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Virtual trade show

The Best Cool Tech from the All-Virtual CES 2021

The Consumer Electronics Show goes online

There is something about the excitement of the Consumer Electronics Show that makes me want to rush out and buy several new gadgets. This industry-only event was truly unique this year—it took place entirely online for the first time in the event’s 50-plus year history. 

Even though we didn’t get to see the new tech merch in real life, CES still adeptly offered the first look at products going to market, as well as some stunning future concepts and working prototypes.

CES is also the place to showcase tech from some unique places, ranging from the latest AI enabled farm combine to devices that benefit health and wellness. 

Let’s start out by looking at some of the most unique products you will actually see coming out this year or next. 

Products going to market
Coolest computer: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest laptop for graphics of them all?” Sorry, it’s no longer you MacBook Pro. 

I met my next computer at CES 2021, and we’re in love. I can’t have the ZenBook Pro Duo UX582 until spring, and the price hasn’t been revealed yet, but I want it. Others have made attempts at a dual screen laptop, but Asus may have perfected it. If you are in any type of creative field, take a look. 

The ZenBook Pro Duo rocks an Intel Core i9 processor with Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 graphics—better than most desktop PCs. In addition to the stunning 15.6-inch 4K OLED touchscreen, there is a flip-up 14-inch touchscreen that lives below it, which automatically tilts up by 9.5 degrees. In this space, a designer can seamlessly integrate four popular Adobe apps, apply a customized toolbar, and supercharge them with Dynamic Boost 2.0 to optimize performance. 

Another thing that really struck me is how it solves ergonomic issues. The keyboard tilts at a comfortable angle, putting the smaller touch screen at a stable and more horizontal position for drawing, while moving the main viewing area higher. This also allows space underneath for better fan cooling. And speaking of cool, there is an IR camera for secure facial recognition. If you were thinking about ordering the more modest Zenbook Duo, I’d say wait until spring for the Pro. The advanced processor and graphics alone will be worth it, not to mention the layout improvements.

The new Mayflower
If you remember your history, the Mayflower was an English sailing ship bringing Pilgrims to the New World in 1620. Now, some 400 years later, you can experience a reimagined Mayflower taking off on its maiden voyage, along the same route as the original, this time as a totally self-driven autonomous vessel. 

Looking more like a sleek catamaran, this new generation Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) is driven by Artificial Intelligence and powered by energy from the sun. MAS was collaboratively designed with oceanographers, offering a cost-effective option for deepening the understanding of critical issues such as global warming, ocean plastic pollution and marine mammal conservation. Resilient enough to spend long durations at sea, MAS will collect critical data about the ocean. It may also open up a future for more sustainable ocean-going transportation models and supply chains.

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship is led by marine research organization Promare, supported by IBM and a global consortium of partners. The first MAS was launched in 2020, and the Plymouth, England to Plymouth, Massachusetts voyage is said to occur in 2021.

Woman working out watching a trainer

Health and fitness
Spent more time on the couch and less at the gym last year? You’re not alone. Good news is, you can have your own virtual personal trainer on your TV. Samsung upped its game on the Smart Trainer app, already available on some of their TV line. In 2021, sets will incorporate smart features that track and analyze things like posture and whether you are keeping the workout pace with your trainer, aided by an external camera (purchased separately). You will start to see the enhanced Smart Trainer app on 2021 Samsung TVs later this year, as part of the company’s “sustainable and accessible future.” 

Amplified by COVID-19 concerns, CES 2021 was inundated with health and wellness products. 

A few of the other notable entries receiving award recognition at the show included the following.

  • BioIntelliSense’s BioButton, a wearable device that continuously measures temperature, heart rate and resting respiratory rate to look for signs of an early COVID-19 infection.
  • VROR EYE Dr., a VR-based eye health solution.
  • Elderly care in nursing homes has become a major issue in the battle against COVID-19. Origin Health Remote Patient Monitoring, a software/hardware solution that helps care staff manage their residents via Wi-Fi-connected monitors for motion, activity, breathing and sleep.

Already on the farm
The John Deere X9 series combine won in the robotics category, which highlights programmable or otherwise intelligent machines. The GPS enabled X9 1100 contains more than 300 sensors and 140 controllers that support its artificial intelligence operation. Though equipped for a human operator, the machine is self-driving and can communicate machine to machine in the field. 

The most outstanding feature garnering attention is the ActiveVision camera technology, helping farmers see inside the combine’s grain tank and observe tailings so they can monitor the condition of harvested grain. This technology not only helps make critical decisions in the moment, data is also gathered over time to aid future actions.

These machines take field conditions into account while threshing, separating and cleaning 70% more wheat per hour. A multitude of attachments can handle different types of harvest, from the toughest grain to corn. Farmers can monitor the combine’s operation via a mobile app.

Air Swipes
If you are that person who has loud conversations in public via hidden wireless earbuds, this next product is a perfect match for you. Replace your Apple Watch band with the Mudra Band, and you can control the device functions by moving your fingers. The band measures electrical impulses passing through your wrist allowing finger gestures to control the watch without actually touching the device. You won’t have to wait long either, the Murda Band is set to ship in March, so start flexing those phalanges.

