Accessible Tech at CES 2020

Text overlay: Accessible Tech at CES 2020. Image: Self-driving wheelchair, smart refrigerator, and hearing aids.by Kat Zigmont, Director of Operations

I was very fortunate to be able to attend the 2020 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES). I went as part of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) Foundation Accessibility Group gathered to evaluate which products are accessible and relevant to people with disabilities.

WID's Operations Director Kat holding up her CES attendee badge and smiling.While attending various events and wandering the halls, I found a great deal of accessibility upgrades. Some of the welcoming accommodations were early access to keynotes and ADA seating up front, multiple teams of ASL interpreters, captions provided at large plenaries and in small workshops, multiple sighted guides assisting attendees, and an accessibility desk to troubleshoot any other needs attendees with disabilities might have.

Here is my accessibility analysis about the various products I encountered during my time at CES 2020:

Hearables

Phonak Virto Black

Visiting the Phonak desk, I was approached by a rep with a new “hearable” that the  company had just put on the market. This in-the-ear hearing aid looks like typical “off the shelf” ear buds, but is made after taking an earmold impression and is adjusted to the wearer’s specific hearing needs. This is the same process used for a typical hearing aid. While talking to the audiologist, I received clarification that their new product was a proper hearing aid. It is clear that Phonak is trying to fight the stigma of hearing aids the same way other hearable products are, i.e., by making them look like earbuds.

My lovely accessibility colleagues from the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) informed me that in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids are not new, and were all the rage a few decades ago, but are being reintroduced. The most important difference between hearables and these in-the-ear hearing aids is the cost, with the base price for the latter being around $3,000 for a pair.

Acouva Amp

Acouva hearable devices amplify sound and get sounds closer to the eardrum with its elongated in-ear piece. These earbuds pair with an app that analyzes your hearing, allows for and suggests sound customization based on your results. There were two tiers of amplification earbuds, with the first applicable to mild hearing loss and the second tier to mild to moderate hearing loss. With the price ranging between $185–$300 per set, these hearables are very affordable.

LIZN Hearpiece

LIZN Hearables are a fantastic option for sound amplification. These completely round hearables are able to reduce background noise while boosting the wearer’s own voice in addition to amplifying other sounds. They also provide directional amplification allowing for better one-on-one communication. The unique shape allows for comfort for a longer period of time than the typical earbud shape. With the price being $149, this is a very competitive product for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.

Able Aid

Able Aid was a hearable from Japan that has audio canceling for background noise, voice canceling to reduce feedback from your own voice, and customizable amplification features when paired with a smartphone. This product promises to enhance sound from a focused direction in order to improve one-on-one communication in less than ideal environments. The device itself was much larger than earbuds and cords behind the head connecting the two earpieces. With a cost of $399 for a headset and the current size of the unit, I think this product is less attractive then others shown this year at CES.

Wearables

Palmcat Gesture Recognition Device

Palmcat’s wearable gesture recognition technology allows the wearer to control a typical computer mouse or to operate a flying drone. This product is a wristwatch-sized device and requires no additional software, although there is supporting software that will allow for more customization. While this technology is designed for gamers, I see a great application for people with disabilities affecting their dexterity. With this wristband around the base of one’s hand, they can control the mouse without having to grip. When they need to select an item, there are left or right gestures that replace mouse clicking or double clicking. With a sleek and simple design and ease of connecting to various devices, this product has great potential.

RETISSA Laser Display Glasses

Exhibitor demonstrating QD Laser's RETISSA Display, with black plastic sunglasses attached to power blocks via cord.

QD Laser’s RETISSA® Display is a “laser retinal scanning type eyewear” created for individuals with low-vision caused by irregular astigmatism, particularly when traditional glasses and/or contact lenses are not an option. The way the gentleman at the booth described it, there is a laser behind one of the lenses, pointing towards the lens that reflects and projects an image of the environment onto the retina. This sounds very cool and the idea is original. However, currently the size of the laser box attached to the wearer’s glasses is large, it is also paired with a large rectangular box that is bigger than a typical pocket, and needs to be corded to the glasses. For these reasons, this product is currently too cumbersome to be attractive to users.

