Last year, at CES 2020, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas, I walked more than 37.45 miles (over 84,385 steps) to scout for the best ideas and products of the show. This week, for CES 2021, I walked about 20 feet to the fridge and 20 more feet to the bathroom and back to my home office repeatedly as I covered the all-digital event.
The pandemic sucks. But the event had more than 1,900 exhibitors (down from 4,000 last year), and I got a good look at them, in between all of my duties to get ready for our own digital event (GamesBeat Summit on January 26-28). I missed walking all over the place and hitting parties at Las Vegas nightclubs that would otherwise not let me in.
But I looked at products with a different lens this year, shaded by the coronavirus. I couldn’t use most of the products on display. But I thought about how they could help people at a time when we could use a lot of help. So I favored products that could help us relax, improve our health, help us weather the isolation in our homes, and take us into the future just a little. I love it when tech fades into the woodwork, as you see in the main image of this story, which depicts the Gardyn indoor gardening system. I hope you enjoy these picks and find something useful.
Gardyn is a fully-automated vertical indoor growing system. It lets you grow 30 large plants in two square feet of space, with no direct sunlight or water line required. You can follow instructions for growing plants via the Kelby personal growing assistant app, and then you get to eat the results. It’s based on Gardyn’s “hybriponic” tech that recirculates water in a closed loop, reducing water consumption by 95%.
Gardyn lets you grow eight pounds to 10 pounds of produce per month said CEO FX Rouxel, in an interview with VentureBeat. The vertical configuration lets you grow a high density of plants. The roots are contained and not messy. The system is connected to the internet. Two high-resolution cameras capture the details of the plant growth for Kelby to analyze with its AI system.
Gardyn’s LED lights provide the right amount of light the plants need for optimal growth, even if the plants are indoors and in a cold climate. Rouxel said it might cost you $16 to operate it a month, but it can save you at least 30% a month on your grocery bill. Since the food is ready to eat, you don’t have to store it in a refrigerator.
You can’t grow things with big roots, like carrots or potatoes. But tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, and herbs are all fair game. It costs $800.
“If you think about the Impossible Burger or Beyond Meat, we want to do the same thing for produce,” Rouxel said. “We provide people with healthy food in an inexpensive way that is convenient and tasty.”
I’m waiting to try out the Star Trek Holodeck. But while I wait for that ride, maybe the Illuminarium “massive entertainment spectacle” is a near-term substitute. Using Panasonic laser projectors, the Illuminarium creates a 360-degree immersive experience. It puts you in the center of an African safari, and it will be interactive.
Illuminarium Experiences hopes to open its first location in Atlanta in mid-2021, followed by Miami, and Las Vegas. The idea is to tell interactive stories in a 30,000-square-feet venue where physical reality blends with immersive imagery. The place uses Panasonic’s advanced large venue native 4K laser projection technology, the Panasonic PT-RQ50k with 50,000LM brightness, 4K resolution, and vivid color. You can’t buy one of these places, but someday you’ll be able to buy a ticket and go inside.
SenseGlove Nova VR haptic glove
SenseGlove created a motion-tracking haptic glove, which is a force-feedback exoskeleton that you can use to move and feel things in virtual reality. It can simulate sensations, like feeling shapes, stiffness, and resistance when you touch something in a VR world. It costs $5,000, and that’s why it’s targeted at companies. It’s mainly envisioned for professional training, like handling complex machinery or hazardous materials.
I didn’t get to feel this one, but it supposedly lets you feel the soft touch of a pillow. It produces the feedback using mechanical wires attached to friction brakes on each finger. More than a hundred companies are trying it out, and it should ship in March.
Kohler Stillness Bath
I think Joe Biden should buy one of these for every American so we can relax in the stillness of life. But the Kohler Stillness Bath will probably drive up the deficit, as it costs $6,198 to $15,998.
It’s a square tub that dazzles you with a combination light, fog, and aromatherapy. (Lady not included.) It’s based on the practice of Japanese forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku. I had plenty of this experience in Sony’s Ghost of Tsushima video game, but I could use this spa-like experience in my home in real life.
