Around the world, 24 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered with hundreds of millions more on the way.
From sanitising robots to personalised perfume dispensers to creative automotive technology and innovative apps, cutting-edge products and high-tech advances from around the world are on display at the annual Consumer Electronics Show.
CES is also normally one of the biggest and most crowded events held in Las Vegas, Nevada in the United States. But this year, the coronavirus pandemic has forced the show itself to innovate — and take everything online.
Nearly 2,000 exhibitors are participating in the Consumer Technology Association’s first virtual trade show, vying for consumers’ attention across a platform of virtual booths, presentations and one-on-one meeting rooms.
Marty Urick, a 15-year CES veteran and vice president of sales at Binatone, said while there will not be the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds for which CES is famous, this year’s virtual gathering has its advantages.
“I think that in some ways, you might be able to see more because you’ll have the flexibility to be able to jump from place to place to place to place,” Urick told Al Jazeera.
Innovating in a pandemic
Like many of the exhibitors, Binatone is announcing a new product designed to help people reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19.
The MaskFone incorporates N95/FFP2 filters into a face mask that is wired for sound. The system enables the user to talk on a mobile phone via Bluetooth without removing their mask.
Built-in earphones let a MaskFone user hear audio and buttons along the mask’s jawline are designed to let the wearer make or answer a phone call, skip through songs in their device’s music library or connect to Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa. The electronics are removable to allow the mask itself to be washed regularly.
“We think it’s technology that can be helpful to people based on what ‘s going on in the world right now,” said Urick.
Among the other firms presenting pandemic-related products are the Chinese company Unipin, which has a robot that automatically moves through a room to disinfect it with ultraviolet light.
Hussmann, the food retail arm of Panasonic, is offering food lockers developed for restaurants and grocery stores that enable customers to pick up orders without having contact with other people and risking infection.
The Hussman lockers can keep take-out orders hot and groceries at particular temperatures — room temperature, cold or even frozen — until the customer picks them up.
Not all of the new products at CES are pandemic-related, however. Vera Schmidt, the head of advanced digital design at Mercedes-Benz, described the company’s new MBUX Hyperscreen as a “milestone”.
With a futuristic design akin to that of Star Trek, the single panel combines three screens into a sleek vehicle control system that puts maps and other information at the driver’s fingertips in an intuitive way.
It also offers the front seat passenger a screen on which they can watch movies, or even TV shows in some areas, while preventing the driver from being distracted. The MBUX will be available on new all-electric EQS Luxury Sedan.
Connecting with investors
But it’s not only established firms that exhibit their creations at CES — many other exhibitors are entrepreneurs looking to connect with investors as well as customers.
Ninu Perfume, based in Slovenia, is one such outfit. The company has designed a sleek perfume dispenser that can customise a scent for someone based on their gender, their body chemistry, their mood or activity.
“We wanted to solve one of the biggest handicaps of every perfume in the world,” said Marko Matijevic, the company’s founder. “Not every perfume is appropriate for every mood or every event you go to, and not every perfume smells the same on everyone because of your skin type and so on.”
Operated via a smartphone app, the dispenser has three types of foundational perfumes — floral, oriental and fresh — that can be combined to create a personalised scent.
The app also incorporates artificial intelligence that can modify the formulation depending on the season of the year or the temperature.
Ninu is in the prototype phase and plans a crowdfunding campaign in March, with products hopefully shipping by the end of this year.
The firm decided to exhibit at CES, said Matijevic, because they were ready to show their product to the world — and believed the world was ready for something positive.
“We want the perfume to adapt to every user and become a tool to boost your mood and confidence,” said Matijevic.