- Last week the 54th Consumer Electronics Show debuted virtually for the first time under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic that underscored our reliance on technology
- Home fitness and smart living devices featured heavily, including AI-powered televisions for more effective home workouts and air purifying face masks to combat the virus
- Sexual wellness devices were also prominent, with leading brands promoting gender-neutral sex tech products and a call to arms for greater inclusivity across the industry
- “Artificial intelligence is increasingly important as we try to figure out cures to COVID,” said CES organiser Gary Shapiro. “It’s also important in solving many other problems of the world to make it safer, healthier and more efficient.”
LAS VEGAS, United States — Amid the backdrop of a global pandemic that’s underlined our reliance on technology like never before, the 54th annual Consumer Electronics Show debuted virtually for the first time in its illustrious history.
Predictably, given our largely house-bound existence over the past 12 months, the four-day trade show was dominated by smart devices for the home, from TVs with in-built AI technology to improve your workout to toilets that monitor your daily bowel movements for signs of ill health.
For a second year running, sexual wellness products were also prominent following their breakthrough year in 2020, while innovations in health tech were understandably high on the agenda.
Here’s a rundown of the most eye-catching wellness-inspired tech from this year’s event, kicking off with the category that’s increasingly drawing headlines, plaudits, and, significantly, investment.
Last year Bryony Cole, the host of the Future of Sex podcast, predicted male sexual wellness would be the next big trend in sex tech, following the rise of female-focused products in 2016.
However, this year’s event demonstrated a blurring of gender lines, with Lora DiCarlo unveiling three new gender-neutral sex tech products and a call to arms for greater inclusivity across the industry.
“Now more than ever we want to make sure that Lora DiCarlo is an inclusive brand, that no matter what your gender, preference, identity is or the colour of your skin, you feel welcome,” Founder Lora Haddock DiCarlo told Forbes.
“These products don’t fall into the binary world of being just for men or just for women. I want to create something that is for all people to create experiences,” she said.
Named Drift, Tilt and Sway, Lora DiCarlo’s new range of products are designed to simulate human touch through thermal conductivity, and the added warmth provides a boost in blood flow to relieve muscle tension and increase overall sexual pleasure.
The Oregon-based company’s inventions have also been stirring up investment in a category long overlooked by VCs.
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A year after the launch of its flagship product Osé, Lora DiCarlo has amassed $7.5 million in sales and a funding round of $3 million led by Republic Labs, which included investment from actress and model Cara Delevingne.
“Sex tech is a fast-growing segment that has largely flown under the radar with investors,” Republic Labs’ Co-Founder Christian Sullivan told Forbes.
“That’s not going to be the case for long, especially as entrepreneurs like Lora DiCarlo increasingly destigmatize what was once a taboo space and introduce more technology-driven solutions.”
Despite rave reviews Lora DiCarlo has drawn for shaking up the sector, it was 2016-founded sexual wellness brand Satisfyer that scooped two CES Innovation Awards at this year’s event.
Satisfyer was recognised in the health and wellness category for its Love Triangle air-pulse stimulation device and app, which users can control through music and voice commands.
While Satisfyer was the only sex tech company to win innovation awards ahead of the virtual show, 2020’s Last Gadget Standing finalists Lioness returned with a new smart biofeedback vibrator which tracks first-of-its-kind sexual response data.
The company’s CEO Liz Klinger said feedback helps people better understand their own bodies, while users can also opt-in to anonymously share data with researchers to help address real-world sexual health issues. For example, one study due to be released this month, analysed the impact of COVID-19 on people’s sex lives.
Also returning this year was Minnesota-based Morari Medical, a male sexual health company looking to find tech solutions to problems typically addressed by pharmaceuticals, such as premature ejaculation.
For CEO Jeff Bennett, a seat at the CES table in 2021 – even in this year’s virtual format – was vital for visibility in a sector still trying to secure its legitimacy among critics and customers.
He told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that sex tech companies are regularly blocked from advertising on social media platforms due to the sexual nature of their products, depsite them “solving a real problem that is a quality of life issue”.
With Apple, via Fitness+, and Google, with the acquisition of Fitbit, muscling in on the $828 billion physical activity sector in recent weeks, it was no surprise to see fitness was a top priority for Samsung at CES 2021.
The South Korean electronics giant revealed its new Smart Trainer feature as part of its Samsung Health suite, which provides guided personal training for people exercising in front of the company’s recently launched TV.
It requires an optional webcam that uses motion-recognition AI in the TV to analyse the user’s movements, posture and form on camera. At the end of a workout it provides a score for technique accuracy, calories burned and reps clocked.
Hot on Samsung’s heels will be Uniicube by Uniigym. The Taiwanese company uses somatosensory technology to compare the user’s bone and joint points with the movements demonstrated by the trainer.
Like arcade-favourite Dance Revolution but for hip thrusts and burpees, it provides real-time feedback with excellent, good, fair and miss ratings throughout each class, helping correct form and minimise risk of injury.
Uniicube is capable of transforming any space with walls into a Uniigym Virtual Environment with just a projector. Currently available in Taiwan, it will launch internationally this year.
Another fitness video platform making its debut at CES was Ultrahuman from fitness model and entrepreneur David Morin. The app-based startup provides biofeedback via Apple Watch to measure and improve the quality of meditation and workouts delivered by leading athletes, neuroscientists and psychologists.
Aiming to be the “masterclass for fitness”, Ultrahuman demonstrated its potential to compete in a crowded market with an impressive $8 million Series A funding round backed by top tier VCs Nexus and Blume.
Portable face-worn air purifiers also caught the eye at this year’s event, although “air wearables” were on the scene long before COVID-19 showed up.
Chris Hosmer, whose daughter suffered a series of acute respiratory reactions to noxious air, founded AirPop in 2015. This year, the company unveiled the Active+ Smart Mask with Halo sensor, the world’s first smart air wearable.
Designed for everyday use and sports, the mask, priced at 149.99, monitors and blocks pollutants in the air, tracks breathing metrics and tells its wearer when the filters need replacing.
Elsewhere at CES 2021, was an interactive smart pillow called AirCozy, which plays white noise to help its user drift off to sleep. In addition, it tracks the user’s movement to adjust its height as they shift from zombie to starfish to foetal position throughout the night.
Feelmore Labs revealed Cove, a stress-relieving wearable that silently applies gentle vibrations behind the user’s ears to trigger a link between skin and the brain, which it claims activates the part of the brain that regulates anxiety.
There was also iCare from CloudMed, an 8-in-1 sensor that can detect biometric readings including variations in pulse, blood pressure, oxygen saturation and even tiredness and stress levels using optical sensors and ECG electrodes.
Honeywld unveiled MyGuardian, a wearable for automated fall alerts to help nurses and carers looking after elderly people.
On a similar theme, Belgian startup Nobi led the smart home gadget field with a ceiling-mounted smart light, featuring in-built sensors to detect smoke, air quality and motion. Infrared sensors help it spot irregular motions in the user, as well as falls, notifying carers by sending an image if instructed to do so.
Finally, no CES would be complete without mention of a smart fridge, and Samsung obliged with its latest innovation in kitchen tech.
Samsung’s SmartThings Cooking has been designed to seamlessly synchronise meal planning with online food shopping – a sector predicted to soar over the next five years.