When the water overflows, it spills out the side into a wooden moat.
This is another one of those products that isn’t coming to the market soon. But it’s inspiring. The Project Brooklyn gaming chair concept design is designed to convert a gaming chair into an immersive experience for both PC and console gaming. It’s a crazy design, and it’s something that only Razer’s game-crazed designers would think of creating.
The centerpiece is a 60-inch display that rolls out in front of your eyes. It has both carbon fiber and RGB lighting. It is a gaming station with panoramic visuals. It also has tactile feedback built into the seat, and 4D armrests that roll out into adjustable peripheral tables.
The adjustable platform on which the chair sits is complete with cable-routing and takes design cues from the Razer Raptor monitor. Mounted from the chair’s backbone and deployable with the touch of a button is a 60-inch full surround OLED display. Folding into the chair back when not in use, the roll-out display assembly gives you a panoramic experience.
The fully modular 4D armrests neatly tuck away collapsible tables with flexible ergonomics, allowing you to switch easily between PC gaming with a mouse and keyboard, and console gaming. Separate panels in each armrest allow for different keyboard and mouse ergonomics, and each half folds away when not in use.
Quantum Operation blood glucometer
I’ve learned the value of noninvasive continuous glucose monitors, having tried one out to test my blood sugar levels. They’ve gotten pretty small, but now a Japanese startup, Quantum Operation, has put a glucometer into a watch.
The device has a spectrometer which scans your blood to measure glucose. It can also measure vital signs like your heart rate and ECG. After activating it, the device shows you the results in 20 seconds.
Diabetes affects more than 34 million Americans and is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. Making glucometers smaller is a big accomplishment for companies like Dexcom and Abbott. Now they are beginning to integrate the glucometers in a closed loop with with insulin pumps so that the process of pumping insulin into the body of a diabetes patient can be automated. That can save lives and vastly simplify the life of patients. For now, Quantum Operation’s device could be quite useful, and maybe a little fashionable.
Samsung Solar Remote
Let’s face it. We’ve killed the earth with disposable batteries for devices that don’t need them. So I can fully get behind the intentions behind the Samsung Solar remote. This solar-powered TV remote can be charged by indoor lighting, getting rid of the need for replaceable batteries.
It’s part of Samsung’s “Going Green” goal for its TV business. Samsung said using it could eliminate roughly 99 million batteries from waste over seven years.
Vanguard Industries showed off a pet that looked like a furry worm, dubbed a Moflin. It’s designed to can give you emotional relief. The palm-sized pet has no eyes but it makes cute sounds like a small animal, and it shows affection.
I’m sure a lot more cute robots were at CES 2021. This one is designed to have emotional capabilities, with black eyes and soft fur. The company says its algorithm lets Movlin learn and grow, using sensors to evaluate its surroundings. It has accelerometers with gyroscopes, touch sensors, and microphones.
Moflin has Bluetooth wireless connectivity, and an app for iOS and Android. You can get one for $400 with delivery by June.
Panasonic AR HUD
This product was just a concept, and perhaps it’s nothing more than a doctored video. I couldn’t tell. But it painted a nice picture of what driving should be like, with your car windshield serving as an augmented reality display. As you get behind the wheel, the AR HUD activates and shows which direction you should be driving, based on your map destination. It guides you turn by turn, and it points out hazards. A garbage can rolling into the street is flagged in red lights, as is a car pulling into an intersection in front of you. A bicyclist is highlighted in yellow, and blue colors indicate the direction you should be driving. In contrast to past HUDs I’ve seen, this one appeared sharp and seamless. Maybe it’s a fantasy, but it sure looks attractive.
