Masks, sanitizers, and social distancing gadgets: The COVID tech that dominated CES 2021

With virtual booths and digital portals taking the place of convention center halls and showcases, CES in the time of coronavirus looked different. So did some of the tech.
COVID-oriented tech products stood out at this year’s CES. Some brands debuted new products made for the pandemic, others found that items they’d been working on all along now have newfound applications and relevance. 
But is “COVID tech” really necessary? After all, the best way to slow the spread of the virus is to practice social distancing and wear a face mask, which can be as simple as a bandana or a repurposed old T-shirt — fundamentally low-tech strategies.  Read more…More about Ces, Covid 19, Tech, Health, and Innovations

With virtual booths and digital portals taking the place of convention center halls and showcases, CES in the time of coronavirus looked different. So did some of the tech.

COVID-oriented tech products stood out at this year’s CES. Some brands debuted new products made for the pandemic, others found that items they’d been working on all along now have newfound applications and relevance. 

But is “COVID tech” really necessary? After all, the best way to slow the spread of the virus is to practice social distancing and wear a face mask, which can be as simple as a bandana or a repurposed old T-shirt — fundamentally low-tech strategies. 

“I think that most of what I would have seen there was indeed meant to solve a real and present use case related to COVID; it wasn’t just marketing speak,” Jason Cottrell, the CEO of the software studio and product development company MyPlanet, said.

MyPlanet works with companies to develop new products and studies consumer attitudes to emerging technology. Cottrell found that the strategy of many brands getting into COVID tech has been to tweak, repurpose, or add new features to existing products, such as adding contact tracing capabilities to smartphones. Company surveys have found that consumers aren’t so enthusiastic about specific COVID tech in general, but have found greater usefulness for some futuristic products, like autonomous delivery robots.

“The product managers and the entrepreneurs were very, very actively trying to build products that could fill a need in the market depending on how things unfolded and what people need,” Cottrell said.

There were three main categories of COVID-related tech at CES: masks with smart features or electronic additions; a plethora of sanitizers and purifiers for everywhere from an airport to your smartphone; and social distancing tech. Some are still concepts and not actual products yet, but many you can buy right now.

CES is always going to bring out the most ridiculous in product development — that’s part of what makes it fun. Whether “techy over-the-top” jives with “pandemic” in these products is up to you. 

Here’s what we saw in COVID tech at CES 2021.

‘Smart’ masks

Some masks are smarter than others. 

The AirPop Active+ Halo

Protecting against both environmental factors (like smog or soot) and pathogens (like coronavirus), this true “smart mask” monitors your breathing and the quality of the air you’re inhaling, and even tells you when it’s time to change the filter based on your unique usage. 

By our account, the smartest of the smart masks.

By our account, the smartest of the smart masks.

Image: airpop

It will be available this month online for $149.99, and you can learn more about the mask and read Mashable’s interview with the company’s founder here.

Maskfone

Simple but useful, the Maskfone integrates bluetooth earbuds and a microphone into a mask, which reduces the need to juggle multiple gadgets and accessories at once. 

Now this is what you call a souped-up mask.

Now this is what you call a souped-up mask.

Image: maskfone

It’s a cloth mask with replaceable filters, and you can buy it now on Maskfone’s website for $49.99 plus a 5-pack of filters for $19.99.

Razer’s ‘Project Hazel’

The gaming gear and lifestyle company Razer debuted a smart mask concept called Project Hazel. It’s not an actual product yet, but while it’s still in the R&D stage, it’s pretty dang cool: It’s transparent so you can see the wearer’s mouth, comes with voice amplification, and lights up when it’s dark out so you can see the person’s face. Plus, it’s tricked out with optional neon lighting effects.

The most rave-appropriate mask of CES, for sure.

The most rave-appropriate mask of CES, for sure.

