- Early this month Las Vegas hosted the 53rd Consumer Electronics Show, where more than 4,500 exhibitors unveiled the latest innovations in consumer technology
- For the first time “sex tech” companies were officially allowed to exhibit at CES under the banner of “health and wellness”
- Wellbeing technology entrepreneur, Niraj Shah believes the recent wave of innovative femtech startups focused on tech for sexual health has given the sex tech sector a boost
LAS VEGAS, United States — Last week Las Vegas hosted CES 2020, the 53rd Consumer Electronics Show, where more than 4,500 exhibitors unveiled the latest innovations in tech that will likely dominate our lives for the next decade.
This year was especially notable for two reasons: Apple Inc. returned for the first time since 1992 (not to pitch a new product, but to talk about consumer privacy) and the event’s new genre of “sex tech” grabbed headlines.
The Consumer Technology Association which runs the show officially allowed sex tech companies to exhibit at CES under the banner of “health and wellness” as part of a trial. The sex devices had to prove they were “innovative and include new or emerging tech”.
Around a dozen were on show, ranging from vibrators, a dispenser for warming lube, an app-powered kegel trainer and a device that promises to fix premature ejaculation.
Speaking to cnet.com, Liz Klinger, the founder of smart-vibrator company Lioness, said she believed the presence of sex tech companies at CES this year would open the floodgates for future shows and spark a conversation about sexual wellness.
“Pleasure is this missing puzzle piece in our overall understanding of our health and wellbeing that a lot of us are just ignoring,” she argued.
Using AI and data visualisations synced to an app, the Lioness smart vibrator aims to improve a woman’s orgasm by tracking tension, temperature and pressure and syncing the data to an app that lets the user analyse their data.
Lioness and other sex tech companies are drawing plaudits as well as headlines. Lioness was a finalist for CES’ Last Gadget Standing award and Engadget’s Best of CES for Digital Health and Fitness. Onda, a green robotic G-spot massager, and Baci, a pink robotic clitoral stimulator also picked up Innovation awards.
The exposure given to Lioness, Onda, Baci and similar sex tech innovations at CES 2020 is sure to give the sector, which has been gradually carving out its niche in the wellness industry, a timely boost.
In 2017 The Guardian reported sex tech to be a $30 billion industry. In the same year, market research firm Stratistics estimated the global sexual wellness market, including sex tech, would grow at a CAGR of 13.4% to $122.96 billion by 2026 as it becomes increasingly mainstream.
“By participating in events like CES, sex tech companies can help drive conversations to normalise sexual wellness and gauge reaction to their products to help with brand messaging,” said Bryony Cole, the host of the Future of Sex podcast, of this year’s event.
Sex tech officially debuting at CES has also helped connect founders with prospective investors. Ose, for example, announced it had received $2 million in funding after appearing at last year’s CES.
Speaking to Fox Business, Cole said she predicts male sexual wellness will be the next trend in sex tech following the rise of female-focused sex tech since 2016.
“As sexual health and pleasure is normalised, the least talked-about domain is male sexual wellness,” she said, highlighting how male-focused sexual wellness companies collectively raised $200 million last year, far more than female-focused companies.
Top 5 wellness innovations
Beyond sex tech, there were also groundbreaking innovations in the fields of sustainable lab-grown meat alternatives, with Impossible Foods unveiling its plant-based Impossible Pork, (the follow up to 2019’s Impossible Burger).
Smart devices for cosmetics also caught the eye, with Colgate showcasing a Toothbrush that tells the user when their mouth is clean and an Opte makeup inkjet printer that creates personalised makeup for the user.
Identifying the five greatest innovations for the wellness industry at CES 2020 is Niraj Shah, wellbeing technology entrepreneur, co-founder of Mind: Unlocked and European Co-Chair for Silicon Valley’s Transformative Technology Community.
1. Apollo by Apollo Neuroscience
The first clinically validated wearable that actively helps the body adapt to stress, developed by physicians and neuroscientists at the University of Pittsburgh.
