It’s January 2021, and the world we live in today is different than the world we lived in last January. The annual CES show reflected this reality. Several things were different about this year’s conference, which wrapped up last week. First and foremost, CES was 100% virtual. And while healthcare is always present at CES, there was a unique focus on pandemic-inspired devices and solutions in 2021. And yet, it was still CES. There was still a lot of dramatic flair in the presentations, even though there was no live audience to experience them in person. There were still a lot of compelling (sometimes off-the-wall) products—like ColdSnap, an instant ice-cream-making machine, rollable smartphones, robots (e.g., Samsung’s BotHandy), smart-home devices à la Lasso’s smart recycling machine, and even a smart fridge that makes “craft ice”, aka spherical ice cubes. Key trends this year included transportation, next-gen computing and productivity tools, and health and wellness.

Many companies at CES 2021 unveiled concepts and solutions that push some boundaries and explore the future of transportation. GM, for instance, made a big push for a sustainable future with its Exhibit Zero. The company’s CEO and chairman Mary Barra discussed GM’s Zero-Crashes, Zero-Emissions, and Zero-Congestion vision, and GM launched a new business called BrightDrop, which will offer an ecosystem of solutions that will electrify the delivery of goods and services from the first to the last mile. For instance, the BrightDrop EV600 is an electric light commercial vehicle designed for goods delivery over long ranges, while the BrightDrop EP1 is an electric pallet designed to move goods over short distances (like from a delivery vehicle to a front door). Under its Cadillac brand, GM also unveiled a concept personal air taxi and PAV (personal autonomous vehicle) that’s being described as an autonomous “party bus.”

Intel also announced technology that will push the boundaries for AVs (autonomous vehicles). At CES, Intel’s Mobileye previewed automated crowdsourced mapping, software-defined radar, AV test vehicles in four new countries, and a breakthrough new Lidar SoC (system on a chip). Intel says its Lidar SoC could be the key to bringing AVs to everyone, everywhere. This, together with Mobileye’s other CES announcements, demonstrates the company’s commitment to advance the AV market in 2021 and beyond. Intel was one of several companies that acknowledged the need for next-gen computing and productivity tools. Intel discussed its vision for collaboration, its Endpoint Management Assistant for remotely erasing SSDs (solid-state drives), and its Intel Hardware Shield AI (artificial intelligence)-enabled threat detection technology.

Health and wellness solutions varied this year, from a smart “wellness toilet”, which analyzes users’ waste, to an antimicrobial backpack and everything in between. Several face masks made their debut, including the MaskFone with integrated Bluetooth, a microphone, and ear buds, as well as Razer’s Project Hazel concept mask, which projects the wearer’s voice. HD Medical unveiled its HealthyU remote patient-monitoring device to address the need for new telehealth solutions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Airthings, a provider of indoor air quality monitoring solutions, also launched a new product, the Airthings Hub. Finally, Biospectal  announced the public beta launch of its OptiBP blood-pressure home monitoring app, which transforms a smartphone into a blood-pressure monitor and enables at-home monitoring.

CES 2021 wasn’t typical, and this reflected the fact that it hasn’t been a typical 12 months for the companies exhibiting nor their customers. While there were still some flashy new consumer products, the focus felt a bit different, and not in a bad way. The focus on health and wellness made sense and was much needed. The focus on innovations for a better future in areas like transportation and wellness was also much needed. In times of turbulence, even though it was different, CES still kicked off the year, and that in itself offered a small sense of normalcy in the tech space.

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