Singing in the rain shower.
After my friends banned me from karaoke forever, my only platform is jamming along with tunes in the shower. So, Shower Power caught my eye. This waterproof speaker, made from recycled ocean plastic, hooks to your showerhead and recharges using a small hydroelectric turbine. This nifty gadget should start shipping this year, just in time for spring showers.

Affordable 8K TVs?
At CES, TCL announced that for 2021, its popular 6-Series will go all-in on 8K. With four times the resolution of 4K, 8K sets in the 6-Series are affordable, helping push that phenomenal resolution into homes. However, here’s the catch. There is very little 4K, and no 8K content available right now. If this is about preparing for the future, I am going to wait until this truly becomes a reality on both ends of the spectrum.

Smart home devices
IoT devices are permeating just about every device we use in our lives, and there were plenty on display at CES 2021. However, I messaged a couple of manufacturers to discuss security and data privacy, and got no response. This could be a byproduct of the show’s new online format. However, consumers should proceed with caution when connecting physical objects that contain sensors, software, and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data over the internet. It was disturbing that no presentations I watched addressed these concerns.

Concepts and prototypes
CES is always the place to spark imagination and get a glimpse of tech that may be coming in the future. Here are some of the more likely products to come that are not yet available.

Rollable phone
The 2020 show saw a few phones with foldable displays. I just couldn’t get past a center hinge or the reliability factor of continually folding and unfolding a cell phone multiple times a day. The roll-up phone seems to be on the right track. LG and TCL both showed off a prototype phone with a roll-up display. Imagine a small device that expands to the size of a large smartphone or small tablet by an extendable screen. This seems to be a much more likely future for mobile devices. You can read about past and future phone tech here

Your own personal robots
Having a robot do the dishes would be a dream come true in our house. Samsung unveiled a lot of cool at CES, including three robots in development. Cleaning up after dinner is just one task that could be assigned to Bot Handy—an assistive robot that can recognize, grab and deal with all types of objects from dirty laundry to groceries in addition to helping with household chores, Bot Handy can also keep track of your work schedule, and even pour you a glass of wine at the end of the day. 

Bot Care acts like a personal assistant, learning your schedule and providing reminders. The device uses AI to recognize and respond to your moods and behavior. I wonder if it knows when to hide in the closet?

Did you buy a robot vacuum this year? There were so many smart cleaning machines on the market during the holiday season. Samsung is looking to separate itself from the pack with the JetBot 90 AI +. High resolution mapping using LiDAR (measuring distances with laser light) helps the machine navigate the room. There are also video cameras with object recognition to identify what kind of obstacles it’s run up against, and stealthily provides surveillance for your security system. I can’t wait to see the first criminal caught by a vacuum. 

Wellness from the washroom
The day is coming when human waste could be scanned by your toilet to screen for illness, stress and fitness level, and body condition. Toto’s prototype Wellness Toilet analyzes and tracks things like bowel movements, scent, blood flow and other metabolic insights from human waste. Data is then uploaded to an app, which provides health recommendations, such as how to change your diet. It could also provide valuable data for your doctor on a variety of conditions. 

The Wellness Toilet is still a concept, due in part to the difficulty in collecting accurate data from a toilet without driving the cost up. There is a mention, but not yet an information page for the concept on the Toto website. However, it is a fertile field of study, and Toto is not the only company working on waste-analyzing toilets. 

A flying car
High on my list of things I hope to experience in my lifetime is my own flying vehicle. GM debuted a 3-D model video of their Cadillac-branded personal aircraft at CES 2021. Even though there is no production timeframe, the sleek, electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft demo was enough to imagine what is coming. 

GM say’s the four-rotor aircraft is powered by a 90-kWh battery and can deliver speeds up to 56 miles per hour. This model looks like a single-person drone, designed primarily to take off and land on urban rooftops autonomously. However, other developers in the eVTOL (Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing) space are working on a variety of shapes and sizes. The game changer could be GM’s ability to mass produce vehicles. 

Pros and cons of a virtual CES
On the plus side, going virtual meant no walking from booth to booth, covering miles of a mega convention complex, fighting crowds and tramping around Las Vegas. 

In the negative column, keynote and other presentations were not time zone adjusted. This meant that for my current location, presentations started in the wee hours of the morning. Replays were not available for 24 to 48 hours after the live show. Microsoft provided the tech backbone for the virtual CES 2021. However, there seemed to be a conflict with my registration and an existing Microsoft Teams account that I use for a client. CES did not seem to be able to remember my login, which made it annoying as I tried to go in and out of the digital platform several times a day to catch certain events. 

The effort of the online show’s massive undertaking was clear, and for the most part smooth. It is also admirable to pivot and continue with CES during this pandemic period. However, seeing things in real life, and being able to touch and try products, cannot be replaced by a virtual conference, in my opinion.

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