Presented by
Protocol's experts on the biggest questions in tech.

At CES, what will rise to the hype? And what is just a pipe dream?

At CES, what will rise to the hype? And what is just a pipe dream?

Experts who exhibited at or attended CES look at wearables, sustainable mobility and digital events through the lens of staying power.

Good afternoon! In this week's Braintrust, we asked folks who exhibited at or attended the conference to think about what tech would stick and what would be a pipe dream. Want more CES? Check out Protocol's full coverage here, and watch our roundtable recap event here.

Anand K. Iyer , PhD, MBA

Chief Strategy Officer at Welldoc

It was exciting to hear about 5G progression at CES 2021 for me, as a former wireless executive, a Type 2 diabetes patient and a thought leader in the digital health space. I've witnessed the evolution of the digital health spectrum of care and its intersection with broadband internet. The broadband divide in this country is significant and growing, and the divide impacts everyone from the child living in rural America trying to access virtual education during the COVID-19 pandemic to the individual living in a coastal community trying to self-manage a chronic condition through wearables that require connectivity. 5G will offer faster speeds, lower latency and greater capacity, which is vital for wearables, digital health and telehealth and will result in better clinical, cost and quality outcomes in health.

Digital transformation in healthcare was another major theme at CES 2021. However, some companies interpret the movement towards a more consumer-centric healthcare as though you can approach healthcare from a purely consumer standpoint, and that is misguided. Digital transformation of healthcare cannot be done without evidential scientific rigor. Wellness devices are significantly different from digital health solutions, which are grounded in clinical science. Welldoc's single platform solution for self-managing chronic conditions includes BlueStar, for Type 1 and 2 diabetes, and as an FDA-cleared Class II Medical Device, it was a pioneer in software as a medical device. The FDA clearance distinguishes the stringent regulatory standards and medical functionality a digital health solution is grounded in versus a wellness device.

Tien Tzuo

Co-founder & CEO at Zuora

Checking out all the new gadgets is always fun, but GM's keynote was the highlight for me. This wasn't just a product announcement, but a complete corporate re-alignment towards a sustainable future. Mary Barra said they're aiming for "zero emissions, zero crashes, and zero congestion." I always appreciate it when companies put out products that serve a broader purpose.

There's always silly stuff and vaporware at CES, which is mostly just designed to grab attention. So it's hard to criticize promotional material. That being said, I don't see myself stepping into a personal drone anytime soon.

Scott Buchholz

CTO, Deloitte Government and Public Services Practice at Deloitte Consulting

Within the enterprise, the intersection of technologies like IoT, edge computing, improved wireless networking, machine learning and image processing are likely to rise to the hype. In factories, offices, stores and beyond, the ability for computers to sense and affect the world around us holds great promise. Whether it's to help us stay safe and socially distant, to count items and stock or to identify production errors, image recognition and cheap cameras are providing dramatic improvements. Robots and drones can perform safety inspections and measure and map things accurately. Machine learning and connectivity enable us to tune the speed of production lines, optimize routes, save energy and time, and much, much more. Edge computing enables us to improve the safety of autonomous vehicles and make robots cheaper and more effective. And the combination of all these technologies amplifies one another as they create positive feedback loops, new possibilities and new use cases.

As for what might be a pipe dream, I sometimes reflect on the adage that we overestimate what can be done in a year and underestimate what can be done in a decade. Over the long run, there may be less hype than we think. And while I'm probably wrong, I'm still ambivalent about having an internet-enabled toothbrush.

Alison McNally

Senior Partner and North America Technology Practice Lead at FleishmanHillard

For us technology agency pros, CES is a defining moment we spend much of the prior year planning for with our clients. In some cases, it's the only time our clients get real, valuable one-on-one time with key stakeholders. It's where we test ideas, launch new products and outline our roadmap for the year ahead. It's always a huge financial and time commitment. It's always a good time. And, for the most part, it's always pretty predictable.

In considering what rose to the hype — and what didn't — around CES 2021, I took pause. That's because the answer to both questions is actually CES 2021 itself. So far, everything has gone smoothly. The organizers have gone above and beyond to create an incredible, seamless experience. The technology worked, news is flowing and brands seem generally happy with the outcome.

But something is notably missing — and that is the magic of connection CES usually affords us. Much of the added value companies gain from attending CES stems from face-to-face interactions: from pre-planned meetings to ad hoc chats at a media happy hour.

If 2020 was a year of reaction, 2021 must be a year of reimagination. We've seen brands and organizations create virtual experiences that surpass anything we ever imagined — and I see some of these new tools staying around for the long haul. How do we apply these lessons and best practices, but also bring back that special connection that only comes from personal interactions?

Scott Kirchner

President at Panasonic Automotive Systems Company of America and Executive Director at Panasonic Smart Mobility

One of the biggest mobility trends that will lead this year, which was highlighted so clearly in the COVID-19 pandemic, is that vehicles are no longer just a means of moving from point A to B, but rather makeshift second homes. From drive-by birthday parties to the resurgence of drive-in movie theaters, to even a quiet space to take meetings or a second "living room" for road trips, vehicles and the greater transportation ecosystems they are a part of have become a means for human connection.

As we're seeing how these changing consumer behaviors are influencing industry innovation and R&D on view at CES — individual vehicle technologies are just the start. We expect to see intelligence being built into infrastructure and vehicles as the key to realizing safer, more efficient and more sustainable mobility experiences. This will be true whether moving people or packages, or using fossil fueled or improved battery-powered electric platforms. Individuals, companies, utilities, charging stations, fleet operators, public transit authorities and roadway operators will need to communicate and coordinate activities with each other and with the vehicles on the road to assure both personal and broader mobility goals are met. Enabling our future will include building smart transportation ecosystems from the individual vehicle to the full roadway, paving the way for the future of smart mobility.

Narrowing in on automotive technologies, we will continue to see challenges in passenger comfortability with autonomous vehicles and technologies aimed at easing that discomfort. Riding in an autonomous vehicle must be a trusted experience. While still in the early stages, we'll likely start to see technologies aimed at giving drivers insights into how an autonomous vehicle is making decisions as a way to normalize autonomous driving. Going forth, your vehicle may have a more intuitive, augmented reality scan of its surrounding situation as part of the vehicle technological framework to optimize for that safer, more reliable experience.

See who's who in Protocol's Braintrust (updated Jan. 13, 2020).

Questions, comments or suggestions? Email

More from Braintrust
Latest Stories