CES 2020 was live in Las Vegas from January 7-10, and the world’s leading tech conference heated up the Mojave Desert with sci-fi style innovations, notable guest appearances and cool new gadgets that might soon change the way we live and work. With thousands of companies and startups vying for advertisers’ attention, we identified the most exciting trends to bring you the best of this year’s breakthroughs.
In a bid to challenge Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, Google debuted Google Assistant, an AI-powered virtual helper intent on streamlining how we perform mundane tasks. Tell it to run a load of laundry (if your machine has internet hookup), brew a pot of coffee timed to your alarm or activate the robot vacuum cleaner. It can also speed dial a family-shared list of household contacts and read the kids a bedtime story in up to 42 languages.
The highly anticipated Neon project from Samsung Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Labs took virtual reality one step further, introducing “a computationally created virtual being that looks and behaves like a real human, with the ability to show emotions and intelligence.” Important distinction: this holographic chatbot isn’t meant to serve as assistant, but rather behave like a friend. It won’t spew facts or queue your favorite song, but can commiserate when you vent about a rough day. Though Neons don’t yet have a physical embodiment, each boasts its own unique personality plus the ability to form memories, leaving some creeped-out critics wondering if the uncanny valley line has gotten crossed.
Finally, 5G wireless—aka, the fifth-generation cellular network—is coming, albeit slowly. Brands hyped ways they’ll capitalize on the advancement, which promises to surge internet speeds up to 100 times faster than our current 4G capabilities. AT&T plans coverage for 200 million people on a choice of 15 devices by summer, and the TCL 10 5G phone made a splash by vowing to remain affordable—only $500 at launch.
From innovation to individuals, certain speakers stole the spotlight with their announcements—or mere presence. Delta CEO Ed Bastian flew from Atlanta to deliver Tuesday’s keynote address, outlining the “parallel reality” displays aimed to revolutionize airports. Instead of scanning a massive list of departure times and numbers to find your specific flight, screens of the near future will deliver information customized to every individual passenger. How is that possible? It comes down to different-colored light pixels beamed at travelers who are first identified and tracked via boarding-pass scans, mounted ceiling cameras and advanced AI software.
Apple made its first CES appearance in 28 years, deploying Senior Director for Global Privacy Jane Horvath to deliver an impassioned pitch regarding the importance of consumer privacy. In a world where Facebook is criticized for disclosing personal data to third-party apps and users are still reeling from Cambridge-Analytica shock, Horvath and three colleagues on this all-woman panel agreed the time has come for comprehensive federal privacy laws.
A keynote from Ivanka Trump was greeted with less enthusiasm by tech women, who questioned her credentials and political motivations. Lora DiCarlo, on the other hand, was redeemed, after her female-centric Osé sex toy got stripped of an award at last year’s show. Following that move, CES organizers were slammed by critics for gender bias, as the conference has a history of accepting similar devices marketed to men. DiCarlo was back this year, celebrating over $3 million in 2019 presales.
Companies sought to boost our physical wellbeing, with hearing aids from Olive Union Smart Ear and Phonak Virto Black, both of which strike the right note between stylish and powerful, delivering bonus features like music streaming or hands-free calling. Lexilife Lexilight was designed by French researchers as a lamp to ease the mirror effect seen by dyslexia sufferers, and early results proved promising: nearly 90 percent reported improved reading. Medexo Robotics’ Exobeam wants to help Parkinson’s patients walk better via visual laser cues.
Our homes are getting smarter, too. Enter the refrigerator-sized Hydraloop that purifies waste water for washing or gardening. U by Moen likewise nixes H2O waste, as the voice-controlled faucet can be told exact amounts and temps of water to dispense. Lenovo’s Smart Frame measures nearly 22 inches, making it a sleek moving wall display for digital photos—which you can snap with the PowerEgg X handheld camera that doubles as a drone. In related screen news, Samsung’s impossibly thin Q950 TV popped from the rest of the 8K television pack, and Lenovo made a laptop you can fold up like a notebook. Arcadeo released a gaming chair with 10 points of haptic feedback, further blurring the sensory line between reality and make-believe, while Samsung’s Ballie brought Star Wars into living rooms with its own BB-8 android take.
Luxe offerings ran the gamut from wrist jewelry like Withings ScanWatch that can display text messages and detect sleep apnea, to the Suunto 7 targeted to hardcore sports nuts. Sony’s Vision S concept car may never grace garage interiors, but its 33 sensors and dashboard-length user interface system make it the idealized embodiment of electric car futures. And Toyota wants to build a fully sustainable futuristic Woven City in the foothills of Japan’s Mt. Fuji, where cars run driverless, carbon-neutral energy comes from the sun and earth and no home is without a robot. Dreaming, ultimately, is what CES is all about.