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Our 3 Favorite Innovations from CES

The biggest technology show of the year went all-digital last week for the first time in its 53-year history. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), there were no crowds, no lines to see speakers, and no big, showy booths. But that doesn’t mean companies hadn’t been planning for flashy tech and innovation rollouts. Getting the most buzz at the 2021 show were products reflective of the global pandemic, especially regarding matters of personal safety and working from home.

Here are three innovative products that rose to the top for us.

1. Smart masks are here to stay.

If there is one thing that we will see hanging around postpandemic, it will likely be the face mask. Required or not, masks will be what people will continue to wear for a long while in high-risk areas like airports and closed public spaces. CES showcased a slew of new technology-enabled masks. Razer, a company known for gaming tech, launched Project Hazel, an N95 active-ventilation smart mask that features transparent windows for lip reading, a microphone and speaker for voice projection, and RGB lights that illuminate the ventilator rings in any color you wish, as well as LEDs that illuminate your mouth. MaskFone launched a Bluetooth-enabled mask with a built-in headset that clears up muffled voices on calls when you are wearing your mask. AirPop Active+ has a smart sensor that’s connected via Bluetooth to an app that tracks breathing rate, pollutants, and air quality. It also lets you know when to switch out the filter. AirPop is positing employment of the mask beyond the pandemic with uses such as tracking air quality and analyzing athletic performance data.

Takeaway: Necessity is the mother of invention, and speed to market is critical. These innovations weren’t even on the radar a year ago. Now, for an increasingly virus- and germ-aware public, they may remain viable for years.

The Hazel Project from Razer is loaded with tech for safety and features that make it comfortable and fun to wear.

2. Touch-free experiences come home.

As we documented in our Consumer and Brand Behavior Report: Winter 2021, touch-free experiences will be a growing trend over the next year. Everything that can be touch-free will be. And CES confirms that these experiences will be part of our home experience too. Both Kohler and Moen introduced voice-activated faucets—no more aimlessly waving your hands around until you find the sensor. Now you can just ask the faucet to pour water at a precise temperature or amount. And a voice command will make sure your family members are washing their hands for the requisite 20 seconds, including walking them through the steps for proper handwashing, activating the water for wetting and rinsing, and audible guides for lathering and cleaning. Instead of pushing a button, visitors at your front door will benefit from touch-free doorbells that use proximity sensors to set off the bell. Even the refrigerator has been voice enabled with LG InstaView. You can ask it to open the fridge, activate the viewing panel, or have the fridge tell you what’s on your calendar.

Takeaway: The smart home continues to evolve, with gaze and gesture technologies likely to follow voice-activated innovations in the next wave.

The U by Moen Smart Faucet lets you create custom commands to keep your hands free.

3. It wouldn’t be CES without robots.

It’s too bad we didn’t get to see all the robots on the show floor this year, but the 2021 robots—like so much else this year—are focused on keeping users safe and healthy and making things easier at home. LG launched the CLOi UV-C sanitizing robot that roams autonomously to disinfect high-traffic areas in hospitality, education, retail, and restaurant venues. And for those of you who just can’t load the dishwasher one more time, Samsung is introducing Bot Handy to do that for you, and to help you with chores around the house. The Samsung JetBot 90 AI+ robotic vacuum uses cutting-edge object recognition like LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) to move around the house, avoiding objects like furniture, electronic cables, or (fingers crossed) pet poop.

Takeaway: As long as consumers are spending so much time at home, innovations in housekeeping and home entertainment will continue to be where a lot of R&D dollars are spent.

The Samsung Bot Handy senses the material composition of objects to use just the right force and pressure to pour you a glass of wine or help load the dishwasher.

Inspiration comes in all sizes.

While we’ve missed seeing all the innovation in person, the CES 2021 all-digital edition showed us that companies continue to innovate and change some of our simplest activities, from breathing or cleaning the house to turning on a faucet or opening the fridge. For GLG, CES always provides inspiration and ideas for how to rethink digitally enabled experiences big and small for our clients, such as how websites can enable voice-activated searches, how product design can make experiences safer, and how service design can add value without complexity.