For many people, Japan's annual technology conference, CEATEC, will seem like a TV showroom on steroids. That's because the country's top tech brands cram dozens of their biggest, flattest TVs—and bigger, flatter prototypes—into their booths at the Makuhari Messe convention center, near Tokyo. Companies crank up the brightness on their sets so they can be seen from afar. And the barrage of product ads and media announcements reverberates throughout the venue to produce an unrelenting wall of white noise. The effect is not unlike that of the speakers blaring Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries at a man seated in an armchair in the 1980s TV ad for Maxell cassette tapes.
But CEATEC, which runs from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4, isn't only about TVs. And to focus on them would be to miss out on much of the spectacle. Nissan Motor (NSAN.Y) showed off a robot whose crash-avoidance technology mimics bee behavior. TDK (TDK), which used to make magnetic tapes, devoted space to the wind turbines and solar energy systems that use its high-tech components. Microsoft (MSFT) had its Windows Live. Speaker specialist Bose showcased its technology in cars and headphones. And watchmaker Citizen had everything from capacitors and sensors to ladies' watches as tiny as a one-yen coin. There are hundreds of other smaller companies and vendors that do all the behind-the-scenes stuff, from wiring and chips to motors and software.
Of course, the biggest companies have the splashiest exhibits. The show's big draw? Futuristic prototypes, some of which will never make it out of the lab. Here are a few highlights.