A Look Back At Some CES Hot Air

In 2006 I was “leading” a team of Gizmodo reporters at CES from my underground lair in deepest Brooklyn. My son had just been born in December and I decided to stay home so I’d chat with the team over Campfire and tell them to look at stuff. It rarely worked.

But one thing got their attention: the Quantum Disk from the Atom Chip Corporation. The system was making waves because it purported to contain a quantum disk drive. What did this mean? A 2005 version of John Biggs wrote:

They are producing both an external hard drive and a laptop line. They work in Linux and Windows XP and haven’t been tested with anything Macintosh/Apple. Sizes of up to 4TB come in something the size of a book of matches (the laptops weigh 4.18 pounds). Stunning. Expensive. Laptops are expected to sell for $17,500. I’m still VERY skeptical, only because this seems impossibly cool.

Multiple “reporters” (bloggers weren’t considered real press yet) scurried over to look at the booth and the laptop and even some of the “mainstream” tech press – there were still magazines back then – reported breathlessly about the innovation. The website, Quantum Optical, still exists although I believe it’s running on an old Windows server in some far off colocation room and our interest has blown years of dust off of its motherboard. That was my first brush with true wild-eyed genius at CES.

Another memorable bit of CES snake oil came in the form of a powerful tablet that promised the world – and missed the mark. Called the Notion Ink Adam, it first appeared in about 2009 before the first really powerful tablets it the scene. It should also be noted that the world first learned of Notion Ink after our own CrunchPad died so perhaps we were all looking for a hero. In the intervening years the Notion Ink was the biggest piece of vaporware ever but it had a rabid following. This following would rage at you if you dared disparage the tablet and lived inside its own little death cult of forums and websites. It should be noted that one of the most virulent forums, notionaddicts.com, is now down permanently.

You can check out this exciting video featuring not one but two (!) Notion Ink tablets in the flesh. It was a fun interview and the team was great and, it should be noted, that these guys were literally about two years ahead of their time. If they had wanted to build a tablet now they could have created a piece of hardware in Shenzhen and funded it via Kickstarter… and they could have shipped.

Most recently our own Kyle Russell found a scooter that broke the laws of physics. These sorts of perpetual motion hoaxes are a real treat and the best thing is that anyone with a little cash and a dream can simply drive their regular internal combustion car to Las Vegas and set up a booth. For a little bit more cash you can buy your way into becoming an Innovation Awards nominee for a few hundred dollars. This allowed true wackos to become Innovation Awards nominees, thereby clouding things for confused journalists who were only in the tech space for the free shrimp cocktails. It was a heady time.

Perpetual motion machines often sneak in under the radar at big shows like CES but, luckily, we haven’t seen any yet this year. But there’s still hope.

Why this walk down memory lane? To remind ourselves that for every boring idea in tech – fridges with TVs – and for every cool idea in tech – anything in our hardware battlefield – there are thousands of equal and opposite crazy ideas. And sometimes the crazy ideas are just crazy and sometimes they are far ahead of their time and sometimes, in a few rare, special cases, aliens tell you how to build them.