CES 2021: From 5G to Mobility, Here's What Caught Our Eye on Day One

Our dispatch from the first day of the virtual event.
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Francis Scialabba

· 9 min read

Welcome to our day one CES coverage. Scroll down to read about the most interesting emerging technologies we saw across 5G, smart home, robotics, mobility, wearables, mixed reality, and more.

We're updating this page through the morning of January 13. Click here to go back to our general CES coverage hub.



At Verizon’s keynote Monday night, chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg gave a rundown of what 5G—particularly Verizon’s “ultra wideband” brand of it—could realistically accomplish. The essential qualities for 5G that he outlined in 2019 are finally a reality, he said, including:

  • Peak upload and download speeds (the “fastest in the world”).
  • High capacity and ultra-low lag time, which could theoretically support one million connected devices per square kilometer.
  • The ability to maintain signal when traveling at up to 310 miles per hour.

The real deal: Vestberg talked a big game, but he also laid out Verizon’s near-future plans for actually integrating 5G ultra wideband into consumers’ day-to-day. In 2021, the tech is slated to roll out in 28 NFL stadiums and 15 Live Nation venues...assuming the spaces are cleared for crowds sometime this year.

  • It’ll also be deployed with the Smithsonian and the Met, in digitizing artifacts and creating AR museum experiences.

And one more thing: Verizon and its drone subsidiary, Skyward, teamed up with UPS to use 5G-connected drones to deliver packages in Florida. Last year, the program focused mostly on medicine, but he hopes it’ll expand into all areas of delivery.

Hayden Field


Vanguard Industries

Meet Samsung’s two new homebots, both of which are currently in development (as in: no word yet on when they’ll go to market):

“Bot Care”: This bot operates as a personal assistant—analyzing your behavior to suggest you take a screen break, for example, or checking your schedule to remind you about a conference call.

“Bot Handy”: Designed to grab or handle any object in the home, this bot classifies items by shape and material (think: a wine glass or porcelain plate). Feel free to pawn off chores like putting away groceries, setting the table, loading the dishwasher, and even pouring a glass of wine.

Moving on over to the “cutesy” category…

Moxie (by Embodied): This wide-eyed, smiling bot was created in partnership with child education and development experts, with the aim to provide children with “play-based learning” and social/cognitive skill-building. Moxie uses machine learning to process—and generate responses to—conversation, eye contact, and facial expressions.

Moflin (by Vanguard Industries): This furry floofball scored a CES Innovation Award for the way it uses AI to display a range of “emotional capabilities,” somewhat akin to a living pet. Moflin uses sensors to analyze its surroundings and identify patterns, responding with a number of sound and movement combinations.

Finally, since we’re all sitting at home watching the dust collect, we’re seeing a lot of new robo-vacs.

Top contenders: Samsung’s JetBot 90 AI+ uses lidar sensors to navigate and can empty its own dustbin. Eufy’s RoboVac L80 can store more than one floor map and uses lasers to determine the most efficient path for cleaning. And the Roborock S7 uses surface detection tech to auto-lift the mop when running over carpet (and lower it for other surfaces).

Hayden Field



In recent years, some show-goers have described CES as a car show. Feels accurate this year.

Electric: Bright and early on Tuesday, GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra kicked off the official show with a keynote. She underscored the legacy automaker’s all-in bets on the future: Between 2020 and 2025, GM plans to spend $27 billion to expand its fully electric portfolio, further develop automated driving features, and eventually roll out autonomous vehicles.

  • GM came with a couple surprises. It’s launching a new business, BrightDrop, that aims to electrify delivery and logistics.

Flying: GM’s second surprise = It may eventually make eVTOLs (electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, or flying cars). The company revealed renderings of a concept flying Cadillac, a four-rotor one-seater that could fly at speeds up to 56 mph. GM didn’t say much beyond that or commit to actually making it.

  • Also on Tuesday: Air taxi startup Archer and GM rival Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced they would jointly produce eVTOLs.

In-car UX: Mercedes-Benz revealed the MBUX Hyperscreen, a 56-inch display that will span the entire dashboard of its future EVs. The mega-screen blends AI personalization software, ambient lighting features, and “digital/analogue design fusion.” Bavarian rival BMW teased its next-generation iDrive infotainment system.

Our prediction: Cars will increasingly have these giant screens...along with AR heads-up displays, voice assistants, connectivity-enabled features, and driver monitoring hardware. Which leads us to our next point...

