CES 2022: Five Tech Trends to Watch in an Unusual Year
Omicron might prevent some big exhibitors from attending, but over 2,000 companies are expected in Las Vegas to unveil innovations
Nothing about this year's CES will be normal. That includes some of the biggest trends expected at the show.
The massive annual tech conference, which took place entirely online last year, kicks off this week with in-person press events in Las Vegas.
Despite the surge of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 over the holidays, the event's organizer, the Consumer Technology Association, said it would proceed but end a day early as a safety measure.
The organization expects up to 75,000 attendees and over 2,200 exhibitors, including Samsung Electronics Co. and Sony Group Corp.
A lengthy list of tech players have decided not to visit Las Vegas, however. Strict Covid-19 quarantine requirements in China have complicated travel for many Chinese companies -- including popular exhibitor and drone maker DJI -- and Israel in December barred its citizens from traveling to the U.S.
General Motors Co. chief executive Officer Mary Barra will give her keynote virtually. T-Mobile US Inc.'s CEO, Mike Sievert, won't deliver his scheduled keynote at all.
Event mainstays such as Intel Corp., Lenovo Group Ltd., LG Electronics Inc. and Panasonic Corp. have withdrawn or greatly reduced in-person staffing, and the biggest tech firms, including Alphabet Inc.'s Google, Meta Platforms Inc. (formerly Facebook), Microsoft Corp. and Amazon.com Inc., which typically played smaller roles, have decided to stay home.
Yet many companies still want to be in Las Vegas to get that face-to-face contact, CTA CEO Gary Shapiro said.
"You can only do so much by video chat and on the phone," he said.
While in-person demos and unveilings will be sparse, expect plenty of news and not just from the traditional TV, audio and home-appliance categories.
The auto sector has become such a big part of the show, it is taking over the Las Vegas Convention Center's new West Hall expansion. And many other tech-adjacent companies view CES, even a thinly attended one, as a chance to get some attention.
"There's always a bunch of stuff there I would have never thought of as consumer electronics," said Tim Bajarin, a tech analyst with Creative Strategies.
"But it's a much more diverse show than it has ever been," he added.
Mr. Bajarin said he has been to CES 45 times -- missing a few in the late '70s and early '80s. He had planned to attend again this year before Omicron interfered.
Here is what is expected to be on tap for this year, from family tech to food, with a sprinkling of metaverse, cryptocurrency and NFTs.
Getting comfy at home
We have spent two years mostly hanging out at home, and tech companies took notice. They are introducing products designed to help users relax and decompress when they aren't typing at a computer or Zooming into a meeting. They have designed smart beds that can nudge you when it is time to wake up, bathtubs that maintain consistent water temperature and air purifiers that also add fragrances to a room.
Developers are focusing on sensor-assisted products like lamps, toilets and bathtubs that respond based on time of day, air quality or who is in the room, the latest evolution of the Internet of Things.
"It's a move from a connected home to a smart home that uses environmental cues to signal the sound, the lights, the overall feel of the home," said Mitch Klein, executive director of the Z-Wave Alliance, a smart-home standards organization.
Bemis Manufacturing Co. will show off a new line of smart air purifiers designed to adjust automatically to indoor air quality and emit essential-oil aromas. At night, the gadgets sense that the lights are lowered, and reduce noise so you can sleep.
Sleep Number Corp. and Sleepme Inc. are among the companies unveiling next-generation bed tech with more-advanced sensing and response capabilities for adults. Cradlewise touts similar tech for babies, using artificial intelligence that can tell when children are waking, learn what music will soothe them and gently bounce them back to sleep.
Taking care of kids and parents
CES 2022 will have plenty of tech for the so-called "sandwich generation," adults who care for both their kids and their parents: an AI-equipped baby monitor that can detect a covered face or a rollover, room sensors to track the movement of seniors, and health and activity wearables designed to meet the needs of every age group.
Florida-based CarePredict Inc. will show off an update to its wrist-worn Tempo that makes it easier for caregivers to communicate with their older loved ones (or make sure they are properly cared for). The new CareVoice feature lets people send audio messages to the watch wearer, whether it is greetings from a grandchild or a reminder to take medicine.
"It really is a human touch, even when you're not there," CarePredict CEO Satish Movva said. "Your voice on their wrist."
The device already detects falls, and can send an alert when its wearer skips meals, sleeps less or has other activity out of the norm.
Saving the planet
Many major technology companies have talked up efforts to make their products more environmentally friendly. That includes using more recycled materials, making their devices easier to repair and reducing the packaging surrounding the products.
Some of the products being shown at CES include a hydrogen fuel-cell-powered flying car concept from French company Maca, and a tabletop washer from another French firm, Auum, designed to cut down on single-use plastic by cleaning and drying a glass in 10 seconds.
Han Jong-hee -- vice chairman of Samsung Electronics and head of the company's newly combined TV, home appliances and mobile division -- will spend his keynote outlining Samsung's plans to make customizable and environmentally friendly tech.
From the Netherlands, RanMarine Technology will show off WasteShark, a floating autonomous drone that cleans pollution from waterways and collects data on water quality, while Orbisk will feature a device that uses image recognition to help hotels, restaurants and others reduce food waste.
Cooking and eating
The buzziest thing at CES 2020, the last in-person show before the pandemic, wasn't a gadget, software or a service, but Impossible Foods Inc.'s Impossible Pork, a plant-based meat designed to cook and smell like ground pork.
This year at the show, a half-day food-tech conference will showcase advances in areas such as agriculture, ingredient innovation, meal kits and deliveries, vertical farming and, of course, more plant-based meat.
Impossible Foods will be there, as will MycoTechnology, which will debut a meat alternative made from fungi.
"The conference will also cover how robotics will change the face of food," said Michael Wolf, founder of The Spoon, an online food-tech industry publication that is hosting the event. For instance, farm-equipment giant Deere & Co. will discuss how automation can address labor shortages and unpredictable weather.
The metaverse is a hot topic right now. In October, Facebook Inc. changed its name to Meta Platforms Inc., in preparation for the internet's next chapter: People strap on high-tech glasses so their avatars can interact, wherever they are in the world.
At CES 2022, tech companies of all sizes are showing tools to build and navigate this virtual future.
Hyundai Motor Group will allow visitors to create avatars and test drive new concept cars in cyberspace. The startup Bhaptics will demo gaming gloves designed to replace hand-held VR controllers. Samsung is marketing its metaverse ambitions with a VR home-decorating platform.
And the conference is hosting a new program to discuss nonfungible tokens (aka NFTs), virtual certificates that show you own a digital object.
"Are we a little ahead of our skis on the topics of metaverse and NFTs? Yes," said Maribel Lopez, principal analyst at tech-industry analysis firm Lopez Research. "But that's kind of what CES is about."