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The Best of CES 2020

With 4,500 companies bringing their innovations to CES from Jan 7 through 10, it gets really difficult to pick favorites. Especially because practically everything in technology seems to be a “consumer” item these days.

Gone are the days when a TCL 10 5G smartphone promising 5G at dramatically lower cost, or a Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite with its big screen, S Pen, cameras and other features at a lower price point, would be particularly exciting. Today these announcements are viewed as what they are: part of the typical mark-down in prices of all things tech. In 2020, they’re accompanied by a kind of phone-as-a-service offering called Teracube (for $39, its manufacturer will replace broken phones with near-new refurbished versions during the 4-year warranty period).

Mobile computing is also advancing with the first folding tablet (Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Fold), the first E Ink touchscreen (Lenovo ThinkBook Plus) and chromeboooks like Samsung Galaxy and Lenovo's IdeaPad Duet. There’s also Intel’s 12-inch foldable concept device called the Horseshoe Bend that really knows how to bend backward running on its just-announced Tiger Lake mobile processors.

The IoT group is as large as it is impressive. Some of the more interesting announcements here are the Juno chiller that can chill a drink in a matter of minutes (in case you haven’t refrigerated it and are also out of ice cubes); a  21.9-inch Lenovo Smart Frame designed for hanging on the wall; an in-home water treatment plant that can recycle 85% of household water called Hydraloop; a garbage disposal option that can separate compostable material called Sepura manufactured by Anvy Technologies; a device called GENNY  by Watergen that converts moisture in the air to drinking water.

Some of the IoT announcements are of a more personal kind. They include not just new versions of smartwatches like the Withings ScanWatch and the Suunto 7 Wear OS-based smartwatch, but also an all-new head band called Urgonight that’s designed to help you sleep better; smart toothbrushes (Y-brush and Colgate's Plaqless Pro); a smart bath mat that measures your weight, checks the way your feet stand on it and suggests better postures and exercises; an LED desk lamp called Lexilight to facilitate reading by dyslexia patients (a condition where you have two dominant eyes), several smart hearing aids that also offer noise cancellation and enable music streaming, hands-free calling, determining the sounds you want to hear and the times you want to hear, etc.; and the ExoBeam walking aid for Parkinsons patients. Fitness products like the Amazfit HomeStudio (a smart treadmill) and Echelon Row were other interesting products in this group.

Robotics also made headway in 2020, with Reachy from Pollen Robotics and Samsung’s piBo. Samsung also showcased a cute Ballie (a yellow ball) that moves around the house managing smart home gadgets. While not strictly a part of this group, Samsung also showed a version of its Neon artificial human being that it’s still working on. These photo-realistic digital avatars displaying human-like appearance, intelligence and emotions can be super-useful or downright creepy, but they won’t be market-ready for a while.

Drones have become a more or less common category at CES. This year will see shipment of PowerVision’s PowerEgg X, an $899 camera drone for shooting aerial images. The quadcopter design, waterproof option and ability to transform into a handheld for 4K imaging and facial recognition capability makes it the perfect choice for outdoor trips. PowerVision’s V-Coptr Falcon bi-copter may not make it to the market this year. But when it does, it will manage a flight time of 50 minutes, a 7 km transmission range, stable 4K video footage, extra eyes for obstacle avoidance and auto-follow features for easy cinematic shots.

And while we’re on the subject of cameras, the 360 degree version that caters to the AR/VR world saw an impressive entry from veteran Insta360. The company’s One R 360 degree is a truly modular design with the extra battery, dual-lens 360 lens, 4K wide-angle lens and more all coming in modules.

Samsung is the front-runner in TVs with its 47-inch 4K QLED Sero TV and Q950TS 8K bezel-less design that outdoes 8K offerings from Sony and LG. But TV is going digital in a big way and lots of people are catching their video on streaming devices. That’s the crowded market TiVO’s Stream 4K is debuting.

In gaming, there’s an attempt at improving accessibility and immersion. Razer's Kishi controller is designed to slip into your iPhone or select Android smartphone's USB-C or lightning port, thus attaching its two thumbsticks, directional pad, ABXY buttons and four shoulder buttons to your phone and turning it into a Switch-style handheld. Arcadeo’s Gaming chair vibrates to the sound of the game you’re playing and there are 10 different kinds of reactions promising a more immersive experience.

And staying on the topic of gaming, there’s Advanced Micro Devices’ AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT GPU chips for 1080p gamers to play the latest games at full HD resolution and high frame rates (90-120) but at a lower cost and power consumption than last year’s 5700. It will launch on Jan 21. Intel INTC too is working on the graphics front, claiming that its new Xe graphics architecture offers discrete-level integrated graphics.

The first Xe-based discrete GPU, code named DG1was previewed at CES. Its10nm Core mobile processors, code named Tiger Lake will deliver "double digit performance gains," "massive" artificial intelligence performance improvements, better graphics performance, and 4x the throughput of USB3. Intel also showed off its 3rd Generation Xeon Scalable processor that promises significant AI training acceleration and overall performance improvement of 60%.

NVIDIA NVDA had some exciting gaming announcements like its ray-tracing technology, new 360Hz esports displays, etc but its more important contributions were in autonomous vehicle/driving (AV). This was a huge category within CES 2020 as the market gears up to take on the challenge. Some of the displays were too futuristic, but others look achievable.

NVIDIA’s offering is technology behind the phenomenon. The DRIVE AGX Orin platform based around the Orin system-on-a-chip (SoC) is 7X faster than the previous generation Xavier. It’s the first of a scalable platform for AVs that will formally launch in 2022. DRIVE facilitates data collection, model training, simulations and learning in the real world and the company is opening up the platform to all AV players so learnings experiences can be shared. This pooled information should make the system highly robust and get AVs to market sooner.

Qualcomm QCOM announced a new AV platform called Snapdragon Ride including SoCs, accelerators, software including open stacks, SDKs and other tools that can also be scaled from L1 to L5 levels. The thermally efficient, software-focused platform with its centralized architecture is designed to help AV partners bring their cars to market sooner, no matter where they are in their development cycle. The software stack offers modules like Perception, Localization, Sensor Fusion and Behavior Planning. The new Car-to-Cloud service that can push out over-the-air updates and collect data should further spur AV builds.

Some of the futuristic vehicles include Honda’s unnamed concept car, Centoventi concept car that seems to be sort of modular, Sony’s Vision S (focused on large screens and entertainment), Toyota’s LQ Level 4 concept car and Audi’s unnamed AV concept with an actual desk option where the steering wheel should have been. Uber UBER-Hyundai’s flying taxi concept was novel but probably impractical; we’ll have to see how it goes. Smart scooters were also an attraction.

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