After three hours wandering through endless aisles of gadgets at CES, the world's largest consumer technology conference, the products start to blend together. Was this automated cat litter cleaner the same one we saw 20 minutes ago? How many internet-connected locks can the world possibly need?
But somewhere between hour four and five, something strange happens. There is a moment of clarity — not about the future of technology, but about who we are right now and what we think is wrong with our lives. We realize that CES is a collection of devices that cash in on our biggest issues, and that we have a ton of them.
Behavior and cognition
Business and industry sectors
Business, economy and trade
Conferences and conventions
Diet, nutrition and fitness
Exercise and fitness
Health and medical
Robots and robotics
Computer science and information technology
Software and applications
Here's what I realized at CES this week:
1. We are tired
We are not getting our recommended seven to nine hours of sleep at night and are desperate for help. So much so that we are willing to stick wearables on our forehead, put on Bluetooth-connected headbands, or sleep on data-collecting mattresses filled with sensors — anything so long as it promises to tell us what we are doing wrong.
If it's too much screen time, the Umay Rest is an eye gadget that claims to undo the damage of smartphones with "thermal therapy." The Hupnos sleep mask, detects sleeping positions and vibrates to stop any snoring. If we'd rather wear something during the day, the Urgonight headband is advertised as training the brain to be better at sleep using neurofeedback. Or we can just duck into a nap pod like Procyon's Dream Box.
Me, I'd rather spoon with the Somnox sleep robot, a soft cushion that imitates a human breathing.
2. We want to be less stressed
We probably can't sleep because we are thinking about everything that gives us anxiety, like how we will pay for all these new devices.
You know what else is stressful? Highways. Mercedes and Garmin collaborated on a smartwatch that they say can detect a driver's stress level. When it gets high, the car's navigation system can suggest a less stressful route, or play relaxing music. If we don't drive, there is a vibrating bracelet called Doppel that mimics a calmer heartbeat on the inside of the wrist.
3. We're too busy obsessing about our babies
We're likely stressed and sleep deprived because we're hovering over the baby all night to make sure she's OK. Here are some of the "smart" devices available to track their vitals: a swaddle, a chest band, a sticker, sock, and a onesie. There are also cameras that can track breathing from above, and cushions that send sleep patterns and vital signs to an app.
There's even a connected bottle that automatically logs how much milk she drinks, and multiple high-tech breast pumps to fill them up. Now instead of being stressed in the same room, you can obsess over your child's health while looking at apps.
4. We worry about messing up our older kids
Good news: When those babies grow up we can find new things to obsess over. Are they smart enough? Do they watch too much YouTube? Can the 5-year-old even code yet? Whatever our inadequacy as a parent, there is a gadget at CES that addresses it. The Den is a little vault for locking away kids' devices and setting timers for when they can access them. A Harry Potter coding kit comes with a wand and can prepare them for a job at Google. And there are multiple fluffy robots, like Woobo, that are billed as teaching the kids their ABCs and more.
5. We think gardening can help
Tech companies are embracing gardening, which studies have shown can decrease stress. An augmented reality "Inner Garden" from Ullo World lets you squish around a box of magnetic sand with patterns projected on top. The Connected Garden Super Sensor tracks humidity, temperature and PH levels to help us grow real plants. The companion app lets us stare at flora on a screen with an augmented reality overlay. Or we can get one of the many tiny indoor garden setups, like Ava, which comes with seed pods and a camera to live-stream leaves on a phone.
6. We order out too much
The Instapot inspired a number of all-in-one kitchen gadgets that try their best to make cooking real food easier. The June is a smart oven that can bake, slow cook, toast, and dehydrate, and the Brava multi-tasking oven uses infrared light to cook. They all have internal cameras so we can live-stream what's cooking inside.
7. We don't have enough time for our pets
It is now possible to have a pet that you never see, even as you help it to live a long (if lonely) life. We can let the dog in the house through a Wagz pet door, which only opens when his collar is close, and give him food with an automated feeder controlled through an app. We can get in quality time with a Wi-Fi connected camera and remote snack dispenser, then make sure he gets exercise by making him chase a treat-holding robot around the floor. And when he needs to go to the bathroom, there's the Inubox smart toilet for dogs, a large device that automatically cleans up any messes they make, so long as they do it on the gadget's designated square.
And when the dog, starved for human interaction, runs away? We can find him thanks to tracking collars from companies like Dogness.
8. We can't find our keys
Losing keys is more understandable. Honestly, everyone should just go ahead and put a tracker on their keychain, it's genuinely helpful. Bluetooth tags like Cube or Chipolo track things that we know are somewhere in a 200-foot radius, maybe between sofa cushions or under the automatic dog feeder.
9. We are terrified of being robbed
The world is a scary place, so we are beefing up our DIY home security systems. Home security is a $45 billion a year market, and growing, so it's no wonder it seems like every company wants a piece. A glut of smart home security devices — locks you open with an app, cameras, motion sensors, lock boxes for Amazon packages and more — debuted at CES this year. Elecpro's face-detecting lock can let us into the house without the keys we never found, and AI cameras tell us if there is an intruder or if it's just our depressed dog.
10. We don't leave the house to go to the gym
Thankfully we can ride a bike, swing a kettlebell, hit a punching bag or do yoga all in the comfort of our heavily surveilled home. And since peer pressure and advice from someone who has abs are key for motivation, the fitness companies are all adding on-demand classes and live training options. In the wake of Peloton, a hit at last year's CES, JaxJox's smart kettlebell tracks your reps and sets, and FightCamp's equipment setup is complete with punch-tracking sensors, a pair of boxing gloves and wraps, a free-standing punching bag and a mat.
11. Mostly, we still feel lonely
A companion robot doesn't judge; it just wants to be held. Small and fuzzy with giant eyes begging us to believe it cares, Lovot is just such a companion robot. It coos, it hugs, it follows us around and begs for attention. It's so adorable we can even overlook the giant camera mounted on its head like a top hat. Unlike the other gadgets at CES, Lovot doesn't have any practical purpose. It only wants to make us feel loved and to forget for a moment that we are overextended, stressed out and exhausted. Then again, that's what the dog was for. Maybe we should go watch him on the snack dispenser's camera again.