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Dishwashing robots and Bluetooth masks: Pandemic products hit tech's biggest show

LG Display has unveiled its transparent TV, with an OLED display and what the company touts as potential safety benefits amid the pandemic.

Posted: Jan 12, 2021 8:20 AM
Updated: Jan 12, 2021 8:20 AM

A nearly human-sized robot grabs a dish out of a crowded sink with its gripper arms and neatly adds it to the dishwasher. It then sets the table, placing a flower into a vase, and pours a glass of red wine.

The robot, Samsung's Bot Handy, is the company's vision for "a better new normal," as more people work, cook, eat and drown in dishes at home than ever during the global pandemic. As seen in a video shown at the all virtual 2021 Consumer Electronics Show on Monday, Bot Handy is, well, handy around the house; not only to pick up some unfinished chores but to remind you of upcoming meetings and to stretch your legs if you've been sitting for too long.

It's only in development for now -- no pricing or release date has been announced -- but Samsung said it's part of a greater effort to make technology to simplify your life at home. "The technologies in your home need to work harder to help you adjust to this new normal," the company said in its session description on the CES website.

Companies big and small showed off their new innovations at the closely watched tech trade show, which kicked off on Monday, many with features tied to life during the pandemic. There's MaskFone, a face covering marketed as having a built-in N95 filter, earbuds and microphone to make calls, and a wearable for the ears called Cove that claims its gentle vibrations regulate anxiety and stress.

For the kitchen, manufacturer Kohler showed off voice control features for its sinks and other fixtures, so homeowners can turn on faucets without ever touching them. UK startup Handsteco touted sinks with built-in artificial intelligence to guide people through hygiene techniques in hospitals, offices and public spaces.

The pandemic tech theme took a step outside the home, too. Riding on the growth of online deliveries, lock manufacturer Yale announced it's now shipping its smart delivery box to keep packages safe from porch pirates when they arrive. A delivery person places a package in the storage box, which automatically locks, and homeowners receive a notification.

While some of these products, like Bot Handy, may seem a bit gimmicky, ABI Research analyst Jonathan Collins said there's definitely money to be made from items that help automate household tasks. The market research firm found the smart home market in 2020 grew 6.7% over 2019 to $88 billion. However, that's $11 billion below pre-pandemic expectations.

Even products that weren't specifically pandemic-related may still tap into the way we live now. Flashy new TVs, a mainstay of CES events, seemed all the more fitting this year as we're stuck at home, glued to the TV and ever-more conscious of our surroundings. LG, for example, drummed up excitement over its new 55-inch transparent TV, the latest company to show screens you can see through when off.

Meanwhile, a Panasonic hair dryer that you don't need to move -- a built-in oscillator does all the work for you -- also generated some buzz, at a time when many people have not gotten a proper haircut or blowout in too long.

People watch CES events to get a sense of where technology is going in the years ahead, but this year's event is arguably about the industry catching up to the ways the pandemic reshaped our lives in the past year.

With vaccines on the horizon, it's unclear how much longer we'll be largely stuck at home, but these tech companies seem to be betting that even if the pandemic ends, our habits won't entirely change.

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