Best of the best: Our 10 favorite CES 2021 Best of Innovation award winners

From a smart faucet to a robotic harvester to a medical-grade wearable device that can detect early COVID-19 symptoms, this year's winners proved innovation remains resilient during a pandemic.

20210108-ces-zd-bill.jpg

This year's CES may have had to shift to a completely remote format, but the innovations are alive and well.

As part of the show, every year, CES holds a competition to honor outstanding design and engineering in consumer tech products. Companies are named in 28 consumer tech product categories and a gold badge is awarded to the highest-rated product in each category or a white badge for a product that scores above the threshold set for a specific category.

SEE: CES 2021: The big trends for business (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature)

The product entered must be available in the market for the first time between April 1, 2020, and April 1, 2021. Not surprisingly, this year, some of the products put forth by 191 companies were influenced by the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

There were 285 products that received recognition and 20 Best of Innovation award winners. Here are 10 of our favorites among the winners in a variety of categories.

Smart cities

EES (Electromagnetic Engineered Surfaces)
By E2IP Technologies

E2IP's EES was developed in partnership with the Communications Research Centre Canada to enable the development of smart cities to better connect infrastructure, devices, and people. 5G will be core to this development.

EES are thin, semi-transparent plastic sheets that reflect, redirect, or block specific radiofrequency waves. The company says the low-cost sheets are flexible and can be deployed on outdoor or indoor structural surfaces such as buildings, signs, or interior walls to augment, direct, or inhibit specific telecom services.

Wearable technologies

BioButton medical grade device and data services
By BioIntelliSense

The coin-sized BioIntelliSense BioButton was funded and accelerated to address the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the health monitoring and clinical intelligence company. BioButton is a disposable wearable device that continuously measures temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate at rest.

Any statistical changes are analyzed for potential signs and symptoms of early COVID-19 infection. The scalable health screening and contact tracing device helps determine when it is safe to return to work, school, etc.

Vehicle intelligence & transportation

Waymo Driver
By Waymo

The fifth generation of Waymo's self-driving technology, the Waymo Driver is designed to improve safety and provide new mobility offerings. Waymo Driver can be applied to multiple vehicle platforms and power use cases across ride-hailing, trucking, local delivery, and personal car ownership.

This latest system is more powerful and designed for scale in an effort to ensure safer and easier transportation.

High-performance home audio or video

Harman Kardon Radiance 2400
By Harman International Industries

For those who don't want to compromise sound quality but may be space-constrained, the Radiance features two ultra-slim floor-standing speakers with a powerful subwoofer and Beamwidth Technology. Gone is the need for wires or big boxy speakers.

A compact digital hub connects to a TV and other AV devices, while Wi-Fi allows easy access to your favorite HD music streaming services and provides an immersive, room-filling sound.

Accessibility

OrCam Read
By OrCam Technologies

OrCam Read is a pen-sized, wireless handheld device designed to empower people who have reading challenges with seamless audio text playback. OrCam reads text aloud from any printed surface (newspapers, books, product labels) or digital screen (computers, smartphones) – in real time. 

OrCam is lightweight and offers intuitive point-and-click operation. This personal AI reader captures a full page or screen, or the user can target where to begin reading. High-intensity LEDs automatically illuminate reading in dimly-lit environments.

All operation is processed offline, resulting in real-time audio communication of text from any surface, while ensuring data privacy.

Robotics

John Deere X-Series Combine
By John Deere

The agriculture industry is not for the faint of heart. Farmers are faced with massive challenges including narrow time windows, labor shortages, a growing world population, and erratic weather. John Deere's X-Series Combine harvester is a robotic machine that gathers ripe crops from fields.

It allows farmers to make the most of the critical time frame for harvesting crops they have spent an entire year planning, seeding, and nurturing.

Health & wellness

VROR EYE DR
By M2S

The technology within the VR headset stimulates the eyes and the eye-tracking sensor detects its movement. The sensor forwards the data to the examination algorithm and analyzes it. The headset generates the ophthalmic examination data in digital report form.

The examination data can be checked and the details reviewed from a mobile phone through M2S' mobile application. The application can also be utilized as an examination history book.

Home appliances

U by Moen Smart Faucet
By Moen Inc.

The U by Moen Smart Faucet offers completely touchless functionality and intuitive voice control technology to help homeowners complete tasks in the kitchen through their smart speaker or existing smart home ecosystem.

The faucet can be operated in three other ways: Touchless sensor control, handle control, and the Moen App. The app allows users to start, stop, and pause water flow and understand daily water consumption. Users can also create presets for the operation of the faucet.

Digital imaging or photography

Vespera
By Vaonis

Vespera is a compact and easy to use space observation station that is a hybrid between a smart telescope and a camera. It is designed to make astronomy accessible to everyone.

The app-enabled telescope is fully automated and combines optics, electronics, and high-precision mechanics. It allows users to easily photograph the wonders of the universe such as galaxies, nebulae, and stars, then share their discoveries with fellow stargazers around the world.

Computer peripherals & accessories

LUMI Keys 1
By Roli

Picture a keyboard that looks like a laptop and you'll have the LUMI platform for music learning. LUMI combines hardware, software, and content and lets a user choose the songs they love and play them instantly by following lights on an illuminated keyboard.

In addition to hundreds of songs, LUMI also provides lessons and exercises to build lifelong musical skills. It's an easy and fun way to self-learn how to play the piano.

Also see