( AFP )- The world's top consumer electronics show informally got under way in Las Vegas with an early glimpse at smart cars, robotic massages and other innovations.
"This is where the gadgets are, and the people that like gadgets," Nate Nelson of Zagg Inc. told AFP on Saturday as he pitched military-grade plastic coating for handheld devices at a Consumer Electronics Show preview dubbed "Unveiled."
A wheeled robot called " Rovio " equipped with a camera rolled past, sending live video wirelessly to a laptop computer being used by its controller, Davin Sufer of Canadian firm WowWee .
The toaster-sized robot can "learn" its way around homes and be dispatched on command to different spots.
"You can send it in to check on the kids," Sufer said as he maneuvered Rovio through the crowd. "There is a real need to stream video from the home onto the Internet."
Rovio's miniature robotic sibling, named "Tri- bot " for the three wheels it uses to get about, entertained passersby with wise cracks and sassy comments.
"People say robots lack personality," Sufer said. "Well, we gave this robot character."
Nearby, people took turns being kneaded and rubbed by a Human Touch lounge chair that combines zero-gravity positioning with robotic massage.
The chair eases folks into a reclining "zero gravity" position that astronauts assume when blasting into space, and then scans bodies to determine which muscles are knotted from stresses or strains.
Machinery in the 4,000-dollar ( US) chair then uses massage and acupressure to relax muscles.
"People finally get to see that a chair can be a high-tech device," Andrew Corkill of Human Touch told AFP. "There is a robot in that chair that mimics the hands and expertise of a massage therapist.
Among wireless technology offerings from France-based Parrot were ways to beam digital music about homes, workplaces, cars and even into motorcycle helmets.
"We ditched the compact discs," said Berthilde Goupy of Parrot. "To us, CDs are dead."
US company Celestron used satellite positioning technology for a handheld SkyScout viewer that anyone curious about the heavens can aim into the night sky and be told precisely what stars they are peering at.
"When I was a boy I wanted a telescope but didn't get it," said Victor Anicetu of Celestron . "Now, I don't need one."
On a more earthbound note, Australian company MTech showed off devices that can be dropped in car or truck fuel tanks to improve fuel efficiency by as much as 20 percent.
"It basically makes fuel burn a lot better," said George Souris of MTech .' "This is the year that CES is going green, so we want this to be our contribution to that goal."
Car maker Continental demonstrated technology that lets vehicles guage conditions and even communicate with each other to help drivers avoid crashes.
Energy-saving devices, hyper-efficient batteries, and computer-controlled homes that sip instead of guzzle power will be featured as CES displays an environmentally-sensitive side.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates will give a keynote speech Sunday, on the eve of the official opening of the world's largest consumer electronics tradeshow.
Consumer electronics trends, opportunities and creations will be highlighted and scrutinized in more than a score of " TechZones " and industry experts will discuss hot topics in conference sessions continuing until the show ends January 10.
Electronics makers vying for the CES spotlight will tout new products and resort to the time-proven tactic of bringing in actors, musicians, magicians, comedians or sports stars.