Every January more than 180,000 people show up at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas to stroll around in a Future World. It’s where the world’s cutting-edge consumer technology goes on display, sometimes to great effect, other times to raised eyebrows.
But the show, which ends today, has become one of the best indicators of where technology is headed, and what trends and innovations are likely to become part of our daily lives in the years ahead.
This year’s big themes were not all that surprising. Artificial intelligence is everywhere; now every gadget is smart. Drones are getting bigger and better. Health tech is bursting with potential. And, TVs will be even fancier, including one with a screen that unrolls from a base when you want to watch something, then rolls back out of sight when you’re done.
CES 2019 also provided an opportunity to see how the war of the smart speakers is playing out. Both Amazon and Google made a point of showing how ubiquitous Alexa and Google Assistant are becoming as features of appliances and gadgets. Amazon still dominates the market, but Google hoped to impress the CES audience with the rollout of Google Assistant Interpreter Mode, which enables a person to converse in another language in close to real time, and Google Assistant Connect, which helps third-party hardware makers integrate the Assistant into their gadgets.
But the real charm of CES comes with discovering inventions that just might move us in new directions. Here are seven to remember:
Now That's Some Loyal Luggage
Why lug a suitcase all over an airport when you can have one that moves along with you on its own. That’s the idea behind Ovis, luggage created by a Chinese company called Forward X Robotics. It comes equipped with cameras and uses facial recognition technology and a movement tracking algorithm to lock in on its owner and stick with her or him at a speed of six miles per hour. Ovis is even able to avoid collisions as it makes its way through crowds. To make sure it doesn’t stray, the suitcase comes with a smart wristband that vibrates if it gets more than six feet away. It also has two USB ports so it can serve as a charging station. But perhaps best of all, Ovis has embedded GPS, so you can always track it if it goes missing. The buddy bag is expected to go on the market within the next few months at a suggested retail price of $799.
A Diabetes Breathalyzer
There’s good news for the millions of people who have to regularly prick their fingers to test their blood sugar levels. AerBetic, Inc, a Birmingham, Alabama firm, has developed a wearable device called the AerBetic that can alert people with diabetes to potential problems.* Designed to be worn as a bracelet or pendant, it’s able detect, from exhaled breath, gases indicative of blood glucose levels and can then send a text to a smartphone if those levels have become dangerously high or low. AerBetic can also send patients regular reminders to check their blood sugar and also can forward information directly to caregivers. The goal is to use artificial intelligence to allow the device to adapt its sensors to the person wearing it.
It’s just a matter of time before Uber goes airborne. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of its partners, Bell Helicopters showed off what it’s calling the Nexus Air Taxi. A hybrid-electric propulsion aircraft that seats four passengers and a pilot, it uses six large tilting rotors to enable it to take off or land vertically from rooftops. The Nexus will have a range of 150 miles and a top speed of 150 mph. Augmented reality also may be part of the flying taxi experience, possibly through flight details or sightseeing info projected on to the windows. The Nexus is expected to make its pilot flight next year, with a goal of operating in several major cities by the mid-2020s. See for yourself.
Plenty of Dough
In what could be yet another landmark in world domination, robots are now able to bake bread from scratch. Well, almost. Humans still need to provide the ingredients, but Breadbot can take it from there. It can bake 10 loaves an hour, including several different types—white, whole wheat, honey oat, sourdough and nine grain. The bread requires few preservatives because it’s meant to be purchased fresh. Breadbot, the creation of the Wilkinson Baking Company in Walla Walla, Washington, is designed for grocery chains and convenience stores, not home kitchens. Customers use a menu to punch in what kind of bread they want and six minutes later, it’s warming their hands. The robot has close to 100 sensors to ensure the proper weight, ingredient density and temperature, although love does not appear to be part of the process.
If you’re bored with seeing yourself in the mirror, a new device called the Savvy Smart Mirror can make things more interesting. That’s because it doubles as a giant touchscreen. It can show you a weather report or the news, play music or connect you to Instagram. In fact, it can download almost any Android app, so you can even watch movies on it, if you’re so inclined. Savvy Smart Mirror also can be set to control lighting and a thermostat. Earlier models were designed for hotel rooms, but it is now available for homes. Ah, but mirrors this versatile don’t come cheap. The Savvy Smart Mirror, produced by Electric Mirror, Inc. in Everett, Washington, is priced at $2,500.
Under Your Skin
You may think you know every imperfection on your face, but can you really be sure? That’s where Lu Mini comes in. Described as an “AI Skincare Assistant,” it’s the brainchild of a South Korean firm called Lululab. The handheld device uses a multispectral camera to do a facial scan below the surface of your skin in seven seconds. Then it uses AI to rate your skin and highlight trouble spots in six different categories—wrinkles, pigment, redness, pores, acne and oil secretion. It follows up with suggestions for skin care products that deal with things your mirror can’t tell you. Lu Mini is coming to cosmetic counters this summer.
Burgers Minus the Beef
In its ongoing quest to invent the ultimate meatless burger, California-based Impossible Foods unveiled its “Impossible Burger 2.0.” The gluten-free burger is made from soy and potato protein, and its creators say it has even fewer calories than its predecessor and no cholesterol. What distinguishes the Impossible Burger from the typical veggie burger is that it’s made from a plant-based version of heme, a molecule found in blood and that, according to the Impossible Foods folks, makes it taste meatier and juicier. The new Impossible Burger will make its debut in grocery stores this summer.
* Editor's Note, January 23, 2019: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the maker of the AerBetic was a San Diego firm called AerNos, Inc, when, in fact, it is made by the Birmingham, Alabama-based AerBetic, Inc. The story has been edited to correct that fact.