CES 2020: The Best—and Wildest—Gadgets

The Manta5 Hydrofoiler XE-1 e-Bike was on display at CES 2020 in Las Vegas.
Photo: Robyn Beck/Getty Images

By: Tekla S. Perry

At CES, among the bigger, brighter TVs, mock smart homes that seem to know more about you than you do, and all the Alexa- and Google-Assistant-enabled devices eager to talk to you, are a few products that defy categorization. Some of these new products grabbed my attention because they involve truly innovative technology. Some are just clever and cheap enough to catch on, and some are a little too wild to find a big market—but it’s still impressive when a developer realizes an extreme dream.

So, as CES 2020 retreats into history, here is my top 10 list of CES gadgets that at least got my attention, if not a spot on my shopping list. There is no way to rank these in order of importance, so I’ll list them roughly by size, from small to big. (The largest products demonstrated at CES, like John Deere’s AI-powered crop sprayerBrunswick’s futuristic speedboat, or Hyundai’s flying taxi developed in partnership with Uber Elevate can’t be called gadgets, so didn’t make this roundup.)

Reliefband’s Sport wearable

I’ve been a fan of Reliefband’s line of motion-sickness-prevention wearables for a few years. The new Reliefband Sport, the company says, solves a few of the issues with previous products. For one, it’s waterproof; the gadget is particularly useful for motion sickness sufferers traveling on boats. Too many people wearing the company’s existing products forgot to take them off before jumping in the water for a swim—and then were stuck on a moving boat with motion sickness. Reliefband Sport also includes an automatic shutoff, which fixes one of my complaints—too many times, I thought I’d turned my Reliefband off to put it away, only to find out the next time I needed it that I had left it on and couldn’t use it without recharging. Finally, this latest Reliefband can share a band with an Apple Watch, reducing wrist clutter. $150

Nite Ize’s glowstick

OK, nobody needs a rechargeable, waterproof glowstick. But glowsticks are fun on a summer evening, for both kids and adults, and the one-night-only chemical versions do seem wasteful. Nite Ize representatives envision its glowstick floating in a pool or acting as a flashy cocktail stirrer. I think I’d just toss a few on the picnic table as an easy alternative to candles for outdoor dining. $12

Tapplock’s smart padlocks

I think I saw at least a dozen companies offering smart, Internet-connected locks designed to replace your front door’s key-turned deadbolt lock. And Internet-connected door locks may certainly become the norm someday. Taking apart your front door’s hardware to install a smart lock takes a real commitment to the new technology, however. That’s why I liked Tapplock’s gadget: a smart padlock involves far less commitment—you could try it on a storage shed or on a bicycle. The gadget will open with a fingerprint (it stores up to 500 prints for the heavy duty Tapplock One, 100 for Tapplock Lite), a Bluetooth signal (that can be shared for time-restricted use), or a Morse code pattern communicated via a button or the lock shank. $99/$59

Intel’s RealSense L515 lidar

Intel is getting ready to ship an inexpensive (relatively) consumer-grade, small, lidar camera. The company expects developers to jump on the chance to build products around this technology. “We think this is an enablement technology that will open a lot of applications,” says Sagi Ben Moshe, general manager of Intel’s emerging technology group. At CES, the company demonstrated an application that uses the lidar to quickly measure boxes for shipping—something Intel thinks will make the lidar a must-have gadget for neighborhood shipping storefronts—as well as applications involving joint tracking, full body scanning, and small robot navigation. The gadget will start shipping to developers in April. $349

AO Air’s air-filtering face mask

AO Air’s wearable goes in front of the wearer’s nose and mouth, but doesn’t seal tightly against the skin. Instead, it protects the user from hazards in the air by pulling in dirty air from behind the wearer, filtering it, and blowing it in front, as positive pressure keeps unfiltered air away. I’ve worn N95 face masks during California’s fires, and fit is definitely an issue. It’s not always clear they are doing much good, and they aren’t pleasant to breath through. I’m not sure AO Air’s alternative will be more comfortable—it’s a little heavy—but I bet it’s more effective, and I was happy to see a tech company taking on the challenge of improving this wearable; the need for air-filtering face masks is unfortunately growing. $350

RayShaper’s modular cameras

RayShaper has designed modular video cameras that can be snapped together into arrays. The company says its secret sauce is its algorithms that enable the decoding of multiple images into a single high-quality image in real time at video frame rates. The system can, for example, turn foggy, out-of-focus objects in the distance into sharp, high-resolution pictures, RayShaper representatives say. The company is aiming its technology at professional photographers covering sporting and other unscripted events, starting with ski races this year. Pricing is still in flux, but a version with three to four modules will likely cost around $50,000

PicoBrew’s PicoStill distilling system

PicoBrew, the manufacturer of countertop, computer-controlled, home brewing machines, introduced an automatic distilling system as an accessory to its brewing systems. Company representatives indicated that, in addition to flavored spirits, the system can make bitters, essential oils, and cannabis derivatives. $349 (requires a PicoBrew system, $399 and up)

Sunflower Labs’ home security system

Sunflower Labs takes a complex and costly approach to home security: smart motion and vibration sensors distributed around a property call in an autonomous drone when they sense something amiss. The drone sends a live video stream to a smartphone, but, company representatives indicated, the real deterrent is the arrival of the drone itself; bad guys are unlikely to stick around to see what happens next. The drone can fly for about half an hour, but is designed to head back to its self-charging station after about 15 minutes. It seems like a lot of technology to throw at a not-so-complex problem, but you have to admire the company’s ambition. $10,000

OxiCool’s HomeCool air conditioner

No chemical coolant. That’s the twist in OxiCool’s HomeCool room air conditioner. The system uses water and a clay filter that, the company says, has nanopores sized for water vapor molecules. When the filter absorbs water vapor, the remaining water in the sealed chamber boils, pulling in heat from the room and lowering the room’s temperature. A gas heater drives the water out of the filter to reset the cycle, and the heat it generates vents to the outdoors. The company says its system is vastly more environmentally friendly than those that use coolants, and it uses natural gas along with 10 percent of the electricity of a standard room air conditioner, reducing its overall operating cost by 20 to 30 percent. Pricing has not yet been announced.

Manta5’s electric hydrofoiling bike

Manta5 thinks it’s time to take electric bikes into deep water. The company’s hydrofoiling ebike is already shipping in New Zealand and comes to the United States in a few months. I don’t quite get the appeal; but for someone who has everything, well, it would be a lot less annoying to your fellow beachgoers than a noisy jet ski. $7,500

This article originally appeared in IEEE Spectrum on 10 January 2020.