It’s safe to say this year’s Consumer Electronics Show looked a little different. Normally thousands of sweaty bodies pack the Las Vegas Strip to explore the best the tech world has to offer (plus the nightlife). Now? Not so much. But don’t fret. From wacky robots and houseplants that could solve world hunger to smart weed breathalyzers and pandemic-fighting toilets, there is still plenty to discover. Plus, in a too-often whitewashed world of tech, let us introduce you to some women of color who are blazing trails in the industry.
Crystal Rose, Isabelle Lee and Nick Fouriezos
how it’s different
1. From the Comfort of Home
This year’s rendition was all virtual, while still packing three days with glitzy presentations and newsy keynotes. It’s probably the right move, given how last year’s convention may have been a super-spreading culprit behind the rise of COVID-19 in the United States after at least one attendee tested positive for antibodies in early 2020.
2. Missing the Little Guys
Yes, the CES floor is usually dominated by extravagant exhibits from household names like Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Sony and others. But part of the charm of the industry shindig is discovering the hidden gems that will be the titans of tomorrow. Unfortunately, the decreased number of vendors — there were about 2,000 online this time, compared to 4,500 who set up shop in Las Vegas last year — probably means some of the underdog magic was lost under the bright lights.
3. Who Do You Know Here?
While getting sneak peeks at the newest tech releases is worth its weight in gold, the real holy grail is typically the connections that companies make. Networking here can make founders a fortune — just look at the way Impossible Foods rode its surge of interest from CES 2019 to a wave of media coverage and interest (the CEOs of the plant-based meat substitute have even credited their success to their face-to-face encounters here with investors). Absent those free-flowing networking opportunities, this year’s conference may inspire fewer small fish to make the leap into larger waters.
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Using seed pods called “yCubes,” Gardyn creates an indoor gardening solution that requires no sunlight and no water to grow up to 30 different plants (with the help of an artificial intelligence assistant). But that’s just the start. What really makes Gardyn stand out in its first CES appearance is how it could change the process of growing food itself. New tech could lead to urban innovations like parking garages transformed into fully automated farms, a powerful tool in the fight against global hunger.
Imagine all the comfort of a pandemic pet but none of the responsibilities, and you get something like Qooboo, a fuzzy, therapeutic cushion with a tail. Yes, when you stroke it, it wags (sometimes, its makers note, it wags just to say hello). Meanwhile, Bot Handy from Samsung promises what a lot of us could use this year: a robot that can serve wine. The South Korean electronics pioneer also presented JetBot 90 AI Plus, which uses object recognition technology to watch your pets while you’re gone and even vacuum up their messes as they make them.
3. Weed à la Mode
On first blush, Mode, the world’s first cannabis dosing device, threatens to become a hand-held weed breathalyzer — that party trick you giggle over while comparing who among your friends is the most stoned. But being able to control how much vapor you inhale and regulate your level of highness could be hugely important for safety reasons, given the way authorities in states that have legalized weed have seen small, yet troubling, upticks in driving under the influence. Its precise metrics could also make it easier for people who toke up for medical reasons like anxiety or pain management.
4. Never Look Back
The Gentex mirror is a real head-turner as a product, but buying it ensures you will never again have to risk looking behind you while driving. The video screen and recorder mounts to your rearview mirror, letting you see your passengers without looking back … or relying on a bulky dashcam. Given how much safety features dominate the decisions parents make when buying a car, this could be a suprise top seller.
5. Chillest Standout Ever
This year's true star of the show was ColdSnap. Hailed as the Keurig of ice cream, the 50-pound machine dispenses single servings of frozen treats from smoothies to ice creams to margaritas using its recyclable aluminium pod system. From initial craving to delicious treat, the whole process takes a mere 60 to 90 seconds.
Shazam! star Meagan Good opens up about her faith, her fairy-tale romance with husband DeVon Franklin and her plans for motherhood. As she takes on more projects behind the camera and not just in front of it, find out how this former child star turned ass-kicking action hero thinks about her future in Hollywood.
Naturally, the pandemic was the talk of the virtual town, starting with telecom company Binatone, the brain behind the MaskFone, which combines a water-resistant fabric mask with an embedded mic and earbuds for effortless phone calls. Even gamers are getting into mask production, with gaming lifestyle brand Razer introducing an N95 mask concept that’s packed with active ventilation, a UV auto-sterilizer, internal LEDs to make your mouth visible in low light and air pods with audio-processing algorithms to make your voice clearer while covered.
