CES Takeaways, Part One

Ed Wenck | Jan 13, 2021


There’s a quote from British economist Christopher Freeman that serves as nice a touchstone for this year’s CES:

“Innovation accelerates and bunches up during economic downturns only to be unleashed as the economy begins to recover, ushering in powerful new waves of technological change.”

In fact, Steve Koenig (vice president of research) Lesley Rohrbaugh (director of research) for CTA used the quote to open and frame their “Tech Trends to Watch” presentation, along with a batch of eye-opening stats. “Global tech adoption is in fast forward,” says Koenig, noting that at the start of the pandemic, virtual health appointment increased fifteen-fold in just eight days, and ten years’ worth of e-commerce was compressed into eight weeks.

Rohrbaugh picks up on the theme, splitting those aforementioned trends into these buckets:

  • Digital health
  • Digital transformation
  • Robotics and drones
  • Vehicle technology
  • 5G connectivity
  • Smart cities

Wellness Takes Top Billing

Some of these blend with one another, obviously; Rohrbaugh notes that robots are handling everything from sanitizing everything from airplanes to hospital halls, and even helping as triage assistants. Drones can deliver meds. “Healthcare is at the vanguard of this,” says Koenig. “Sales of connected health monitoring devices have grown 73% from 2019 to 2020 ($365 million to $632 million year-over-year), and we project they’ll grow another 34% in 21.” Koenig also notes that wearable devices have gone beyond the wrist, mentioning that the Oura ring (which resembles a wedding band) was used by the NBA to monitor the health of their players as they worked through the pandemic’s “bubble” season.

The notion of “digital transformation” was apparent across the board, as fitness centers offered not just online classes but other products such as nutrition seminars, and schools and even courts went virtual. Back to robotics, customers became more and more comfortable with the idea of autonomous vehicles or drones for delivery, while more and more warehouses adopted mechanical assistants.

In the area of vehicle tech, GM has begun planning an all-electric future while they work on trucks that can “crab-walk” – literally, drive diagonally. When it comes to 5G, Koenig notes that deployment of these networks has been inconsistent, but, “We’ll see widespread adoption by the middle of the decade.” Rohrbaugh outlines the future of the smart city accelerated by the pandemic: “Both civic leaders and residents want to know if there’s a hotspot, and things like dashboards and kiosks can help.”

The Manufacturers

A number of the big players in the CEDIA space (and at its fringes) offered concrete examples at their Day One press conferences. Some examples: LG, interestingly enough, led by speaking first about safety in the home – “with appliances for personal and environmental care,” as they put it; notably introducing a line of air purification products that ranged from the commercial to a high-tech personal mask. As far as convenience goes, LG’s laundry tower features a washer that tells the dryer the right cycle to use for a load, and their appliances issue reports to the owner on data from resource usage to potential maintenance issues.

Samsung called its recorded presentation “Better Normal For All”, with a Samsung Health Trainer built into their televisions – it’s part of another trend not mentioned by the CTA team, companies keeping you in their particular ecosystems with bespoke content. The firm also stressed their focus on more intuitive control features, and introduced a 110-inch micro-LED.

Kohler weighed in with a voice-controlled faucet system that poured a perfect single cup of water with a command from Alexa, and then turned their attention to spa-like experiences in the bathroom. Smart commodes provide a better “toilet experience” (which seems laughable until you think about the last time you had a “poor toilet experience"), and an infinity-flow soaking tub that reheats the water constantly and provides fog and aromatherapy. (Kohler will be offering more info on what they’re up to next month with a “Kohler@Home" event: https://athome.kohler.com/)

And since automotive tech often provides a preview of residential advances, the Mercedes Benz MBUX dashboard shouldn’t be ignored. It’s a single screen, as wide as the car, that learns what functions you fiddle with most (climate? music? MPG info?) and pushes those to the front. It also features an entertainment system for the “co-driver” (the front passenger) with an entertainment screen that can’t be seen by the driver.