LAS VEGAS – CES 2022 lacked its usual crowds and some of its headline acts, but the gadget show that returned to this city after the pandemic forced it to go online-only last year retained a certain exuberant weirdness.
You can count on the technology industry to supply more possibilities than the market will necessarily demand. And you can expect many of those to surface at the Arlington, Virginia-based Consumer Technology Association’s annual gathering, even if they never make it to any store.
These were among the odder sights at CES 2022:
Ghost exhibits. The big-name vendors that scrapped plans to exhibit in person over fear of the aggressively-spreading omicron variant still had paid-up show-floor space. That led to such minimalist workarounds as LG’s “Life’s Good Lounge,” an expanse of plywood adorned with QR codes for attendees to scan to get more information about products they could not see or touch.
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John Deere’s self-driving tractor. Deere showed off a tractor accessorized with stereo cameras on its front and back to allow it to operate autonomously. Deere has a somewhat simpler problem to solve than car vendors that still struggle with self-driving tech: agricultural vehicles move more slowly and won’t get honked at if they must pause in a field to get their bearings. But Deere will initially support only no-person-onboard plowing, not the more complex toil of seeding or harvesting.
Samsung’s Freestyle projector. This compact, $899 cylinder (techies of a certain age may find it evokes Apple’s original, standalone iSight webcam) projects high-definition video onto nearby walls, using onboard software to ensure the picture looks properly rectangular instead of appearing skewed by an off-axis angle. But an adapter also lets you plug it into a standard lamp socket so you can project TV onto a ceiling.
The Ameca robot. This conversational humanoid creation from Engineered Arts greeted visitors to a U.K. startup exhibit area with such compliments as “I like your hat.” The plastic covering of her face allowed her to simulate facial expressions, which could rate as clever or creepy depending on your mood. As she commented at one point: “Us robots do not feel, but if I could, I would say I’m happy.”
Sony Vision-S cars. At CES, this Japanese electronics firm announced it was exploring plans to make and sell the concept electric sedan it showed off here in 2020 as well as the crossover hatchback it introduced here. Given Sony’s TV roots, it should be no surprise that the dashboard is a series of screens; given the reality of the electric car market, it is a surprise that Sony isn’t offering any range estimates yet.
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Moen’s gesture- and voice-controlled faucet. After releasing an Alexa-controlled faucet last year (no, really), Moen followed up by showing off a $675-and-up Smart Faucet with Motion Control that detects your gestures (for instance, wave left for hot water, right for cold). And for people who really want to wash the dishes on the leading edge, the company demonstrated a prototype model without a handle.
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The Dream Chaser spaceplane. A winged, reusable spacecraft that looks like a baby Space Shuttle may not rate as consumer tech, but Sierra Space Co. brought a mockup of the vehicle that will soon bring cargo to and from the International Space Station to CES anyway. It also invited attendees to take virtual reality tours of the Orbital Reef space station it plans to build with Blue Origin; after walking for miles through CES exhibits, I had to wonder how much less my feet might ache in zero gravity.
Bodyfriend massage chair. Giant massage chairs have been making parts of CES look like outtakes from Pixar’s “Wall-E” for years, but this Seoul-based vendor has begun to branch into health care. I tested one with a built-in electrocardiogram function that checked my heart rate and then treated me to a shoulders-to-toes massage, often working multiple parts in between in ways that no two-handed masseuse could manage. Fortunately, that EKG found “no abnormality”– but at CES, normality is overrated.
‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort