From afar, it was hard to pick out the big themes of this year's CES. Voice assistants? Perhaps. AR/VR? There was certainly a lot of it. TVs? Well, when are they not?
But from the inside, another interesting trend was emerging from the world's most high-tech circus: wearables for people who need them the most. For the last few years wearable tech has been a growing resident of the Vegas show. But what stood out for me this year were the companies thinking about the needs of people who live with debilitating conditions. At CES, wearables were flexing their muscles and showing they could do things other technologies can't.
Read this: The best wearable tech of CES 2018
Back again at the show was Omron, this time with news that its HeartGuide blood-pressure smartwatch is almost ready to go. Though you wouldn't guess it to look at it, the watch will record your blood pressure throughout the day and night. Anyone who has to regularly check for hypertension knows this usually involves wrapping an obtrusive cuff around the arm. With the HeartGuide watch you could take your reading in a meeting and nobody else in the room would even know it. Once it's got FDA approval, expect to see the watch on sale later this year.
On the other side of the show floor, Samsung's C-Labs was showing off its Relúmĭno glasses, made to improve the eyesight of people with impaired vision. For people with glaucoma, macular degeneration and other damaging conditions, these glasses could mean a better quality of life. Right now they're running off a paired smartphone, but its creators think they should be able to cram all of the tech into a pair of glasses in the next two years.
Meanwhile, several companies are turning their attention to assistive hearing. Almost 50 million Americans suffer from some degree of hearing loss, and with the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act being signed into law, companies like Nuheara and Bragi are set to pounce on the opportunity and market assistive hearing devices to the masses. Bragi came to CES to announce Project Ears, which will work towards making a device that can function as a hearing aid and ease tinnitus.
But prevention is also important. Take Prevent's smart mouthguard, which was also on demo at the show. This is worn by football players and alerts coaches when a potentially dangerous collision is detected. Concussions are a significant yet underserved problem in football: a recent examination of 111 deceased NFL players found that 110 of them showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (note: these brains had been donated because they showed symptoms of the degenerative disease but nonetheless the survey showed how prominent this problem is). Tech like Prevent's mouthguard could help curb the problem.
L'Oreal was also at CES showing off its UV sensor, small enough to stick on a thumbnail. The wafer-thin chip, disguised as a colourful piece of jewellery, will monitor your sun exposure and tell you, via your smartphone, when you've had enough. More than just a proof of concept, the cosmetics brand intends to put the sensor on sale. And sure, it's a clever way to get you to buy L'Oreal sunscreen and moisturiser, but if it saves your skin from some nasty skin damage, does that really matter?
As Wareable editor Mike said, "The face of wearables is changing, but it's definitely for the better." I couldn't agree more, because this technology is proving not only why it can be useful, but why it can be essential.