Like most tech PR people, the new year doesn’t feel like it has truly begun for me until I fall asleep on a redeye flight back from Las Vegas and the annual International Consumer Electronics Show.

This show gets a little bit bigger every year. Bigger isn’t always better, though. While I had the pleasure of showing a groundbreaking, superior piece of technology, some exhibitors weren’t so lucky. Much of the tech displayed at this year’s show felt very iterative, as opposed to some impressive, innovative shows in recent years.

We saw a lot of smart home hubs. An odd number of companies presented solutions to porch pirates… but isn’t that ultimately an Amazon bottom line problem? The “robot vacuum cleaner” category is poised to explode, as I saw rows and rows of them, all reminiscent of Roomba. It felt like everyone added AI to existing “smart” products this year – I imagine this is what it felt like in the 80s when every home device was redesigned with a clock in it. More than anything, I saw a lot of devices that solved very specific, minor problems. Convenient as they may be, it’s hard to get really excited about them.

The standouts for me were some big thinking devices designed around some big problems:

Breadbot is the hero that grocery stores need

Countertop devices that make bread are nothing new. Remember Will Ferrell toting around that Oster model in Old School? It has three speeds! But Breadbot is more like a self contained, automated bakery. You dump in ingredients, and it makes 10 fresh golden loaves all by itself.

At $100,000 for a five-year lease, Breadbot is decidedly not a consumer device. So it was an interesting choice for CES – but the media buzz clearly paid off. And the broader application is clear: retailers are fighting for their lives. If Toys R’ Us can fail, anyone can. And neighborhood grocers in particular will need to plus up their consumer experience, with in-home meal kits, grocery delivery, and *gulp* Amazon moving into their turf.

Willow 2.0 hacks breastfeeding

When I heard Willow 2 would be showing at CES, I was delighted. It’s been 20 years since the original movie came out. Would Val Kilmer come back as Madmardigan? Elora’s an adult by now, and Warwick Davis could definitely pull off an older, wiser farmer-magician. Let’s do this.

Turns out, we were NOT talking about a return to a fantasy world of high adventure*, but a substantial upgrade to a life-changing device: the Willow breast pump. While I can’t speak from direct experience, breastfeeding can be tough for new moms, especially when they’re trying to get back into their old routine in the office. And celebrity moms have been bringing lots of great, positive attention to breast pumps in recent weeks, with iconic Instagram posts from the likes of Rachel Mcadams and Hilary Duff. Willow’s discrete, speedy in-bra pump could be a real lifesaver.

Quell eases pain without drugs

Opioid dependency is a national epidemic, and will clearly require heavy legislative lifting and some of the brightest minds in medicine to create a long term solution. But NeuroMetrix’s innovative, drug-free pain management device, Quell, presents a hopeful new direction.

Quell bucks the trend of multi-feature wrist wearables, instead focusing on neurological pulses to block the sense of pain. Essentially, it jump starts your body’s own pain management facilities without introducing any drugs into your system. It’s a potential game change for chronic pain sufferers.

Neurometrix also deserves credit for featuring real users in their social media videos, and having the courage to discuss the *complicated* issue of opioid addiction on their consumer facing social media channels.

*please note, Willow 2.0 doesn’t mean we can’t have a true sequel to 1988’s Willow. If you’re George Lucas, let’s talk!

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