CES 2021: five game-changing tech to look out for

The Potions pick of the five most promising tech reveals that we can expect in the near future.

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The tech on show at CES usually runs the gamut from modest problem-fixers to full-on childhood fantasies. Putting aside concepts and pipe dreams, here are our top five picks for CES 2021 that are either on their way or isn’t far away from changing our lives in the near future.

5. ZenBook Pro Duo 15 OLED

Dual-screen laptops are often a hard sell because there’s nothing about them that screams “I have to have it!” Unless you’re talking of course, about excesses like the Zephyrus Duo, in which case, it’s more about how crazy the ensemble is rather than the screen itself. But the new ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo 15 OLED does have its gaming brother to thank for the idea of an angled ScreenPad, as it makes the secondary display much easier to view (it looks like a long screen from the user’s perspective) and to use for productive work. And it helps with cooling as well.

The main display is a 4K OLED HDR touchscreen that’s PANTONE-certified and supports DCI-P3. The companion screen isn’t OLED but is touch-enabled and you can use a stylus on it. The secondary display can detect up to 4,096 levels of pressure, which makes it handy for note-taking or some sketching with a stylus. Aside from the ability to move open windows across screens, ASUS will have Control Panels designed to work specifically with the most pervasive applications like Photoshop, Lightroom, and so on. Needless to say, the Duo 14 is the more logical purchase (it also has a newer Intel chipset) but the OLED version makes you drool for one. This might well be the template for future laptops.

4. Samsung's Bots

Of the three bots, the JetBot 90 AI+ is the only one confirmed to arrive during the first half of the year. It’s a robovac with rather modest features (considering how hype you have to be at CES) but it is somewhat of the harbinger of what’s to come. The JetBot features object recognition technology to identify and classify objects. It then uses the information to chart the best cleaning path; so it will avoid cables and such, which doesn’t seem very impressive at first glance.

But in the context of the other two robots – Bot Care and Bot Handy – it represents tangible progress. Bot Care is AI-focused and is designed to recognise and learn how to respond to your behaviour. Whereas Bot Handy seems like a combination of technology from both JetBot and Bot Care, but with more advanced intelligence. Bot Handy is intended to be house help with the ability to assist with some simple chores. It can recognise and pick up objects of various sizes, shapes and weights, and make out their material composition to apply the appropriate force in handling. That seems quite far away, to be honest, but the point is that R&D in the core tech can lead to useful, albeit less advanced robots sooner rather than later.

3. Mercedes Benz Hyperscreen

Partly to sweeten the deal on the upcoming, fully electric EQS luxury saloon, the MBUX Hyperscreen is a 141 centimetres long touchscreen display panel that will greet its driver and front-seat passenger. It’s essentially a humungous smartphone display on your dashboard, complete with actuators that provide haptic feedback when touching certain areas. The “zero layer” system makes submenus and voice commands unnecessary – all information and secondary decision-making are offered contextually and situationally by artificial intelligence (the car prompts you) so that you do not get distracted from the primary task of keeping your eyes on the road.

The AI will also learn your habits over time. If it sees a behavioural pattern, it responds with relevant controls and functions. For example, if it notices that you activate the massage feature every evening during the drive home, it will preempt you with the option on the screen. It’s quite the paradigm shift, so it remains to be seen if this approach is the way to go. But I can see one upside of having an all-glass panel. At the very least I see fewer arguments in the car because smacking the dashboard in anger (and smashing the only visual controls you have) is no longer a viable option if you value your life. Oh, on second thoughts let’s just work out a failsafe instead.

2. LG Rollable

In the battle to err, roll out the first rollable smartphone, there’s a good to fair chance that LG might be the first to market. Although Oppo was first to fire a broadside last year with the Oppo X 2021, they did not commit to publicly on bringing one to market. LG, however, did go on record to tell Nikkei that they are indeed launching one this year. Aside from that, very little is known about LG’s supposed entrant apart from a short video teaser that may or not be an accurate depiction of the upcoming phone.

The launch of the Rollable may well signal the end of the foldable phone trend. As cool as foldable phones may be, they do have some compromises that might be stopping the adoption of these devices. There’s the visible crease along the fold, the knowledge that the folding will take its toll on the screen, and adding a second screen adds cost to an already costly device. The rollable phone will probably have a different set of problems, and the obvious question would be: what is the lifespan of the rolling mechanism? But at least there won’t be a crease, and the phones so far have looked relatively slim. Fingers crossed.

1. Mudra Band

Mudra Band has already been the talk of the town last year when it went on Indiegogo for its crowdfunding campaign, but the end looks near in sight, with a drop date of March already set. If it works well in daily use, it will be a Pandora’s Box for smartwatch capabilities.

Mudra Band is an Apple Watch-compatible wristband with SNC sensors built-in. The sensors measure biopotentials, similar to how ECGs are done and pick up neural signals transmitted when we move our hands. The AI then interprets your actions and classifies which fingers moved and instructs the watch to carry out predefined actions. The algorithms are designed to understand context so that it can recognise unintended movements and ignore them.

For most of us, it will be a fancy (but ultimately useful) way to control your watch. But this device also has the potential to aid those who have been hampered by injury. This is, without doubt, its greatest strength. The future looks bright if they get this right.