Strolling the virtual grounds of CES 2021 this week, I was struck by a couple of things. First, for all its tribulations 2020 was a helluva year for tech companies. Consumers were buying, reported ecstatic vendors, whether it was work-from-home paraphernalia, fitness bands, or entertainment products. Numbers from IDC and NPD underscore what a banner year it was for the consumer tech industry.
But walking (or rather tapping) my way through the all-digital CES made it clear that there’s an awful lot of new tech that aims to keep us safer and more hygienic as we emerge from the pandemic. CES, for those who have never been, has in the past been sort of a human Petri dish of cigarette smoke, hand grabbing, and giant crowds–surging, lining up, and, yes, coughing. Looking at the sheer number of products that are trying to keep us germ-free makes me expect that at next year’s CES 2022 we may be wearing name badges on our masks.
Here are just a few of the products showcasing tech-infused cleanliness:
According to a presentation by LG, 30% of people are washing clothes more since the pandemic. And washing machines are answering the call, with steam cycles that promise to disinfect better. Samsung’s new front-loading machine answers to commands from your Galaxy mobile phone (no touching) and features something called a “laundry recipe” for your perfect blend. For those who don’t want to damage their threads by overwashing, there’s Samsung’s Airdresser. It’s a standing wardrobe closet that sanitizes clothing using air and steam. It purports to eliminate bacteria, viruses, and allergens.
But my fav of the no-touch household helpers was definitely the Samsung Bot Handy (still in development) which uses AI to do things like set the table and carry the dirty dishes off to the dishwasher. (Better than marriage counseling, perhaps?) The AI software is needed in part to sense the density of things the robot picks up.
Another touchless tech target is that germ-ridden faucet we all still have to share. Kohler‘s hands-free bathroom faucet has embedded sensors that let you perform your ablutions without touching a thing. Moen one-ups that by adding voice control, for anyone who doesn’t feel like gesturing. Seriously–the Moen experience is pretty cool. You can say “Alexa, ask Moen to give me 3 cups of hot water.” And presto! No wasted water and you don’t even need a measuring cup.
A Mask is My Badge
As if it weren’t hard enough to remember the guy you met last year by name, I expect that next year you may identify them by their mask. That’s why I love my programmable LED mask by Exreme Glow, which I plan to use as a name badge.
Other standout masks included LG’s Air Puricare, a Darth Vader-like affair with replaceable HEPA disk filters. And the AirPop Active+ mask not only protects you but reports on your personal breathing, as well as the quality of the local air, thanks to a built-in sensor. It’s selling for $150, making it the gold standard in high tech masks. Maskfone, from Binatone, basically glued some earbuds onto a facemask. Razer introduced Project Hazel, a high-end mask with a built-in mic and amplifier combo so at least you’re intelligible while masked up.
Don’t Just Move the Dust Around
Robotic vacuum cleaners also promise next-gen cleanliness. The Samsung JetBot 90 AI+ robot vacuum relies on LIDAR (the same technology used for object detection in autonomous vehicles) as well as object recognition technology, to navigate its way around your household obstacles. It can vacuum where no robot previously dared to go. If you’re absolutely starved for something to do you can even watch it remotely.
Softbank Robotics migrated from sweet little Pepper, last year’s robotic helper, to a vastly more useful industrial strength vacuum cleaner called Whiz. It’s hoping cleanliness will make gatherings and retail feel safer again.
CES gave the Roborock S5 Max, which cleans and mops as it goes, an Innovation Award in the Smarthome category. Another class of robots at CES uses pulsed xenon ultraviolet (UV) light to disinfect surfaces.
UV Wins Popular Vote
This is a technology that has been around for years, but the pandemic pushed it into overdrive. Coro-Bot, an “antivirus disinfection robot” created by Hills Engineering from South Korea, drives around cleaning and sterilizing using Ultraviolet light. It also has an air circulator that it says kills airborne coronavirus and other viruses with a far-Infrared ceramic filter.
Targus, the well-known backpack maker, introduced a UV-C LED Desktop Disinfection Light, designed to sit between your monitor and keyboard. Every hour it turns on for a five minutes UV treatment it says will destroy bacteria, viruses, fungus, or mold on your keyboard and surrounding area. Targus plans to sell it by April for $299.
Maybe it Won’t Get Used at CES, But …
A toilet that analyzes your poop? I think the Toto’s wellness toilet was my favorite product of the show, in part because of sheer novelty. But also because it will ultimately be able to help diagnose disease long before a person displays any symptoms. It’s a prototype for the time being, but think about it. An array of sensors can detect things like vascular issues as you sit even as all sorts of testing is done to your toilet “droppings,” without asking you to change your personal behavior one iota. (Until you get the results, perhaps…)
A startup called Spotlessmaterials.com showcased a new lubricant that can coat toilets and other hard surfaces so they’re easier to clean and use less water.
Touchless doorbells like this one from Alarm.com promised more touchless (aka germ-free) home entry. Ettie, a doorbell from Plott, one-upped that by announcing a doorbell with a built-in temperature sensor to make sure your guest doesn’t ring in with a fever.
Other solutions like PayRange a mobile (thus touchless) payment solution for vending, parking, transit ticketing, laundry, amusement, and more made news on engadget for being easy to retrofit onto most existing machines.
What’s missing from this picture? For all its attention to cleanliness, the CE industry is still pretty dirty when it comes to recycling and products meant to last. At next year’s show I’d like to see more products like this fully recyclable PC from Abacus from Pentaform or this garbage sorting machine from Lasso Loop.
(Note: Techonomy contributor Raskin is also a consultant to CES. For us in this case, that just means she took a really close look at what was on offer there.)