2. Easy Cleanup
When the whole world is a potential contaminant, the internet of things has to become the internet of self-cleaning things. There are germ-avoiding inventions like Alarm.com’s touchless video doorbell and a Kohler toilet that flushes itself with a Jedi-like wave of the hand. The LG refrigerator helps you dodge disease by opening itself when you order it to — and uses UV light to disinfect the water dispenser. Should you have the misfortune of catching COVID-19, the hospital-grade BioButton sensor will alert you to flu-like symptoms sooner than your helicopter mom on a school-day morning.
3. Of Course, More Robots
It often seems like the CES solution to every problem is “get a robot to do it.” That’s not a complaint, mind you. UBTech’s Adibot, with its neon shaft in space-white casing, may look like a Star Wars set piece, but it’s designed to use UV blasts to sanitize classrooms, offices and hotels. Owners can also tweak the dosage to treat other troublesome diseases, meaning in the next pandemic, this bot will be baaack.
defying the ed-tech diversity drought
CES 2021 hosted a number of panels featuring young women of color. Here are some of the ones to watch.
1. Tolúlọpẹ́ Ògúnrẹ̀mí
The self-taught U.K. computer whiz has an ease that belies her status as a former child prodigy (she was just 13 when she learned how to code in multiple languages). Attending hackathons made her realize how few Black women worked in tech, leading her to create the coding education organization Coders of Colour. Her reason? “To make room for my 13-year-old self, when I had no other role models,” she says. Now there are plenty of others joining the pipeline, thanks in part to this tech guru giving them a hand up.
2. Omotola Shogunle
Learning to code is a lot easier when you have a year off after missing the cutoff for medical school in Nigeria. That’s what Shogunle discovered — and four years later, she’d earned a software engineering degree in the United Kingdom. She is the first Black woman to work at Manchester-based Ampersand, a gig she got after researching the e-commerce company and confidently selling her merits at a job fair. By the time she walked away from Amerpsand’s table, the starstruck manager had offered her an official interview for the next day.
The secret to this young brand manager’s success in the tech space? Not being all that techy. The University of Southern California grad has already hopped from Facebook to Instagram, enjoying an inquisitive environment where “preparation meets opportunity.” There’s no imposter syndrome here, because Ofudu’s EQ — that’s emotional intelligence — helps her think like the engineers she works with and communicate in ways they understand. Her advice for success: “Think about who you are, what you are curious about, what questions you are trying to solve and how it relates to what the company is trying to do.”
4. Taniya Mishra
Growing up in Kolkata, it didn’t take long for Mishra to figure out that the tech scene was far from peachy, given the lack of women and people of color. She recently left a job researching artificial intelligence to launch her own company, SureStart. Her objective? To build “opportunity pipelines for a highly diverse tech workforce through technical skills training and project-based learning.” She has earned awards for her mentorship, advocating for others to step up while creating an inclusive environment so underrepresented talents can thrive.
Today, our partner at Cheddar is giving you inside access to this year’s CES Summit, where tech companies came together to show off the boldest, most outlandish products. Tune in to Cheddar for their Best of CES special. Watch.
1. House Hacking
It’s no surprise that CES was obsessed with improving home life this year. Reading the room, Samsung eschewed glitz with its “a better normal” pitch, including a line of Marie Kondo–pleasing Bespoke refrigerators, a one-stop SmartThings cooking service and solar-powered TV remotes. The Infinity Game Table turns classics like Monopoly into family tablet night, while a device that clips to your hat lets already spoiled couch potatoes turn on the TV with their minds. Being stuck at home still sucks. But the greatest minds are working to make it suck less.
2. Love Games
CES was remarkably prudish in 2019, when Lora DiCarlo’s award-winning vibrator, Osé, was given an innovation award only to be banned from the showroom floor. That’s changed, and the sex tech company is back with three toys that are literally red-hot. Satisfyer won a 2021 honorific for a Bluetooth app that creates sensual experiences in more than 30 languages, including Klingon. And for men who want to make the good times last longer, the “taint bandaid” promises to improve stamina … by electrocuting your nether regions. Don’t be shocked: Just ride that sweet, sweet current.
3. Flight Risk
General Motors jumped into the sky transit biz with the Cadillac of flying cars, debuting an autonomous electric drone that whizzes up to 56 miles per hour. But the Detroit mainstay has competition from others trying to take flight, including California-based startup Archer Aviation, which partnered with Fiat Chrysler to announce its own edition. Still, these companies haven’t had much success so far, with Uber selling off its Elevate brand in December before it could launch. That signals the precariousness of an industry that should skyrocket once it (finally) gets off the ground.