Pethi Smart Dog Collar

Booth with icon of dog and cat, text reads: Enside My Pet Wearable. Pethi is a smart dog collar. While there are many smart collars on the market that tell you the dog’s GPS location and how much activity the dog is getting; there are fewer that have a full heath monitor. Health sensors monitor heart rate, temperature, breathing rate, calories burned, and heart rate variability (HRV), caused by pain or stress, for example. For those of us with service dogs, we worry if our dog is getting stressed out under certain circumstances. I really liked the direction this company was going in and their collars were beautiful looking as well, with no indication they had a chip embedded. It’s not yet sold in the U.S., which is a bummer.

Ovis Hands-Free Smart Luggage

Ovis from Forward X is hands-free, self-driving smart luggage that comes with a tracking bracelet that vibrates and lights up if you get more than 2 meters away from the suitcase. GPS is built-in to track your luggage if it gets lost. I walked around the showroom floor trying to trick the luggage, hoping it would lose me, but it did not. I thought this product would be great for people with mobility or dexterity disabilities.

Mobility

WHILL Self-Driving Wheelchair

Black and gray smart wheelchair with light-up sensors.

Panasonic has partnered with WHILL to create self-driving power wheelchairs. Using an associated app, you can set a destination on your smartphone and the wheelchair will navigate there on its own. With the addition of sensors in the front and back as well as a remote control, the WHILL chair can detect and auto-stop when faced with obstacles. Additionally, you can set a leader chair that can lead up to 10 follower chairs to their destination. I can see many applications for this self-driving option for people with a variety of disabilities. At the booth, the reps talked about an airport application to be used to assist people to move between gates. It was unclear if Panasonic would be able to sell the sensor additions to be used on other (non-WHILL) power wheelchairs, but if it is possible, I think there are far wider applications.

Gyeonggi Self-Driving Vehicle

Gyeonggi Autonomous Driving Vehicle is meant for indoor use primarily, such as airports and convention centers. This vehicle has speech output as part of its typical programming, but does not have voice activated input. Once a destination is programmed in, the vehicle will take you there with no further actions needed. I can see these vehicles used as an alternative for airport meet-and-assist services for some people with disabilities, as well as for large conferences and convenings.

Access Explorer Wayfinding App

2 exhibitors smiling with the yellow Access Explorer booth.

Access Explorer is a beacon-based wayfinding app for indoor spaces such as malls, hospitals and airports. Using a smartphone with Bluetooth, the Access Explorer app communicates with the positioned beacons to identify your current location and direct you to the point of interest you specified. This product offers a great way for people with visual, intellectual or way-finding disabilities to navigate tricky indoor environments where GPS does not work. However, the infrastructure required, including the instillation of beacons, seems to be a barrier to widespread implementation.

C-FREX Exoskeleton

Several exhibitors in white lab suits with C-FREX (Carbon Fiber Reinforced Exoskeleton) logo. Sleek black exoskeleton wearing black Nike shoes.

C-Frex is an exoskeleton system for people with spinal cord injuries and paralysis. Made from carbon fiber reinforced plastic, this walking orthosis is meant to help to maintain physical function. The “knee flexion without power-realization of extension motion” is the key component to making this system work. This was an interesting booth to come across and I can see many physical therapy and exercise applications for this product.

Smart Home

Lockly Smart Lock and Video Doorbell

Lockly is a smart lock and video doorbell. This lock uses a peek-proof keypad by having multiple numbers listed for each code that you set. When you use the touchscreen, you select your numeric series enclosed in the cluster of numbers. These smart locks can also be opened with just a fingerprint as well as be controlled by your smartphone or Alexa, for remote or alternative unlocking. I can see people with many disabilities appreciating this alternative lock, particularly people with disabilities that affect dexterity.

Bosch Smart Refrigerator

At the Bosch smart home exhibit, there was a smart refrigerator with food recognition capabilities. Several cameras are built into the fridge that will monitor what you typically buy and use. The accompanying app will also help you keep a grocery list as things are used and recommend recipes based on what is left in your fridge. Because the app that manages these features is Alexa compatible, it is accessible. Asking for more details about the accessibility features, I was told that Alexa would read the grocery list to you and you can ask Alexa to adjust your list any way you like. This could be a fun tool for tech savvy blind cooks!

