Virtually speaking…the future is upon us

By Marc Saltzman

Despite the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) taking place online for the first time in its 54-year history, the all-digital 2021 event still served as a window to the near future, featuring more than 1,800 exhibitors showcasing their wares.

Granted, it’s tougher to assess how impressive these products are without seeing them with my own eyes—like the latest drones or self-driving cars—but as usual, CES managed to surprise and delight. Still, in our annual HF tradition, I’ve hand-picked a few of the most impressive from this year’s line-up.

Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto
Tech giant Samsung gave us a glimpse into Bot Handy, a tall, thin domestic robot that can roam around your home to perform various chores, such as… (wait for it), picking up clothes from the floor or loading the dishwasher. As seen in the inventor’s teaser video, Bot Handy can also pour a glass of wine and bring it to you. Now we’re talking!  While still very much a prototype, Handy is powered by cameras, A.I., a versatile arm to accomplish tasks, and a digital face that can pretend to show a variety of real-looking emotions.

Samsung also revealed its next-gen robotic vacuum, the JetBot 90 A.I.+, which uses lidar and A.I. to scan the room for obstacles before it takes to the floor for its autonomous cleaning task.

Ubtech has introduced robots at previous years’ CES events, including Walker (an autonomous indoor monitoring robot), Cruzr (an enterprise-grade service robot), and JIMU (an award-winning robotics kit for kids). This year’s debut is Ubtech’s Adibot, a disinfecting robot that combines robotics, A.I. and ultraviolet light (UV-C) to target surfaces and air. The company says it can successfully deactivate the DNA and RNA of harmful pathogens. Along with private homes, Adibots can be utilized as a workhorse in public places, such as retail stores, classrooms and office spaces. Available in both stationary and autonomous models that feature 360-degree UV-C light coverage to effectively kill 99.9 per cent of bacteria.

For another kind of pampering, the ColdSnap appliance received plenty of press during CES as it’s considered the “Keurig for ice cream lovers.” Due out in 2022, this 50-pound cold making machine makes soft serve ice cream, on demand, from decent size pods that look similar to aluminum cans. For the more adventurous, ColdSnap has pods for smoothies and daiquiris, too.

TV time
The latest and greatest televisions typically garner the most buzz at CES, and 2021 was no exception to the rule, even if we were at home in our armchairs.

LG’s first “OLED evo” displays—namely, its just-unveiled G1 TVs — were an obvious standout for improved brightness to complement the exceptional contrast that OLED offers and, in turn, for making colours more vibrant.

Because of its incredible thinness at just 0.79 inches (for the 65-inch model), it’s like a piece of art you can mount flush to a wall, or prop up on its swanky Gallery Stand, also coming to a store near you in 2021. Promising availability in 55- and 77-inch sizes when it debuts, it looks to be ideal for gamers too, with four HDMI 2.1 ports that support 4K resolution at 120Hz (for smooth motion), as well as integrated Google Stadia and GeForce Now, (two cloud-based gaming platforms). Pity … no price or launch date confirmed.

LG Electronics’ sister company LG Display, also headquartered in South Korea, wowed virtual attendees with a clever transparent prototype. Dubbed the Smart Bed TV concept, this see-through rollable OLED television glides up from its stylish base at the foot of your bed and extends to its full 55-inch size. Imagine getting dressed while watching the morning news—even from behind the television.

Interestingly, this TV can be used in applications outside of the home, such as in autonomous vehicles, subways and aircrafts, as well as commercial and retail locations, and restaurants—anywhere you wouldn’t want your view obstructed by an opaque display. LG Display says the product uses Cinematic Sound OLED (CSO) technology to deliver audio by vibrating the screen. Goodbye traditional speakers.

Samsung, too, had a couple of television related releases, including the NeoQLED, created to amp up the brightness in its branded QLED (“quantum dot”)-based TVs.

I’m told the NeoQLED line uses significantly smaller LED lights, allowing for more to be used to generate more finely controlled brightness, and five times higher contrast ratios than the previous Q900 model. There’s also a new Quantum Processor, said to harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to enhance the entertainment experience. Amazingly, it can actually “upscale” 1080p (full HD) or 4K content to near 8K resolution on some models.

When it debuts at some point in 2021, these TVs will ship with a solar-powered remote, which charges with indoor lighting as well. Samsung predicts this kind of technology could save 20 million AAA batteries from the land-fill every year.

Up, up and away
Forum’s researchers showed the average daily commute in Toronto at about 42 minutes each way pre-pandemic. While a flying taxi won’t see the light of day for several years, General Motors CEO Mary Barra did peel back the curtain on Cadillac’s eVTOL (“Electric Vehicle Takeoff and Landing”), a personal drone concept that could help tackle congestion challenges plaguing many urban areas.

A single-seat quadcopter it’s expected to reach flying speeds of up to 90 kilometers/hour via its 90-kilowatt battery pack. While additional details were scarce, the eVTOL marks GM’s first foray into any kind of aerial mobility.

In the short term, the BrightDrop ecosystem, another GM introduction is promising to disrupt the delivery and logistics industry with its suite of electrified products, software and services that gets packages there in a way that’s quicker, safer, quieter and, you guess it, better for the environment. With the first solution debuting this spring (an electric pallet called the BrightDrop EP1), word on the street is that GM’s first official partner is FedEx Express.

Hands-free gear
Touchless tech and other COVID-19-related solutions were understandably sought after at this year’s CES.

Alarm.com, for example, showcased a new video doorbell that uses A.I. to detect when someone has arrived on a doorstep. Along with a doormat that notifies the homeowner when someone stands on it, the product has a camera and microphone that are then activated to initiate a chat with the visitor. No word yet if this will debut in Canada but I’m certainly hoping so for safety’s sake!

High-tech faucets were on the menu with a variety of new 2021 designs and finishes, The U by Moen Smart Faucet starts the flow of water with a simple wave of the hand in front of its small sensor. Or, it can be voice activated if you have an Alexa- or Google-enabled smart speaker nearby.  You can even ask for a specific temperature and the required amount of water. That’s right: place a pot underneath the faucet and just ask for two cups of hot water. There’s also an app to create pre-sets, like “coffee maker” or “baby bottle,” with desired amounts of water and temperatures.

U can also help with hand washing—say something like “OK, Google, ask U to wash my hands,” and the water will turn on to wet your hands. When it thinks you’ve got enough it will turn off for 20 seconds while you soap up and lather and automatically turn back on after 20 seconds when it’s time to rinse. And, yes, the faucet has a good old-fashioned manual handle, too.

Kohler showcased its timely Touchless Toilet at CES.  Finished your business?  Simply wave your hand in front of the handle and the “Touchless” will flush automatically for you. Not only reach reducing for those who find stretching for the flusher challenging, this toilet seems to be COVID ready for no touch handle households.

And my grand finale, Razer’s Project Hazel, another sign of the times. This prototype face mask features microphones and amplifiers to boost the sound of your voice so you don’t sound muffled. Plus it’s somewhat transparent, with lights that automatically illuminate your lips when it’s dark out. Not so sure about this one yet but if it’s all it says it is, might be helpful for those experiencing some hearing loss.

For the past 25 years, Marc Saltzman has been a recognized expert in consumer electronics, business tech, social media, and automotive trends. You can see him on CTV, Global TV, and as a keynote speaker across North America. Follow him on Twitter @ marc_saltzman.

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