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CES 2021: The Year of Clean Tech

My first ever experience of CES was always going to be a bit strange given the manner in which this year’s iconic Consumer Electronics Show was presented.

It almost goes without saying that in early 2021, the idea of attending a show in Vegas along with 182,000 other people was never going to happen. This year, CES was entirely virtual.

I won’t dwell on the weirdness of seeing panel discussions carried out in a variety of people’s bedrooms or question the wisdom of CES’s decision to use Microsoft Teams for many of the talks (I hope you can imagine just how awesome that experience was!).

Also, bear in mind that CES is consumer-centric, therefore the products and concepts on show at the event are aimed more at the consumer market. However, also remember that every single B2B customer is also a consumer, and the trends driving their behaviour will inevitably have a knock-on effect in the B2B world.

For the first of our short articles on this year’s hot consumer trends, I’d like to talk about one of the main themes from this year – Clean Technology.

No, clean technology is not about washing your hands before scrolling Instagram – it’s more a reflection of some of solutions to the issues that have been exacerbated by the COViD pandemic.

When thinking about Clean Technology, there are two main examples of how technology is being used to create healthier and safer environments.

Cleaner enclosed environments

Bathroom innovators, Kohler, were keen to display their range of touch-less home products. Based on their research, which found that 85% of Americans want non-touch home devices, they are betting big on a future where consumers would prefer not to touch toilets or soap dispensers.

Given that many of us are considering a post-COViD world where we are able to work from home more, there is a real opportunity for traditional companies to innovate around home-based products.

Pre-pandemic, Americans are said to have spent 87% of their time in an enclosed environment. These days, much of that time is going to be spent in the home. This puts more pressure on existing home technologies (like heating and ventilation for example).

Combine this shift in occupancy habits with the maturing IoT (internet of things – eg Smart speakers, smart thermostats etc) market and we have ready access to the data that could enable us to create truly ‘smart’ enclosed environments.

There is a well understood correlation between environmental quality and health. IoT sensors enable us to detect things like CO2 levels, pollutants, noise levels, humidity and temperature.

One company trying to bring combine IoT sensors, data and clean tech together is Pure365. Their technology can measure air quality, adjust environmental factors (such as heating) and even filter the air of an entire home (or business).

Pure365 is by no means the only player in this space. There’s a significant number of companies old and new operating in this space. Like the LG mini air purifier or the Airpop connected mask

In the commercial world, there are huge opportunities to use sensor data to optimise whole buildings. Sensors and control tech can ensure that unoccupied office (for example) are able to enter into ‘low energy’ modes.

There are also significant opportunities to save money and resources simply by using sensors to monitor water consumption. Water leaks cost individual businesses thousands, and this is before you factor in water damage, health consequences of dampness etc.

Hygiene innovations

The second noteworthy trend at CES with regard to clean tech is arguably a direct response to the COViD pandemic.

There are dozens of new gadgets designed to clean personal items, shared equipment and even whole offices.

Many of these new technologies leverage well understood tech such as Ultra Violet lights (UV). UV is know to be an effective way of killing the COViD virus on surfaces (such as desks, keyboards and mobile phones).

Targus, doyens of the ubiquitous laptop bag, won an innovation award at CES this year for their UV desktop lamp.

There is also a UV spewing robot (pictured at the top of this article), and Motrex have designed a phone sanitation pod and charger for your car that will sterilize while it charges.

Hygiene Theatre

One word of warning from Jeffrey Siegel, a civil engineering professor at the University of Toronto who researches ventilation and indoor air quality.

There's a lot of money to be made in this space, and most of that money is probably being made by less than scrupulous actors in the field, so there's a lot more kind of ‘hygiene theatre’ than there is actual stuff that works out there.

The Future of Clean Tech

It’s hard to say whether the trend for companies to create sterilizing gadgets will continue after the pandemic – and maybe that depends on how frequent these kinds of events become.

The healthy building tech market has, in my opinion, greater longevity.

It’s widely predicted that workers will expect companies to support them in working more flexibly in the future. This means that we are likely to spend more time in our apartments and houses. Consumers (and therefore home workers – since that particular line has become very blurred) are going to want to work in a healthy and sustainable home environment. And given that they’re effectively turning their living spaces into offices, they will expect their employers to support them


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