Image: razer

LG’s PuriCare Wearable Air Purifier

Want to wear an electronic air purifier on your face? Now you can! Well, as long as you’re in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Iraq. Electronics giant LG showcased a mask that comes with air purifiers, HEPA filters, a respiratory sensor (which monitors breathing), and “dual fans.” According to the Wall Street Journal, it will be available in more countries soon.

Seguro Airsafe

Pros: This new wearable with a HEPA filter lets people see your face when you talk to them through its transparent shield. Cons: It’s a dang helmet. 

The AirSafe says it only lets the good air in.

The AirSafe says it only lets the good air in.

Image: Seguro LLC

The Airsafe uses filter systems, fans and air pressure to keep unfiltered air from entering into your breathing zone. The company says anyone interested in donning the device can place orders through a crowdfunding campaign in February with delivery in March or April (they haven’t disclosed a price yet).

Purifiers and Sanitizers

UV light sanitizers, sleek and portable air filters, and other ways to sanitize your space (and yourself) were all the rage at CES 2021. There were too many to list them all, but here are some that stood out.

Unipin’s UVC disinfection robot

For the lazy clean freaks among us, this is the cleaning robot of your dreams. It sanitizes both surfaces and the air, and can intelligently chart a course around a space. 

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Unfortunately, its *starting price* is $7,500. This is more of a product for industrial or commercial spaces than the home.

ClearAirZone’s Bio-Based Air Purifier

This company uses a “green” cleaning method that it says protects against COVID. Rather than requiring filters (which cause waste) or chemicals, its cleaning formula combines enzymes, biotics, and water to scrub the environment. It’s a simple and attractive device that just requires refills of that proprietary formula. A representative said it hasn’t announced pricing information yet, but the company expects to be on the market this summer.

LG PuriCare™ Mini Air Purifier

This 8-inch long air purifier is so mini it actually comes with a strap so you can wear it on your wrist. You can even control it and see stats using an app on your phone. 

Never leave home without your personalized air purifier!

Never leave home without your personalized air purifier!

This is an air purifier, so it’s meant to filter allergens from the air, not pathogens like coronavirus. However, the EPA says that an air purifier “can help reduce airborne contaminants including viruses in a home,” though it shouldn’t be a replacement for social distancing and mask-wearing. The mini filter is available for $199.99

Social distancing tech

Don’t stand, don’t stand, don’t stand so close to me.

BioButton Covid-19 Screening Solution

The company BiolIntelliSense claims that monitoring for COVID is as easy as slapping on a sticker. The BioButton is a quarter-sized sticker that can monitor the wearer’s heart rate, temperature, and respiratory rate continuously; continuous monitoring makes it easier to notice deviations. 

The BioButton packs a big punch into a small package.

The BioButton packs a big punch into a small package.

Image: bioIntellisense

It connects to a smartphone app, where users take a screening test every morning to ask about other symptoms. The whole system is an “FDA-cleared medical-grade wearable.” Since it’s about monitoring a group of people, it’s not a consumer facing product; Interested parties can request a demo on BioIntelliSense’s website.

Seguro Smartspace

This is another device meant for use in a community setting. The “badge” is like a small card that can sense other cards around it. It’s intended to be used in schools, retirement communities, and other communities with high density. It will beep if a person with a card gets too close, and also provides contact tracing information to administrators. It costs $99.

iWavenology iDistance

The iDistance can be worn as a badge, necklace, or other customizable wearable to keep people from getting too close to each other and to track interactions. It says its ultra-wideband signal, which the devices use to communicate with each other, is more accurate than Bluetooth. Beep beep!

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Plott Ettie temperature-detecting doorbell

And you thought Ring doorbells were nosy! This Ettie smart doorbell by Plott can take the temperature of whoever’s at the door. 

Who goes there?

Who goes there?

Image: plott

While fever isn’t a foolproof way of detecting COVID-19, it is a symptom and a common way businesses and other organizations screen people before entering a space. It also tracks headcount for people entering a space, and can notify the owner when a space has reached capacity.

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