Caregiver Smart Solutions

Exhibitor standing with Let Them Age In Place Caregiver Smart Solutions booth.The “Let Them Age in Place” Caregiver Smart Solutions is a set of smart plugs and motion detection devices that let you monitor the activity of whoever’s home the product is set-up in. While talking to folks at the booth, they explained that once the devices are set up, they report activity to an app that will then analyze the data and report out if the occupant is eating, sleeping, drinking coffee vs. tea, moving around, and bathroom frequency. I must admit I was a bit dubious about this product. When I questioned the reps how the app would know the occupants’ bathroom patterns or what they had to drink based on these sensors, I was told that those were trade secrets not to be disclosed. Upon further prying, I was told that the smart plugs would tell the app if the coffee machine or electric kettle were on that day. I do understand this, but just because coffee was made does not mean it was consumed. Just because someone went into the bathroom, as the sensor might allege, does not mean they used the toilet. The booth staff was resistant to my questions and offered no further clarification. I do worry that this type of system might provide misinformation based on the concerns I expressed. While technology might make living alone possible for people who might otherwise be institutionalized, the implications for the privacy of people with disabilities are also deeply concerning.

Robots

LeaVoice AI Therapist

LeaVoice is an AI therapist for people with ADHD, anxiety, and depression. As the developer’s website states, “LeaVoice is based on a counselling technique called Motivational Interviewing that helps you find the motivation to reflect on your life, change it and celebrate all that makes you – you.” A holographic friend is paired with the LeaVoice app that enables you to record messages about your troubles, fears, and/or stressors. You will then receive customized messages back from your AI friend with positive messages of support. There is also the option to share messages with other LeaVoice users as well.  I think this is an innovative idea to provide support on a 24/7 basis. I was not able to use the app on the show floor, so I cannot evaluate the effectiveness of the content. However, I can see applications for this type of AI for people with mental health and emotional support-related disabilities.

Qooboo Robot Pet

2 exhibitors holding Qooboo furry tail-wagging pillows.Qoobo is a cushion-shaped robot with a wagging tail. This was a fun and silly robot product made to manage stress. The tail wags when you pet the pillow and sometimes on its own. This product is meant to mimic calming pet behaviors and could be used as a therapy or emotional support animal alternative in a pinch.

PiBo Robot Personal Assistant

2 white plastic robots, about 1 foot tall, in front of sign that says: Samsung C-Lab Outside circulus activity, training, emotion, communication, extension.

PiBo is a friendly little robot out of the Samsung C-Lab that I found on the floor. It can be used like most smart home devices, i.e., for functioning as an alarm, for playing music, for listening to news and weather reports, and for scheduling. PiBo has voice and face recognition and the ability to code your own features into its programming. The lovely folks at the booth talked to me about the possibility of this robot being used by kids with developmental, intellectual or cognitive disabilities. Since PiBo responds to voice commands and can identify moods via its face recognition programming, it could be helpful for children with emotional functioning issues  to identify their own emotions and then offer them robotic supports. Additionally, this little robot can be used to help individuals with disabilities by providing reminders throughout the day and coaching them on communication skills.

Align VR Soft Skills Training & Assessment

Sign for Align VR, reads: #GetSoftSkills AlignVR. VR assessment tools that reliably produce authentic social behaviors. Empowering leaders to hire better people and build stronger teams!

Align VR is an HR tool that helps assess and train individuals on soft skills; it also assists with workplace team building behaviors.

This Virtual Reality experience could be an exceptional tool for people with autism with regard to developing workplace soft skills and interpersonal skills in a private environment.

Lovo Voice Conversion

Exhibitor with sign, reads: Lovo love your voice real-time voice conversion and creation platform. LOVO is a voice conversion platform that creates an electronic voice from five minutes of a recorded speaker reading the system’s script. The electronic voice sounds very much like a typical human voice, closely mimicking the recorded voice. This would include any recorded accent or tone range of the voice.

While this product is targeted towards voiceovers for animations or other videos, games, and audiobooks, I see application for people with disabilities. For example, people who use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices, have little opportunity to have a custom computer voice of their choosing. I spoke with the creator of this platform at the booth about this and he was very open to exploring if his system would be compatible with AAC devices and apps. This would be a nice feature enabling AAC users to choose a voice that reflects how they want to sound to others.

