5 Standouts from CES 2020

5 Standouts from CES 2020

We’re back from our annual pilgrimage to CES, having survived the crowds, the travel headaches, the driverless Lyft surge pricing – and we learned a lot. Each year, CES reveals a treasure trove of better-and-better gadgets, proofs of concepts, and eye-popping innovations that make us rethink our world. So, without further ado, here are Spark PR’s five standouts from CES 2020.

1. Voice Assistants

It’s the never-ending story; for the 4th year in a row Amazon’s Alexa was everywhere at CES. This year, there were significantly more Alexa-enabled gadgets than the number we saw at CES 2018 and CES 2019; everything from smart home cameras to portable projectors to electric-vehicle manufacturer Rivian. Noted, Amazon owns a stake in Rivian, an indication that Alexa may one day move from auto co-pilot to pilot. Could the next move for Alexa be driverless vehicles?  Given its ubiquity, we wouldn’t be surprised.

You also couldn’t miss Google’s Assistant’s two-story, escape-room style installation, which prompted users to shout out commands to home appliances in order to get out. Google announced its own slew of alliances, including a water quality sensor with kitchen and bath fixture maker Moen, JBL wireless earbuds with native Google Assistant support, and ADT home security cameras.

The competition between the two devices was palpable, as usual, but this year Alexa seemed to reach a little farther.

2. Ride and Drive

Autonomous vehicles have been a hot topic at CES for years, and 2020 was no different. Lyft had a driverless rideshare while Qualcomm announced an autonomous driving platform, Snapdragon Ride.

This year we also noted an uptick in devices and applications that connect cars and homes. First, the automated Audi AI:ME billed itself as a “third living space” that can turn a daily commute into a wellness retreat. A pair of VR goggles, integrated into the car, are there so a rider can hike a mountain while the car slogs up US-101.

Wallbox, a client, took a different route – it showcased the Quasar, a bidirectional battery that shuttles power between cars and homes, linking the two into a single energy ecosystem. A car battery is essentially a power cell that can function as a generator. It can power a house during an outage or, more consistently, make homes more sustainable by relying less on the grid. Wallbox’s Quasar took home a well-deserved Best of CES award for transportation tech.

Silicon Valley anchor and Spark client, Synaptics, meanwhile, introduced an automotive touch and display driver integration chip that integrates both technologies onto a single chip. Using the integrated chip, the touchscreen responds faster than ever before and images are remarkably distinct. The upshot is that the speed allows drivers to take a quick look so that their eyes remain primarily on the road, not on the screen. Everyone’s ride home becomes safer.

3. Hearing tech

We love innovations that make the world more inclusive. Which is why we’re so proud of our client, OrCam, which was awarded the CES 2020 Innovation Award in Accessibility for its OrCam Hear Wearable Hearing-Aid Helper. The device solves a common problem of those who use hearing aids – that all noise is amplified. Hearing aid technology often struggles with differentiation so that, for instance, the barking dog and the blender in the background are just as loud as the single voice you’re actually trying to listen to. This is especially frustrating for people listening to an individual while standing in a larger group of people – standard behavior at any work or social event. OrCam created a wearable camera that uses AI to recognize who is speaking near or to you. It then hones its microphone to that specific voice and sends it to a hearing aid or Bluetooth-connected headphone.

Another great product we saw in this category is the Olive Union Smart Ear. Aimed to reduce the stigma that can occur with bulky aids, it looks like a wireless earbud but is really a small-scale hearing aid in disguise.

4. Futuristic-concept consumer durables

This isn’t your Grandma’s kitchen. We saw refrigerators with massive displays and see-through doors like this one from LG Electronics – the InstaView ThinQ. Samsung too showed us the future kitchen, with an updated edition of its Family Hub smart fridge. Both utilize AI to log and recognize food, so the fridge can suggest dinner recipes based on what’s there, or remind you to buy more coffee creamer and almond milk.

GE Appliances, meanwhile, showed us its Kitchen Hub system that now includes an AI-powered oven camera to make sure dinner doesn’t burn. And finally, Samsung’s Bot Chef was a must-see. Two robotic arms hang from kitchen cabinets, ready to prepare soups, salads, whatever. Honestly, we can’t imagine seeing this in many kitchens, but if it means someone (something?) else is reliably cooking dinner, well, then…we’re listening.

5. The surprise?

This year we were blown away by the OnePlus Concept One phone. We’re always learning, and this year’s word to remember is “electrochromic.” OnePlus applied electrochromic, or color-shifting, glass technology to phones – and the result is slick. The glass switches between being clear and opaque so that the camera can be safely placed behind the glass. It’s a leap forward in smartphone CMF, color, material, and finish, and has us wondering what’s next. Lesson learned? Even hardened CES veterans can be surprised.

And more…

We saw plenty of other stuff you wouldn’t expect, including Impossible Pork (tasty!) and Sony’s Car (two words we never thought we’d see together), as well as lots of concept tech just for marketing/PR efforts. Charmin’s Rollbot, we’re looking at you. Robots were having a “cute” moment, as  Samsung’s Ballie won our hearts, and the adorable Lovot from Groove X returned to CES this year with an updated retail version.

Sex tech was a popular topic, as adult toy companies took advantage of last year’s shenanigans to come back in full force now that the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) has allowed the devices. And, like everyone else, we were obsessed with Samsung’s NEON until it turned out to be not that impressive.

Finally, the World’s First Smart Potato made its CES debut. It looks like any other Yukon Gold – except for the protruding black antenna. Called the NeuraSpud, it apparently unlocks the potato’s astonishing AI capacities. You read that right. The man behind the spud, Nicholas Baldeck, aimed to highlight the inanity of many of the consumer “solutions” at CES. If everything else is now “smart,” why not the humble potato? We laughed out loud.

Want to make the trip next year? Let’s talk – we’ll make sure you stand out.