device that MobileHelp has offered for sale to customers, Flippo said, pointing out that his company rents its other medical alert devices. “We’re working on some retail distribution.”
Up next for MobileHelp is a planned 4G LTE Cellular Base Station, in development now, that uses the same kind of touch-screen interface as a tablet, which it resembles. It will become available to consumers in late 2016 with the same rental business model and similar pricing as the company’s current in-home base station, which costs $41.95 a month to rent with a charging cradle, Flippo said. But the 4G LTE unit won’t require consumers to use separate computers to set up alerts, like the current model does, he said. That new product “opens the door to deliver a lot more services to the end user,” he said. It should also help accomplish the company’s goal of increasing the market for medical alert devices beyond senior citizens, he said, adding, “This doesn’t look like a medical alarm system,” but pretty much like a typical tablet.
MDLIVE, meanwhile, first exhibited at CES seven years ago, when the show started its Digital Health Summit, said Randy Parker, the company’s CEO, president and founder. MDLIVE continues to use CES to expose the company’s virtual health service to as many people as possible: Lack of awareness is the “biggest challenge we have in the virtual care space,” Parker said. His company allows consumers to get “immediate access” to a board-certified physician in all 50 U.S. states by visiting the MDLIVE website or downloading its Android, iOS or Windows app, he said. MDLIVE has deals with several health insurance companies, so users enrolled in one of those plans would just make a small co-payment to use MDLIVE, he said. It costs $49 to use the service if paying for it out of pocket without a health insurance plan, he said. This year at the show, the company was “going to hand out thousands of free” virtual MDLIVE visits with a board-certified doctor, he said.
The increased popularity of mobile-based health features also plays a major role in the growth of the wearables market, made up largely of devices that can track fitness results and also measure heart rate, pulse and other data.
This year was the third time that Fort Lauderdale-based Vert has exhibited its "Vert Wearable Jump Monitor at CES, said Martin Matak, its president and founder. The company’s initial product targeted athletes, who can clip the small, black device onto their clothing near the waste. Or they can integrate the monitor into a separate article of clothing, such as the belt that comes with the product as part of a $124.99 bundle.
When Vert exhibited at CES three years ago, in Eureka Park — the specialized exhibit area for startups — the goal was to gauge attendees’ reaction, Matak said; “I think we had a great story to tell and I think CES is a great platform to do that.” The reaction was strong enough that Vert increased the size of its CES booth each time since then.
At this year’s CES, Vert introduced Vert2, an enhanced version of its device that adds the ability to measure the intensity, exertion and stress levels of the person wearing it. The new device is expected to available to consumers in May. Vert also said it partnered with Zensah, a Miami company that specializes in apparel featuring compression technology that, according to the Zensah website, “draws sweat away from the body, allowing the garment and athlete to stay cool, dry and light.” (http://www.zensah.com/contact-us/) In addition to its own website myvert.myshopify.com, Vert has also sold its device through Amazon.com. The partnership with Zensah may allow Vert to expand into brick-and-mortar retail because of the Miami company’s relationship with dealers including Dick’s Sporting Goods, Matak said.
Although the digital health and wearables categories are growing significantly — and those trends were underscored by the dedicated sections for each of them on the CES show floor — the same thing couldn’t exactly be said for beauty-related technology products at the show, specifically the low-level laser therapy (LLLT) products fielded by Boca Raton-based Apira Science (http://www.apirascience.com/).
But Apira, started five years ago by its president, Jeff Braile, and two partners, received a significant amount of publicity when it exhibited its first product, the $695 iGrow Hair Growth System, in Eureka Park last year, Braile said. That product is worn on the head like a helmet and treats thinning hair and balding in men and women, according to the company, which says at its website that LLLT “energizes cellular activity within the follicle” to promote hair growth.
It was “one of the best decisions we ever made,” said Braile of exhibiting at CES in 2015. Apira returned this time to Eureka Park to introduce the iDerma Facial Beautification System. Like the earlier product, iDerma is a fully wearable device. But instead of being worn on the head like iGrow, iDerma slips over the face and claims to treat various skin disorders. We’ll leave it to medical experts to say whether the device indeed accomplishes those goals. After all, unlike a product such as MobileHelp, whose benefits can be confirmed in only a few seconds on the show floor, the results from using a product like iDerma would take longer to see. Apira’s website includes a link to a published medical report touting the effectiveness of LLLT. The basic iDerma system will cost about $349 and include an anti-aging mask. The company will sell additional masks – one for skin lightening and the other for acme treatment – at $100-$200, said Braile. The company is hoping to make the products available at retail in the second quarter of 2016, he said.
The devices shown by Miami Beach-based AdMobilize (web.admobi"lize.com/) and Miami-based Webee (webee"life.com/) at CES last week fell into a wide category that, like wearables and digital medicine, has become increasingly popular in the tech space and CES in recent years: the Internet of Things (IoT) for the smart home.
AdMobilize has followed its AdBeacon advertising analytics device that measures the effectiveness of online ads with Matrix, a device that is sort of the exact opposite in its concept. While AdBeacon was designed to focus entirely on one application, Matrix is a device targeted at application developers that was designed to make it easier for them to build a wide range of IoT apps— including motion detection, Bluetooth and GPS — in a matter of minutes, according to the company. This will significantly cut down on costs as well as time, said Rodolfo Saccoman, AdMobilize CEO and founder. AdMobilize will release Matrix to developers in May at $299.99. The company raised $104,157 for the project on Kickstarter last month, and Matrix won the 2016 CES Innovation Award in the category of “Tech for a Better World.”
Saccoman, who attended CES for three years “just to explore,” exhibited at the show for the first time this year, at Eureka Park, he said. It was too soon to gauge what kind of exposure Matrix would achieve at the show, he said last week, but it was “rewarding just to be here and show the product.”
Webee also used crowdfunding for the smart home hub it spotlighted at CES. The company sought $50,000 via Indiegogo in 2014 for its Webee smart home hub and ended up raising nearly $75,000 instead, said Lucas Funes, its CEO and founder. The device allows users to control several smart devices in their homes through one mobile app. It also uses artificial intelligence to provide energy monitoring inside the home, said Funes, telling us that the device learns the user’s energy consumption patterns, then detects anomalies in energy usage and makes suggestions to save energy.
After exhibiting at Eureka Park for the first time last year, it stepped up its presence at the show in 2016 with a booth in the Smart Home Marketplace, he said. Exhibiting at CES allows the company to demonstrate its product again and keep in touch with its business partners, he said.
The South Florida company with the most traditional consumer electronics product line among these companies — computers — opted to not even exhibit on the show floor. Instead, Miami-based custom PC maker Origin PC once again set up exhibit space offsite at the nearby Cosmopolitan hotel. The company has been offsite each year since 2010 because the “more controlled environment” that’s free from the “chaos” of the show floor makes it easier to meet with business partners and reporters, said Kevin Wasielewski, CEO and co-founder.
“Not everyone that comes to CES is our customer,” said Hector Penton, chief operating officer and another co-founder. One look at the new products Origin is showing this week underscores that. They include Omni, a customizable all-in-one gaming desktop PC featuring a 34-inch curved Samsung monitor that will start at $1,999 and can climb to well over $10,000 when it becomes available this quarter. It’s targeted at computer gamers looking for a powerful, customizable PC that can handle the latest computer games. Another new product is Chronos, a small but powerful desktop PC for gaming. The latter product will become available to consumers next month starting at about $1,699 and can top out at much more than that, Wasielewski said. That’s clearly a far cry from the sub-$1,000 price point of typical consumer PCs today.
Photos by Jeff Berman