AARP Pitch Competition Inventions

Screenshot of the live polling app used to rate the pitches in the AARP pitch competition. Text reads: Based on today's presentation, rate Zibrio on how their company could keep older adults in the game (1 star is low, 10 stars is high). 8 out of 10 stars are selected.This event included presentations from eight startups that pitched their products and answered questions from on-stage experts before the audience used their cell phones to vote on a scale of 1–10 on whether the products “keep seniors in the game.” This was a fun Shark Tank-esque event that featured a wide range of products.

CareWare LED Light Therapy

Exhibitor wearing a gray vest with a purple LED light patch on the back.

CareWare is a wearable, wireless, LED light-therapy patch typically used for athletes. This product treats pain and improves blood circulation and tissue recovery from injuries such as a fall. Within 30 minutes a wearer can see the effect on the reduction of a bruise. This drug-free alternative to acute injury has been used by professional athletes for decades.  This is a really cool product for which I can see many applications.

Naolu Brain Tech (BrainUp)

Two exhibitors, one wearing a hat with bunny ears, in front of screen that says Naolu Brain Tech (BrainUp): Empowering partners, creating the brain science ecosystem.

Naolu Brain Tech BrainUp is a brain-computer interface product that is like a gym but for the brain. This product has practical applications, such as a deep sleep aid, brain/mental state examination, and brain training programs. Paired with an app, you can receive a real-time brain analysis converted into useful brain information that is easy to understand. Recognizing that brain health is important, but it was unclear what results you could expect from this product aside from better sleep.

Rothem Smart Bike Backlight

A man speaking into microphone in front of screen that says smart bicycle backlight.

Rothem is a smart bicycle backlight that predicts collisions between a bicycle and vehicle. This backlight fits bikes with an HD camera, buzzer, radar, speakers and a mic, and several bright LEDs. While the light makes the cyclist more visible to drivers, the radar tracks how close cars are getting and relays that to the rider via a display on their smartphone screen. When a car is too close, a loud buzzer sounds to alert the car. While I don’t believe this is “keeping seniors in the game,” I can see the value to the general public and as an application for wheelchair users, if the smart bicycle backlight can be affixed to a wheelchair.

Smarty Pans Smart Cookware

A woman wearing a headscarf gestures in front of cooking pan and screen showing the connected app.

Smarty Pans is a sensor-enabled cookware that automatically computes nutrition information of home cooked meals and allows users to create recipes while they cook, which are formatted by AI. The Smarty Pan pairs with an app that will store all your recipes and allow you to share them with others. This product is a great health and wellness tool that gets you cooking.

Strig Massage Tool

2 exhibitors wearing medical scrubs in front of a screen that says Strig.

Strig is an advanced massage tool with micro-current and micro-vibration to relieve muscle pain and recover faster. This product seemed like a good drug-free alternative for pain relief. It was recommended to use Strig for 3–5-minute intervals, take a break, and then repeat the process three times. This light and portable device seemed to have good application for chronic muscle pain.

D Free Bladder Monitor

Man in turquoise polo shirt speaks into microphone, holding up a small white cord.

Triple W DFree is a wearable device that predicts when the user needs to go to the bathroom. Its sensor uses ultrasound to monitor the bladder, sending notification to your smartphone when your bladder is almost full, resulting in less accidents. Now this product ”keeps seniors in the game” and can have many other applications for other populations.

Yoganotch AI Yoga Coach with Notch Sensors

Exhibitor speaking into microphone in front of screen, reads: Yoga Notch Personal Yoga Instructor in Your Phone.

Yoganotch is an Al yoga coach built on the Notch technology platform. People wear Notch sensors and practice yoga with real-time personalized technique feedback. The AI coach corrects your stance and recommends positions. This is a great option for those who could benefit from yoga, but would prefer not to attend classes. There are multiple video classes you can watch that also give you the ability to develop a sequence of yoga positions on your own.

Zibrio SmartScale

A blonde woman holding a presentation clicker in front of screen that says stay in the game.

Zibrio is a SmartScale that uses a highly sensitive algorithm to measure your postural stability and fall risk in a 60-second standing test while you keep your eyes open. Zibrio pairs with an app and you can obtain a balance profile over time, as well as an explanation of your score on a scale of 1–10. Improving  balance can affect many other aspects of health. This was the product that won AARP’s innovation award for “keeping seniors in the game!”

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