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CES 2021 was virtual this year: Here’s my wrap-up

Normally each year, I’m in Las Vegas for CES in January, fighting my way through convention center throngs, smoky casinos, and long taxi lines to discover what was new in the world of technology. This year, the entire thing was virtual and it was as sad-weird as much of the last year has been.

Yet innovation marches on, and many technology companies had lots to say, both about products that have been in development for years, products that are still conceptual, and products that seemed to be a direct response to the pandemic.

Too much to cover in one post, of course, but here are the products and concepts that I found interesting this year.

COVID, of course, is top of mind.

Our “new normal” was very much reflected in products on display at CES this year. Air purifiers don’t prevent you from getting COVID, but they do help reduce your exposure. Offerings included the FrescheAir Portable HEPA Air Purifier/Deodorizer (which is intentionally travel mug-sized so it can fit in your car), or the Brondell Pro, which throws the kitchen sink at air impurities (HEPA, UV, and a plasma generator among others). High tech face masks were on display as well, including Razer’s Project Hazel concept, the Airpop+, and the Maskfone, which has built-in earbuds (if we’re gonna wear these darn things, they may as well be multi-taskers, no?). 

Smart Home gets Hygienic.

Touchless everything was a trend for the home, since touching surfaces of any kind seems radioactive these days. Touchless faucets for the kitchen and bath from Kohler and Moen, as well as touchless toilets from brands like Kohler and TOTO, and even a touchless doorbell from were some notable examples of brands trying to solve the ick problem for consumers. There was even a refrigerator from LG that opens via voice and will purify your water with UV light. Rona doesn’t stand a chance. 

Cync Indoor Camera

Privacy, please!

Loved seeing the new indoor camera by Cync (an Innovation Honoree) which has a sliding shutter that physically shuts off the camera and mutes the microphone, so you can see if it’s recording watched at a glance. It also doesn’t require a cloud subscription: You can keep your recordings local, on a SD card. Glad to know that companies are getting the message that we want options when it comes to privacy. 

Get ready for that Zoom closeup.

Beauty and grooming continue to get a high tech upgrade: Impressive toothbrushes that want to improve your dental care from Philips and Oral-B (I love that this one has a display on it, so I don’t have to bring my phone into the bathroom). The rest seems a bit frivolous but still pretty fantastic, like Ninu’s custom fragrance generatorYSL’s Rouge Sur Mesure that mixes a custom color on-demand (seriously!) and Lululab’s smart mirror that will recommend skincare based on what it sees in your reflection (not sure I want to know).

Sensors tell us what’s up.

They’re smaller, they’re more sophisticated, and they can tell you a lot— sensors often use AI and don’t have cameras, which makes them a lot less creepy to put in your home. Notables are the Nobi smart lamp that can tell you if your aging-in-place parent has fallen, Zobi’s Hedgehog, which uses AI to stop cybercrime in your home, and Airthings sensors for Business that can tell if the air you’re breathing at work is making viruses more transmissible. And then there’s the Oval sensor, a small but mighty adhesive that will tell you all kinds of things about whatever you stick it to, like if it’s wet/hot/cold/moving/bright/dark/humid/dry… the possibilities are endless. 

Finally, the good ice!

I’m personally stoked that, at long last, ice isn’t an afterthought. LG’s InstaView refrigerators will soon have their Craft Ice feature (large spheres that are good for a stiff drink), and Samsung’s Bespoke Flex will make the coveted “pebble ice”.  LG, samsung 

Dogs are sprung for potty time.

Not much in the way of pet innovation this year, except for one blockbuster device that has everyone talking: The MyQ Pet Portal, which replaces your back door with one that houses a hidden trap door, operable from an app on your phone. Now you can let your dog out (and back in) while you’re away from home (whenever we can do that again). A bit of an investment at $3000, but I love that it solves a real problem for consumers, and if you factor in how much people spend on dog sitters to let their pets out mid-day, it might pay for itself over time. 

Babies get lots of attention. 

Lots of cool baby products this year, most notably a safety device from Tata that can alert you if you’ve accidentally left your child in a hot car. Other things that caught my eye is this cradle that will rock a waking baby back to sleep, and this small white noise maker that you can control with an app to block sounds out during nap time. 

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