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01.19.21

CES 2021 Takeaways

by Carlton Rice

CES is often described as one of the most influential tech events in the world. Every year, CES acts as an annual proving ground for companies large and small to present themselves as innovators and show off some of their coolest research and development to the world. This year acted as a dramatic divergence from the status quo as the first-ever, online-only CES event.

Although many of the presentations were obviously pre-recorded and the online-only component allowed some companies to skate by on high-fidelity renders, there were still plenty of exciting announcements and discussions throughout the three-day event. This year had a nice mix of small and large brands represented with a broad range of demonstrations from production-ready practical devices and future-forward concepts. While the event was unlike any other CES before it, there were strong themes in the evolution of next-generation tech such as Displays, AI-Integration, 5G, Smart Devices, and Robotics.

Things that will probably happen

We hear about exciting technologies every year that only ever end up as vaporware or thinkpieces. With CES 2021 being a fully-virtual event, it would have been easy to pack it in, release some nice renderings, and call it a day. Plenty of presentations featured concepts and ideas that are years away, but it was refreshing to see a good amount of products that will be ready as soon as this week.

Rollable Screens and Smart Displays

CES is well-known for showing off some of the coolest and most unique displays that appear to be out of a new sci-fi series. This year was no exception, and the stars of the show were rollable screens, transparent televisions, and next-generation OLED and QLED displays.

While it remains to be seen how practical and durable rolling displays are, with both LG and TCL releasing rollable-screen concepts and physical prototypes, it sounds like rollable screens are not far off. We have recently seen a trend toward maximizing screen real-estate while remaining compact in devices such as foldable phones, so it makes sense to try a different iteration of this concept. One enabler of the evolution of this type of display is the dramatic progress coming out of research on OLED and AMOLED displays. As advertised and physically demonstrated in TCL’s presentation of their 17-inch printed OLED scrolling display, the display can be unfurled in a scroll-like fashion to create a 17-inch display with an advertised 100% color gamut. TCL’s Tiago Abreu, head of the “X-Lab” at the TCL Industrial Design Center, says that the new screen technology has a wide application on “flexible TVs, curved and foldable displays as well as transparent commercial display screens.”

Speaking of OLED, QLED, and Display Innovation, we saw several next-generation strides coming from the typical heavy-hitters.

LG’s Signature C-series 8K OLED with advanced AI image processing

Smart, Advanced, and Unique Devices

While it may not be as flashy as rollable screens or an in-car hyperscreen (technically, three screens in one, but who’s counting), there were plenty of devices that captured headlines for their intelligent design and impressive performance. Shortly after revealing its Ryzen 5000 desktop chips with significantly improved gaming performance, AMD announced an Intel competitor on the laptop front. As one of the more notable announcements for more technical followers of CES, AMD announced its new Ryzen 5000 mobile family suite with H-Series CPUs directed toward gamers, content creators, and ultrathin PC users. These CPUs are based on AMD’s 7-nanometer Zen 3 technology and boast significant upgrades in performance and battery life over the last-gen models. This event was AMD’s opportunity to show their growth and evolution as a company, and they definitely turned some heads with their presentations overall.

Some other interesting releases include a smart hydroponic garden and a smart cannabis device.

Of course, it wouldn’t be CES without some utterly overengineered household items that nobody really asked for but everyone secretly wants to try such as state-of-the-art smart bathtubs, toilets, and showerheads.

Kohler Stillness Bath

Things that may happen

There are many cool presentations and panels at CES, yet a large portion of them lie in the “things that may happen” category. There is plenty of practicality that exists within a company presentation, but the timeline, technologies, or design may not exactly mirror what things will look like when they’re fully ready for the public. This year, three of these key topic areas are Autonomous Driving and Computer Vision, Robotics, and Sanitation/PPE Devices. 

Autonomous Driving and Computer Vision

Every year, we get a little bit closer to Level 4 autonomous driving. While we are probably still several years away from being able to read a book and not think about where a rolling hunk of metal is hurtling you, we are getting much closer. Some of the more interesting outputs were announcements by the Indianapolis 500 and their Indy Autonomous Challenge, Intel’s Mobileye advanced Computer Vision, and John Deere’s massive AI-powered Smart Tractor and Spreader with computer vision precision down to the centimeter. 

John Deere Self-Driving AI Smart Tractor and Spreader with Computer Vision

Indy Race + Competition for Innovation

The Indy Autonomous Challenge reminds me of the DARPA Grand Challenge in pushing innovation to new heights through friendly competition. There’s nothing like competitive pressure to give a brilliant team some urgency and maybe inspire an all-nighter or two. This year’s Indy Autonomous Challenge is a 40+ team autonomous challenge at the historic Brickyard of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This is an opportunity for the next generation of autonomous engineers to display their skills and push the field of autonomous driving to the next level.

Robotics

Currently, the most common basic robotics in our homes today look something like a Roomba or maybe a Husqvarna autonomous lawn mower. While modern home robotics have their niche in some version of cleaning, the next generation of home robotics are aimed at accomplishing menial tasks that we don’t want to do, like unloading the dishwasher or cooking some dinner. This year, Samsung and Ubtech took another step toward bringing even more robotics into the home and office in the near future.

Samsung home robotics is releasing three new robots to help clean up your house, be your personal assistant, vacuum, and also act as a security camera. The advancements in computer vision and machine learning powering the “brains” of these robotics are a dramatic improvement over current-state home robotics, but it remains to be seen how people will feel about having a smart speaker, camera, and microphone on wheels around the house.

Sanitation/PPE Devices

With COVID-19 and sanitation being at the top of a lot more minds in 2021, companies have doubled-down on some cool sanitation and PPE technologies to keep us safe and in style. These include Grenlite’s Antiviral UV Device or the masks from MaskFone, AirPop, and Razer.

Things that probably won’t happen soon (but spark discussion)

One of the more famous elements of CES is the wild concepts companies release that are not super close to commercialization, but spark good discussion. Even if some of these technologies and concepts are a bit far away like mind-controlled technologies, fully autonomous travel by 2021, and a gaming chair of the future, they do act as thought starters for what could happen in the future.

Mind-controlled tech
NextMind is the world’s first brain-sensing device enabling users to control their augmented or virtual reality (AR/VR) headsets with their mind. NextMind has been boasting some thought-provoking mind-controlled technology and seeks to offer a new way of interacting by having the brain directly connected to VR or AR environments.
NextMind 2021

Fully Autonomous Travel in 2021

While we got plenty of autonomous driving and travel concepts that may be ready in 2021, GM released some next-level concepts that generated buzz. From GM’s Cruise Origin, in partnership with Walmart+, to GM’s Flying Cadillac with Vertical take-off and landing, there is no doubt that GM, and many companies like it, are dreaming pretty big.

Gaming Chair of the Future

It appears that Razer spent the majority of their innovation and R&D presentation budget on creating some pretty sweet concepts, including their cyberpunk-looking Razer Smart Mask and a next-generation gaming chair. The gaming chair showcased a combined suite of many technologies released as stand-alone presentations this year. From rolling screens to transparent displays to some sweet haptics, this gaming chair is definitely top of its class.

Thanks for reading our wrap-up report! We appreciate your time and support in going through some of the cool new headlines coming out of CES 2021. If you’d like to get in touch with us, check out our services here.

We’ll leave you with some historic photos from the CES 1982 event with a then cutting-edge showcase of televisions and displays.

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Carlton Rice