I considered opting for Level’s home door look, which detects your smartphone and lets you open your door by tapping your doorknob with your finger. But in the age of the coronavirus, touching things isn’t cool. Kohler had a bunch of kitchen and bathroom fixtures that you can operate with the wave of a hand, rather than touching a handle. Alarm.com had a video doorbell that you could ring by waving your hand in front of it, rather than touching it. Ettie is a video doorbell that combines tracking, image recording, real-time alerts, and capacity management. It senses the guest’s temperature and decides if the person should be admitted. And it will say when the capacity of the place has been reached. It can also handle contact tracing if necessary. I suppose no single product has all of these features, so the kudos here go to the whole category for trying to beef up the innovation.
Oticon More AI-based hearing aids
Oticon has more than a hundred years of experience making hearing solutions. But it’s jumping into the modern tech era with its first hearing aid with on-board deep neural network. The Oticon More is one more example of AI at the edge of the network.
Our crew has heard this story before, as hearing aid companies have been saying for years that they’re using AI. But I probed into this with Don Schum, vice president of audiology, in an interview. Oticon trained its deep learning neural network on 12 million real-life sounds so that it could identify the sounds of people speaking and separate them from background noises. The device analyzes the scene around the hearer about 500 times per second.
“We wanted to improve our ability to separate speech from noise,” he said “That’s one of the holy grails in hearing aids. Patients with hearing loss are at a significant disadvantage in noisy situations. We use our 12 million samples to train a system to identify speech.”
Based on this BrainHearing extensive experiential learning — not on a limited set of man-made rules — it processes speech in noise more like the human brain. This results in a more natural representation of sounds that improves wearers’ speech understanding, reduces listening effort and enables people with hearing loss to remember more of what is being said, even in noisy environments.
Most hearing aids have noise cancellation these days. But Oticon is going high end with this device, which debuted this week for as much as $6,000. Oticon has rivals, but it has 2,000 employees and is one of a half-dozen big hearing aid makers around the world. Schum said Oticon MOre provides 30% more sound to the brain and improves speech understanding by 15% from the prior generation.
Lasso Loop Recycling has created a machine that collects, cleans, and sorts your garbage so that you can easily recycle it. It automates a process that can prevent a lot of garbage from winding up in landfills, according to the United Kingdom startup.
It’s a kitchen appliance that is still in the works. You deposit items into a slot. Then cameras and sensors analyze the packaging and it tells you if you can recycle it. If it can’t, then it returns the item to you so you can put it in the garbage. If not, it goes to work and eventually grinds the device down and puts it into a compartment. Then you use a smartphone app to schedule a driver pickup.
The hope is that one day this will cut recycling centers out of the process, and that can remove costs and other barriers. It is targeting seven materials, including aluminum, steel, two types of plastics, and three types of glass. The device will hit the market in 2022 or so and it could cost $3,500. But you could theoretically get that money back in five years through recycling payments.
Biospectal OptiBP blood pressure monitor app
Blood pressure monitors have made a lot of progress in recent years. They’re able to transfer your vitals directly to your doctor, who can analyze them from afar. But they require dedicated devices and they’re not that comfortable.
Biospectal has created its Biospectal OptiBP, which lets you use a smartphone camera to measure your blood pressure. The company said a recent independent large-scale clinical study from Scientific Reports in Nature validated Biospectal’s OptiBP ability to measure blood pressure with the same degree of accuracy as the traditional blood pressure cuff.
It uses the smartphone’s built-in optical camera lens to record and measure a user’s blood flow at their fingertip in half the time it takes with a traditional cuff (about 20 seconds). By optically measuring blood flow through the skin, OptiBP’s proprietary algorithm and optical signal capture methods turn light information into blood pressure values.
The captured blood pressure data can connect with clinicians to support remote patient monitoring. The device is now in its public beta. The Swiss company is backed by grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, and Innosuisse.
According to the CDC, hypertension affects nearly 46% or 100 million U.S. adults.
CEO Eliott Jones said in an interview with VentureBeat that “if we could just reach these people, it would be fantastic.” And the way to do that is to make blood pressure testing more convenient. He showed how it worked to me on a video call. The good thing about this is that it can help collect a lot more data on more people to help the understanding of hypertension, or high blood pressure. The company was started in 2017 and it has raised some funding in private rounds.
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