One of the world’s biggest trade fairs returns to Las Vegas on Wednesday in the shadow of the outbreak of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) will take place in person for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to go virtual last year, making it the first major in-person tech conference to take place in the United States since the start of the pandemic.
Although there is much excitement, the event will be much quieter than in previous years.
Multiple companies, including Amazon, Microsoft, BMW and Meta, formerly known as Facebook, reduced or cancelled their attendance due to fears over Omicron.
The Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which hosts the event, said more than 2,200 exhibitors and over 3,300 members of the media have registered for in-person attendance.
Masks and proof of vaccination are required at the event, which opens on Wednesday and ends on Friday, a day earlier than scheduled due to the surge in COVID-19 cases.
Although the CES may be dampened this year, it is giving room for start-ups to exhibit the latest technologies, and there is a lot to look forward to; from space travel and the metaverse to health tech.
Here is what we can expect to see this year.
One of the CES’ space tech exhibitors is the Colorado-based Sierra Space. The company wants to build a space station with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin in this decade to replace the ISS as a commercial destination.
While those attending the CES will not get a free ticket to space, they will be able to get up close to Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser space plane.
Driverless car race
On Friday, the first head-to-head autonomous race car challenge will take place on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Driverless cars will hit speeds of nearly 260km/h.
"It's completely self-driven. There's software that tells the car what to do," said Paul Mitchell, president and CEO of Energy Systems Network, the organisers of the Indy Autonomous Challenge racing competition.
"It takes the information from the sensors and it tells the car whether to turn, whether to brake, accelerate or overtake another vehicle," he told AFP.
The tech is not only trying to break the boundaries of speed, it is also hoped that one-day driverless cars will be able to operate themselves on highways.
The pandemic is not just dominating the global agenda but health tech too.
The company Ible will unveil an air purifier which has built-in headphones. As part of its Airvida range, the Airvida E1 is able to purify the air around you while letting you enjoy music through a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
Meanwhile, one COVID-19 mask has a ventilation system that is powered by a rechargeable battery that can be mounted under a face covering.
"The first way to use it is when you are on a plane or a train," entrepreneur Eric Fouchard told AFP. "The second one is when you are working and you need to remove the mist on your glasses."
Another COVID–19 mask that has an "active" filter capable of destroying fine particles and pathogens or pollutants will also be on display. It is much thicker than the surgical masks and promises to let barely any nasties in.
"Traditional masks are not 100 per cent airtight, air passes through the sides. Our mask is completely airtight," Trong Dai Nguyen, an engineer with Airxom, the company that makes the masks, told AFP.
The current model is due to be released in a few months, for about $340 (€300). But the company says in the long run it is cheaper than surgical masks.
Health tracking tech
Meanwhile, Withings is showing off its new Body Scan smart scale, which not only measures your weight but can also sense your heart rhythm and nerve activity in the feet.
The scale can also track body composition in separate body parts (such as arms, legs or torso) by breaking it down into whole-body fat and water percentages, visceral fat, muscle and bone mass, and extracellular and intracellular water.
And it can conduct ECG readings, which could be vital for understanding cardiovascular health.
"It (the scale) can help us better understand our body, by helping us lose weight and understand body composition and it can help with cardiovascular health," Withings CEO Mathieu Letombe told Euronews Next.
He predicts health tech monitoring products will become much more mainstream within two years and used more by medical professionals.
"Along with doctors being amazed with the health data that tech products can monitor, saying it had saved lives, the pandemic has really accelerated telemedicine," Letombe said.
If health tracking is your thing, then look no further than the smart lighting company Sengled. It has announced a trove of products for the CES, including its Smart Health Monitoring bulb, which can track your heart rate and how you sleep.
Samsung will unveil its Galaxy S21 FE. The smartphone is a slightly lower-cost version of the Galaxy S21. You can save about $100 (€88) but you lose RAM and it has a lower-resolution telephoto lens than the S21.
Television screens will be massive at this year’s CES. Samsung will also show off its new MICRO LED and Neo QLED TVs. Not only will they offer a pretty picture but you can also discover, trade and purchase NFTS.
Mercedes-Benz will showcase a prototype car, an electric which has a range exceeding 1,000 km on a single charge. If it goes into production, it will rival Tesla’s Model S and Lucid Air Dream and many other EVs in the industry which have an average range of 300 km.
The metaverse was a big talking point in 2021 and continues to be in the new year. As tech companies grapple with how to finesse the technology, one company will be showing off a wearable wireless vest that may connect you to the metaverse in a physical way.
The vest by Spanish company Owo is currently being tested for video games and works by delivering vibrations that simulate more than 30 different sensations your online avatar may be experiencing.
Also in display, will be the the Shiftall Megane X virtual reality headphones and mutalk microphone for metaverse experiences.
And then there is a plush cat that nibbles your fingers.
"We find it very comfortable and we want to bring it to the world," Shunsuke Aoki, CEO of Japanese firm Yukai Engineering told AFP.
Aoki said young dogs or cats will harmlessly do the same thing and it can be a source of comfort.
"In a COVID situation, with people staying home every day, it gives you very good comfort," he said.