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Technology can change the world: a look at the 2020 CES Tech for a Better World winners

The 2020 Consumer Electronic Show (CES) — the world’s largest and most influential technology event — concluded on January 10 with 200,000 attendees and more than 4,500 exhibitors in 36 categories displaying thousands of products from around the globe.

Having won the 2018 Tech for a Better World award for My Special Aflac Duck, I anxiously awaited the latest honored inventions. What human, social and environmental needs have inspired developers as we enter a new decade?


This year, 464 products received awards across 28 categories with a runner up Honoree designation. Thirty-one products took home the highest honor, winning Best of Innovation.

The leading product category for awards was Smart Home with 51 honorees, while Health & Wellness came in a strong second with a big jump in award-winning products, from 16 in 2019 to 46 in 2020.


Something funny happened though: The winners were just okay. Not “OMG fantastic!”

Here are the Tech for A Better World Winners and Honorees. What do you think?

Blue Fin was the top Tech for a Better World Winner. Blue Fin is a fish “wearable” tagging technology that measures water temperature, pressure, depth and pH levels in parts of the ocean humans can’t reach. Weighing only 2.4 grams, the tagging technology, tested on blue crabs, turtles, stingrays, beluga whales, sharks and blue fin tuna, gathers data that scientists can analyze to preserve and enhance marine ecology anywhere in the world.


Honorees:

  • AgriTalk Farming Sensor – Provides real time environmental information to enable more precise soil and pest management for precision farming.

  • Clue Insights – An AI-driven app to manage heavy construction equipment.

  • Green Systems Automotives – Flex-fuel kit enabling 2-wheeler gas efficiency.

  • Inspire – Climate BE 1 – An opt-in home energy management device to reduce a family’s home carbon footprint.

  • LeGrand – A home predictive energy management device.

  • Tactile Pro Braille Tablet – World’s first tablet PC for the blind.

  • Vivascope by Bosch Engineering – Smart imaging diagnostic platform to screen for prevalent disease conditions.

  • Sleep Number Climate 360 - A “Smart” bed designed to provide sleep health and wellness for a great night’s sleep and in-depth sleep health reporting.


As technology now touches more aspects of our lives than ever before, I was expecting even more exciting products to “Better the World.” Unfortunately, I was disappointed and frankly, underwhelmed.


I reviewed other “Best Of” lists for more inspiration and ideas of “Tech for Good.” They included: Time’s Best of CES, Verge, C/Net, ZDNet, Wired Top Ten, Entrepreneur, and Good Housekeeping to see what others found intriguing to benefit humanity.


Food


Impossible Pork: Pork is the most consumed meat in the world, and Impossible Foods has a dual mission: to help the environment and human health by replacing it with plant-based protein. Impossible Pork was announced at CES 2020 on the heels of the company’s 2019 launch of the plant-based Impossible Burger. The resulting fanfare demonstrates the positive impact food technology can have on the world. Impossible Pork was a C/Net “Best of” winner.


Planty Cube, a CES Best Innovation Winner, is a modular vertical farm with technology to cultivate high quality vegetables in a fully controlled environment, ensuring production tens of times higher than ordinary farmland per unit area. Planty Cube relies on technology to control the cultivation environment, such as temperature and humidity, and establishes a completely sealed environment eliminating the threat of plant-damaging pests. Planty Cube pairs technology and data analysis to create an ideal growing environment within the walls of a 40-foot container farm.


Healthcare


More health sensors are coming to consumer products, along with apps and software to decode their meaning and better understand your body and the state of your health. 


Withings ScanWatch uses smart watch uses technology to track heart rate data and blood oxygen and offers deeper sleep analysis that can detect sleep apnea.


Healthbe GoBe3 automatically tracks calorie intake and detects stress level based on skin readings (two areas I’d love to track).


Valencell's blood pressure-sensing earbuds help to identify hypertension, the world's most widespread undiagnosed condition.


Robotics


Tombot Jennie made its debut at this year’s CES. Having created My Special Aflac Duck to comfort children with pediatric cancer, I’m partial to more lifelike robotic companions that provide utility, and this animatronic dog played to attendees hearts. Who doesn’t love a dog, especially one you don’t have to clean up after!? Jennie is a robotic lap dog with a soft, fuzzy synthetic fur coat and an expressive, comforting personality to provide a soothing companion for seniors suffering from cognitive ailments. Jennie was created through a partnership between robot start-up Tombot and the Jim Henson Company.


Personal Health


BrainCo's prosthetic hand is an AI-powered prosthetic hand that works with an amputee's brain waves and muscle signals to intuit the movement they want to make. Compared to other prosthetics on the market that offer a limited number of preprogrammed movements, BrainCo’s hand allows amputees to have a fuller range of motion customized to their own body.


Dimension Robotics’ Dr. CaRo is designed to restore mobility to stroke victims without prohibitively expensive physical therapy sessions. The device, a motorized handle-equipped robotic arm attached to a 23-inch display, is meant to aid in rebuilding neural connections to a patient’s limbs with entertaining training exercises. For patients looking to strengthen atrophied muscles, Dr. CaRo can switch between assistive and resistive modes to accommodate patients looking to regain strength and dexterity in their limbs. Dr. CaRo is also the Time Best of CES winner!


Pampers Lumi was developed :with engineers and pediatricians to create a new kind of baby monitoring system that combines a camera and a sensor that can attach to a baby's diaper. The system shows you how your baby is sleeping and how that compares to the amount and quality of sleep they should be getting at each stage of development. The app also includes recommendations to help parents become more proactive in their baby care.


Ao Air gave me an exclusive look at their innovative personal air pollution protection mask. A plastic mask, called the Atmos, goes over your mouth and nose and, with the help of fans, air filters, and pressure sensors, purifies the air you're breathing and creates a tighter seal around your face. The Atmos offers up to 50x better air protection than current technologies and uses the product to create a platform for social and environmental impact. The Atmos works with a mobile app too, so you can be alerted to changes in air quality. Ao Air Atmos was included in Wired’s list of Top Ten stand out products.


Smart Home


Sleep Number’s new Climate360® smart bed is the world’s most advanced smart bed technology, delivering comfort without compromise. It creates a personalized microclimate that balances temperature and optimizes the body’s natural sleep cycles to intelligently analyze and physically respond to all aspects of sleep health and well-being. The bed is a CES Best of Innovation winner.


Accessibility


OrCam Hear is the world's first AI-driven, wearable assistive technology device for people with hearing impairment that combines lip reading with simultaneous voice source separation.

A device the size of a finger and operating hands-free, the wireless, lightweight OrCam Hear makes hearing aids smart through pioneering AI for humans. OrCam Hear is a CES Best of Innovation winner.


Code Jumper, developed by Microsoft and distributed by American Printing House for the Blind, that teaches children (ages 7-11) computer coding skills, regardless of their level of vision. OrCam hear was another CES Best of Innovation winner for accessibility.


Health. Accessibility. Smart everything. Food. CES 2020 shows that technology should not only be about greater speed or convenience in our lives: it should positively impact people and the world. Technology needs a deeper purpose, especially given the public and employee “Techlash” to data security, transparency, personal privacy and equity in jobs, accessibility and pay. Despite our love of technology, the list of its “challenges” will only get longer. Our world needs more technology to solve looming problems. Note to innovators: Build humanity in as a key ingredient, not an add on. See you at CES 2021.

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