CES roundup: what happened to the excitement around ‘innovation’, robots, VR, and voice assistants?

What’s missing? Some sense of excitement. It may be your Editor’s back-to-work deluge after the holiday, but it’s hard not to have a sense of Déjà Vu All Over Again when reading the reporting from CES Las Vegas. So much of it seems lukewarm, a variant of what felt exciting, new, and transformative Back When. And so little of it seems to break through to a wider market. Let’s pick through and see what a Gimlet Eye might.

AARP’s Innovation Labs had yet another showcase of technologies from largely small companies from its own Hatchery and other accelerators with which it works. This year it highlighted VR developer partnerships with Rendever, which creates experiences for LTC residents, and VRHealth’s physical therapy at home. SanaHealth has a pulsed light/sound pain reduction device and the VoiceItt speech recognition device which translates the speech of the severely impaired into intelligible language.

Robots continue to seek a market, albeit tinier and we confess, occasionally more amusing.

  • Samsung’s Ballie robot, about the size of an orange, will roll through your home minding your pets, monitoring your safety, and interfacing with your smart devices and apps to make absolutely sure you get enough exercise and track your fitness. That is, if you don’t step on it, mistake it for a tennis ball, or your dog doesn’t mistake it for a chew toy.
  • The Charmin Rollbot will deliver a pre-loaded roll when you most need it, navigating through your home, although no capability of climbing stairs in its current concept.
  • The Misty II robot is yet again one of those tabletop robots which are developer toys. This one propels itself and has a camera, a microphone and 3D sensors, and could be repurposed for fall detection, companionship, or to bring you a hot towel.
  • The Lovot is a Japanese robot at its second CES which moves around, responds, is red and quite cuddly-looking (except for that weird thing on the top of its head). This ‘happiness robot’ will set you back over ¥299,000 ($2,700) when it finally hits the market.

Babies need both monitoring and changing, and combining the two may actually happen. P&G’s Pampers and Verily Life Sciences brought to CES the Lumi smart diaper with a connected HD video monitor plus an activity sensor in the diaper. It will detect baby’s sleep, feeding and diapering patterns. (But no changing by the Charmin Rollbot)

Voice assistants are getting more ubiquitous to find a way into the home. The war between Amazon Alexa (and siblings) and Google Assistant continues with new applications in cars (a/k/a computers on four wheels) to appliances and a host of third-party devices like garage door openers. A lot of this is ‘sneaky tech’ to get past the hard core of people who have already realized that both always-on Alexa and Assistant collect a lot of behavioral data which one does not necessarily want collected, and that many of these connected devices like Nest have been hijacked through compromised passwords.

More in Fierce Healthcare 7 Jan, 9 JanMobihealthnews

It’s Official: CES is now a health tech event (updated)

CES is now, officially, a health tech event. It’s not just the timing before CES of the flashy but apparently cratering JP Morgan annual healthcare investment conference in the absurdly pricey venue of San Francisco (FierceBiotech on the #MoveJPM backlash; the general disillusion with it expressed well here). It’s the fact that whatever mainstreaming health tech has actually accomplished, it’s far better represented in Las Vegas. Always a place of beginnings, endings, fun, gambles taken, lack of sleep, and sore feet, health tech fits right in, big or small.

CES reported that 2019 boasted an increase of 25 percent health-related exhibitors and a 15 percent increase in the amount of floor space dedicated to health tech. One winner was a big gamble by a small company–Living in Digital Times, which organizes and stages the Digital Health SummitTen years later, it turned out to be right place, right time for the founders who work hard to keep it on trend. Lifestyle, robotics, self-care, assistive tech (even exoskeletons), wearables, cosmetic “wellness” devices like P&G’s Opté, and Alexa-type home assistants/robots all now fit into the CES purview. Trial balloons by young companies, AI-powered concept devices from big companies, watches (including the Apple-beater Move ECG from the revitalized Withings TTA 10 Oct 18 and Omron’s HeartGuide), and robots all appeared. Samsung again brought out a brace of concept robots. Last year’s Best of CES ElliQ is finally available for pre-order after three years at a measly $1,500. The humanoid Sophia brought a kid sister, the equally creepy Little Sophia, both of whom failed during this CNET video. Yes, Pepper from Softbank made its appearance and apparently didn’t wilt as it did last year.

Sleep tech was another hot item, with a spin on sleep diagnostics or improvement from many products. A brainwave product, Urgonight from France, claims to be able to train your brain to sleep better. (Send one to Rick Astley who was a poster child for not Sleeping.)  Mental health is a natural crossover into sleep tech and robots, with a $5,000 Japanese robot, Lovot, capable of responsive cuddling and comfort.

Best of the coverage:

  • CNET has probably the best coverage and articles on health which stick to the facts (slim in some cases as they are); anyone who wants to catch up with the feel and flavor of this three-ring circus can start and stay there. Their full show coverage is here.
  • Dr. Jayne at HISTalk also did an excellent health-related product roundup in her Curbside Consult column.
  • Mobihealthnews also has a very long running list of health tech pictures and announcements as part of its limited coverage, including the mea culpas and promised transparency of onetime health ed unicorn Outcome Health [TTA 29 Jan 18].

Beyond the plethora of products encouraging ever more to come forward, what ones will even make it to market, far more be winners? Aside from the Samsungs and P&Gs, which of these young companies planting their stake at CES will be there next year?  As in past CES, the wheel goes round and round, and where it stops, nobody knows–not even the JPM investors.