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Where are our jetpacks and flying cars?

Named as one of Time magazine's Top 50 inventions for 2010, the Martin Jetpack is -- according to the company -- the world's first practical jetpack.

Our coverage of the global consumer electronics show.

Tomorrow is the start of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the annual bacchanal of all things technological. The tech industry is known for promising us the future, but how often does technology deliver on that promise. We are after all, still waiting on the JetPack.

Benjamin R Harrison was working at CES last year as videographer for the website Engadget when he was ushered into a hotel room, to see the unveiling of a prototype for a virtual reality headset that allows users to become the character in a game. "At that point it was literally ski goggles that had components duct-taped into it," remembers Harrison. Virtual Reality, like JetPacks, was promised to us long ago. In this case, the duct tape ski goggle contraption became Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset expected to deliver on the promise of virtual reality gaming.

Roughly 20,000 new products will launch at this year's CES. But very few will be big commercial successes. "I think the way to think about this is as more of a case of evolution then things succeeding or failing," says Shawn Dubravac, chief economist and head of research at The Consumer Electronics Association, which produces CES.

Many of the products unveiled this week will flop commercially. Often the first generation of a product is the crummiest. It can take time for bugs to be worked out or for people to understand why something would be useful to them. Many of this year's new products are part of a larger technological trend, the digitization of everyday things.

Dubravac says the future is one of sensorization, where everyday objects, from toothbrushes to tennis rackets, will have sensors that generate streams of data, like the speed of your backhand. The age of autonomy, as Dubravac calls it, where cars drive themselves, and all of our things talk to our computer so it can manage all the data generated by our new gadgets, freeing us to enjoy them.

About the author

David Weinberg is a general assignment reporter at Marketplace.

Our coverage of the global consumer electronics show.

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