Strange Innovations
Many strange things are happening around that it has not been surprising anymore to see the weirdness extend to everyday items.

At the International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago, big brands and basement inventors introduced their latest products, offering solutions for struggles consumers face throughout the home.

Organizers at this year's show saw continued growth in the number of "smart" Internet-connected devices, from a robot vacuum users can control from their phone while they are out of the house to a pet feeder that allows them to have a two-way video chat with Fido, said Lisa Casey-Weiss, a consumer lifestyle consultant with the International Housewares Association.

Many companies are also offering gadgets tailored to the trend of tiny living, which has consumers downsizing their lives into smaller spaces, Casey-Weiss said. Items like washer/dryer combo units and KitchenAid's new Artisan Mini stand mixer are designed to take up less space.

Here are some of these items:

  1. The Spherificator
    This gadget will turn any liquid into caviar-like pearls that burst in your mouth. First, you mix your chosen liquid - the IHHS demo used Coca-Cola and Fanta Orange - with sodium alginate, a compound that helps the liquid turn to gel. Put it in the Spherificator, and press a button to release tiny drops of the liquid into a bath of water mixed with calcium chloride, and then rinse the resulting pearls in water.

    The Spherificator could help molecular gastronomy enthusiasts add an unexpected texture to entrees, cocktails and desserts.

    The starter kit retails for about US$ 130. It includes the Spherificator and enough sodium alginate and calcium chloride to make up to 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds) of pearls.
  2. Beebo
    This over-the-shoulder holder for baby bottles could help parents keep one hand free while feeding infants. The flexible bottle holder squishes to fit bottles of different sizes.

    Inventor Martin Hill created the Beebo so he could hold a book and read aloud to his son during feeding time, he said.

    The gadget is available in three colors and retails for between about US$ 30 and US$ 40.
  3. Baggy Opener
    Plastic baggies are great for storing leftovers, but getting the food into the bag can be a messy business. The Baggy Opener has clips on adjustable arms that attach to the sides of a baggy, holding it open hands-free.

    The gadget folds flat for storage and retails for US$ 5.
  4. Pettion P-Touch Feeder
    The Pettion P-Touch pet feeder offers a way to communicate with pets while owners are away from home. The feeder can be programmed to automatically dispense food, or owners can initiate impromptu feedings via the accompanying phone app, which tracks pets' eating habits and alerts owners when they need to refill the feeder.

    The feeder also is equipped with a camera and video screen, allowing owners to have two-way video chats with their pets from wherever they are. The makers also hope to make the feeder compatible with DOGTV, a television channel designed for dogs, Pettion representatives said at their IHHS booth.

    The feeder will be available for purchase sometime this summer and will cost between US$ 249 and US$ 299.