CES 2020 has come and gone, and in many ways, the show didn’t disappoint. There were the usual big unveilings of the latest in TV and smart home technology, but there was also a healthy dose of the unexpected — surprising, bold, and downright weird stuff from both startups and big companies alike. That’s a relief since the worst thing CES could be is boring.
No matter how strangethe product, though, there’s usually some kind of underlying logic to it (smart potatoes aside). Sometimes that logic is misguided or overlooks an overriding factor that makes the idea untenable. But in other cases the strangeness stems from the sheer audaciousness of the idea, or the unexpected creativity applied to a chosen solution.
Such risks are necessary for progress. Iterating and refining products only goes so far — to really move things forward, you need to introduce something new. As the adage goes, if Henry Ford had done market research, he’d have made a faster horse, not a car.
Here are the ideas of CES 2020 that didn’t just surprise me but also, after a little thought, convinced me they have real utility. They’re weird and unexpedted, but if their originators give them a chance, they might just thrive.
It was the announcement sure to piss off professional videographers everywhere: TVs that rotate 90 degrees so you can watch vertical video more naturally. It sounds like something no one wants to do, except we all do it every day — with our phones. Vertical video is everywhere, and it’s not just grainy smartphone vids; Snapchat and Facebook have led the charge on pushing high production values with mobile video franchises. Now Jeffery Katzenberg’s Quibi is poised to take things to another level with its Turnstyle videos, which can be viewed both horizontally and vertically. True, most homes probably aren’t ready for a wall-mounted vertical TV like the Samsung Sero, but our viewing habits are rapidly getting there.
OK, the concept is admittedly nuts — a small ball-shaped gadget that follows you around your house like some kind of Star Wars droid — but hear Samsung out! Its Ballie robot takes ambient computing to another level, letting you speak smart home commands without any costly installtion or installing smart speakers in every room. Ballie has a camera for taking pics without lifting a finger, sensors for moving around your home (just don’t go upstairs), and a workout mode to be a fitness companion. It’s also cute as hell. Let’s give Ballie a chance to make the smart home of the future that much friendlier.
Sony Vison-S Electric Car
Sony surprised both the technology and the automotive world at the end of its CES 2020 press conference when it unveiled a fully functional electric car. This wasn’t a third-party vehicle with some Sony products installed — this was a Sony car, called the Vision-S (built with the help of several partners) to show off how Sony tech could be directly applied to automotives. From a sweeping dashboard touchscreen to cameras in the side mirrors, Sony’s car was filled with intriguing ideas (not to mention dozens of sensors) on how to push vehicle design forward. Car experts even noted that the vehicle was more refined than your typical audo show concept car. It’s extremely unlikely Sony will ever bring the car (or any car) to market, even in a limited way, but we wouldn’t mind if it did.
Robots are old hat at CES, but what about making you the robot? That’s essentially what Delta’s exoskeleton is about: Not meant to be a consumer product, the Delta exoskeleton is a tool for baggage handlers to help them lift heavy bags with ease, potentially getting ahead of many repetitive stress injuries before they happen. It’s just a pilot program right now, so it may not become a real tool, and even if it does, Delta will have difficulty deploying it at scale. But graded on ambition, it’s a killer idea, and not just because it gets us closer to a future where the Aliens Powerloader exists.