– Owned by Apollo Neuroscience, Inc.
– Founded 2017 in the US
– Underwent one seed round of investment in June 2019
– Funded by Republic Labs and Innovation Works
– Apollo is available for pre-order now for delivery from January 31, 2020
“I’ve been lucky enough to try Apollo and it’s effective and impressive. It’s one of the first breakthroughs in the idea of ‘mood on demand’,” says Shah.
2. Nurrv Biometric Running Insoles
Thirty-two sensors capture data at a rate of 1,000 times per second.
– Founded in 2016
– Based in Twickenham, southwest London, UK
– Orders start shipping January 2020
“The technology looks excellent,” admits Shah. “But at $300, adoption is going to be one of its biggest short term challenges.”
3. Neofect Smart Balance
A smart sensor plate that uses gamification to help lower limb rehabilitation, for example for stroke patients. “This is part of a wider trend of using gamification to raise usage and adoption that we’ll see more of in coming years,” says Shah.
– Founded in 2010 in the US
– Investment from POSCO Venture Partners in 2012, Company K Partners and DSC Investment in 2014
– Filed for IPO on Korea’s KOSDAQ in November 2018
“As a stroke survivor, I can see how something like this could be very successful in raising rehabilitation rates.”
4. Withings ScanWatch
A smartwatch that detects both atrial fibrillation (via passive HR monitoring and ECG readings) and sleep apnea.
– Founded in June 2008, Withings was acquired by Nokia in 2016 before being bought back by its founder, Eric Carreel, in 2018.
– Last funding raise was a Series B in 2013, raising $30 million
– Not currently available, but “coming soon” according to its website
“This could be significant,” says Shah. “It’s the first smartwatch to feature clinically validated, medical grade ECG to detect atrial fibrillation, a heart condition that they claim one in four people in the USA or EU will develop in their lifetime.”
5. The Wave
A smart sensor that claims to change the way the user experiences temperature to help them feel cooler or warmer.
– Owned by Embr Labs, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts
– Raised $6 million in series B funding in September 2019
– Wave, which is available now, first entered the market in 2017
“Is this finally the breakthrough to solve the age-old problem of different preferred office or bedroom temperatures?” asks Shah. “It’s certainly one to watch closely.”
Sex tech’s breakthrough year
While CES 2020 was notable for the “continued integration of breakthrough hardware with smart analytics”, Shah believes this could spell trouble as data increasingly becomes a part of our daily life.
“Data is only as good as what can be inferred from it, particularly for consumers facing technology where the user needs guidance,” he says. “This means we are increasingly placing our faith in the interpretation of that data, signifying a position of responsibility for the makers.”
As a result, Shah believes we should expect a migration towards “more clinically validated and robust technologies”, affecting everything from our smart scales to our smartwatch.
Conspicuously absent was sleep technology ring OURA. “Whilst yet still fairly unknown in mainstream circles, owning an OURA became a rite of passage for any semi-serious biohacker as of the last 12 months,” Shah says. However, he adds “it is worth remembering Apple only returned to the show for the first time in decades this year.”
Regarding the official debut of sex tech products at CES 2020, Shah believes the recent wave of innovative femtech startups focused on tech for sexual health, such as British brand Elvie and San Francisco-based Cora, has given the sector a boost.
“It’s possible that the femtech boom, focused more on technology for sexual health, has lent the previously taboo ‘sex tech for pleasure’ sector enough legitimacy or momentum for CES to give it official space for the first time,” he says.
“Either way it’s part of the conversation now and a significant breakthrough for a sector predicted to grow rapidly.”
From sex tech and femtech to sustainable meat and cutting-edge biohacking innovation, CES underlined the role wellness is and will continue to play in our way of life.
“As we are living longer but getting sicker, younger, there are many problems to be solved and lots of money to be made in the solving of those problems,” Shah says.
As a result, he expects health and wellness to play an increasingly prominent role at CES for many years to come.