Computerized complexity: As the auto industry grapples with a semiconductor shortage, Bosch gave us eye-opening stats on the state of car software. In 2010, the average vehicle had 10 million lines of code. Today’s has 100 million. Tomorrow’s automated cars could need up to 500 million.

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And something fun: The Indy Autonomous Challenge kicked off last year. At CES, the competition’s organizers revealed the vehicle that participating universities will have to configure for autonomous racing: the Dallara IL-15 racecar. We’re waiting with bated breath for October, when the autonomous cars will race 20 laps at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Ryan Duffy



Digital health products were already a growing category of CES. The pandemic kicked that trend into high gear.

Premium wearables and connected devices are becoming digital health monitors. Among many others, Fossil and Michael Kors unveiled new smartwatch models with heart rate monitors. We also saw electronic contact lenses, a connected blood pressure monitor, a wearable biosensor, a non-invasive blood glucose detector, and much more.

  • The wrist-worn Mudra Band detects neural signals sent from the brain to the finger, and maps that into gesture inputs for an Apple Watch (It reminds us of CTRL-labs). In other words, you can slightly move a finger and “swipe” your watch with your mind. The device could eventually have compelling accessibility applications.

And this year, “smart masks'' became a thing. One example: Gaming company Razer revealed an N95 mask prototype that filters air, amplifies wearers’ voice, and lights up their face when it's dark. As far as other wearables for your face are concerned, let’s move right on into the next section.

Ryan Duffy



Critics say VR and AR are mired in the trough of disillusionment, and that hardware shipments aren’t hitting hit escape velocity because the devices don’t excite consumers beyond a hard-core niche.

That story is starting to change. Sales of consumer VR/AR hardware and accessories grew 53% from March to November 2020, compared to the same timeframe in 2019, according to NPD’s Retail Tracking Service. “Part of what is driving sales is pent-up demand from earlier in the year. We expect this will continue [in Q1],” NPD Executive Director Ben Arnold said.

As we wait on breakthrough consumer AR glasses, the CES 2021 emphasis is on enterprise-focused hardware. That’s where demand from paying customers is.

  • Lenovo announced ThinkReality A3, smart glasses with 1080p resolution and two fish-eye cameras for room tracking. Due to ship in mid-2021, the A3 must be tethered to a computer or Motorola phone.
  • Vuzix showed off its new microLED smart glasses, targeted for a summer release date. The glasses look like normal eyewear, a departure from Vuzix’s other products and basically any other AR device on the market today.
  • TCL previewed its Wearable Display (the actual current name), due some time later in 2021. The wearable packs two OLED displays, must be tethered via USB-C, and “gives the viewer the effect of looking at a very large screen,” per The Verge.
  • Panasonic hinted at some spec upgrades for its super-sleek, steampunk VR glasses (still in prototype). Panasonic Automotive showed off an AR heads-up display for vehicles.

Ryan Duffy

Smart Home


In the smart home sector, CES Media Day was dominated by smart assistant-enabled security solutions, air purifiers, and, of course, smart toilets. A few of the highlights:

Hex Home (by Origin Wireless AI): This wave-based system is one of the more unique home security options we saw. The user downloads an app and connects the system’s two devices (a surface pod and a wall plug-in) to Wi-Fi. Then, it monitors the home using Wi-Fi waves—which bend and break as people move around them—and sends an alert when out-of-the-ordinary motion is detected.

Flex IO (by Alarm.com): This security system can operate in any outdoor environment, without electricity or Wi-Fi access. The battery-powered system uses LTE connection to deliver real-time alerts to a smartphone, and it’s designed for use on everything from backyard gates and sheds to chicken coops and horse stables.

  • It can also keep track of “freestanding items” typically left out in the open, like tractors and golf carts, with a wired sensor input.

Wellness Toilet (by Toto): Yes, you read that right. The new toilet from Toto, one of the world’s largest plumbing manufacturers, scans your body—as well as its, er, “key outputs”—to offer wellness status and recommendations for improvement (think: adding more salmon to your diet). After every bathroom break, the user sees all of this displayed on the dashboard of their smartphone app.

  • As Toto puts it: “A wealth of wellness data can be collected from fecal matter.” We’ll take their word for it.

Hayden Field

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Keep up with the innovative tech transforming business

Tech Brew keeps business leaders up-to-date on the latest innovations, automation advances, policy shifts, and more, so they can make informed decisions about tech.