CES 2021—the tech industry’s annual mega-show—moved to an all-digital format this year due to the pandemic. About 1,800 exhibitors have been taking part in the virtual show, which Consumer Technology Association (CTA)® has hosted all week. Companies showcased products via virtual press conferences, Zoom rooms, and an all-digital expo floor experience.
By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, Contributing Editor for REALTOR® Magazine.
Technology companies are racing to respond to the coronavirus crisis with products intended to help you connect remotely. Robots, augmented reality, and new filtered air solutions for the home are among the tech developments the real estate industry is watching.
Here are a few trends to watch:
1. Greater emphasis on cleanliness.
Portable air filters, robotic vacuums, and ultraviolet light sanitation products are trending. Companies are adding touchless and voice-enabled tech, such as for smart locks and faucets, to prevent the spread of germs at home and in the workplace. Several companies are presenting air purification systems—some portable—to help filter out harmful germs in indoor environments.
Homebuilders are paying attention to buyers’ increased interest in healthier homes, too. For example, Taylor Morrison’s TM LiveWell model home highlights improved ventilation for indoor air quality, filtered drinking water, and nontoxic building materials containing fewer chemicals. More than a third of potential home buyers say they want a new home with better health and wellness features, Erik Heuser, chief corporate operations officer at Taylor Morrison, recently told BUILDER.
2. 5G connectivity serves as a backbone for innovation. More than 67 million 5G smartphones are expected to ship in 2021, according to CTA. As 5G service becomes more available across the country, tech firms believe the super-fast connection speeds—10 times faster than 4G—will pave the way for rapid innovation in smart-home tech, autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, and connected cities. “5G is so much more than just another tech innovation,” Hans Vestberg, CEO of Verizon, said Monday at a session during CES 2021. “It makes other innovations possible.” Vestberg added that there are about 14.2 billion connected technology products currently supported on 4G networks. The field is predicted to grow to 55 billion products by 2025, which will require the support of 5G networks, he said.
3. Interest grows for robotics and drones. As the pandemic made less physical contact necessary, companies increasingly turned to robotics and drones, said Lesley Rorhbaugh, director of research for CTA. She predicted accelerated adoption of more robotic technology across industries. “These solutions are becoming necessary to stay safe and protected,” she said. Retailers are turning to robots to stock store shelves. Hygiene robots like the Xenex LightStrike disinfect commercial spaces using UV light. Drones are increasing in demand for contactless deliveries, she noted.
In real estate, could robot-led home tours become more commonplace? In 2017, real estate startup Zenplace began offering such tours, enabling a remote real estate agent to speak to potential customers in a video chat while the robot shows the house, gliding from room to room. Since the pandemic, “we are seeing unprecedented demand for our platform across 35-plus states,” Jason Green, a spokesman for Zenplace, told CNBC in March.
4. As more information heads to the cloud, security concerns grow. Fifty-nine percent of global enterprises expect their cloud usage to increase due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Flexera’s 2020 State of the Cloud Report. But as more data moves to the cloud—including home sales—security remains a paramount concern. Eighty-three percent of companies cite security as their top concern as more processes move to the cloud, according to the report. Tech companies are rushing to develop greater encryption technology to better protect business data. In real estate, cybersecurity remains a top concern due to the growth of wire fraud scams, but you can step up your defense against hackers.
5. Smart-home tech adoption accelerates. Voice commands via Amazon Alexa and Google Home are simplifying the use of smart-home devices. And the call for cleaner homes is fostering an interest in smart-home products for air filtration. Kohler is debuting several motion sensors and touchless operations for kitchen and bathroom faucets to prevent the spread of germs. Also, greater artificial intelligence is being added into smart-home tech to recall user preferences and make suggestions. AI is being incorporated into everything from television sets for content suggestions to washer and dryers for recommend wash cycles. The largest growth in smart-home products centers on smart displays, doorbells, and appliances, CTA notes in its tech forecast.
6. Augmented reality overlays the real world. By 2030, tech firm IDTechEx predicts that the augmented, virtual, and mixed reality markets will surpass $30 billion. Koenig foresees rapid growth in augmented reality, which is the projection of digital information like graphics, text, and sound onto the real world. Beyond smart glasses, AR is increasingly being used in smartphone applications—an advantage over having to wear bulky VR headsets to immerse in 3D realities, Koenig notes. The real estate industry is dabbling in AR by offering up different views of staged homes or scenarios for remodeling. Buyers can use AR apps to better visualize a space according to their own design tastes. For example, Australian startup RealAR offers 3D configurations of properties using AR via a smartphone app. The technology could also help buyers better visualize properties when viewing them remotely.
7. Masks get smarter. A mask is becoming an essential part of your everyday wardrobe. Several companies are touting high-tech masks with added air filters for safety. Rorhbaugh says some smart masks may be able to track environmental conditions around you, such as alerting you on your smartphone when you’ve entered an area with high pollution. LG is launching the PuriCare Wearable Air Purifier, a battery-operated face mask that features two H13 HEPA filters with dual fans. It also comes with a case with UV-LED lights that can kill harmful germs and charge the mask between uses (price information yet to be released). Binatone’s MaskFone a medical grade N95 mask with built-in wireless headphones and a microphone. It includes voice control using Alexa.