When it’s time to select the “Best of Innovation” products at CES , where do the judges begin exactly? This year’s Consumer Electronics Show featured over 2,200 exhibitors, after all.

How do you decide that an autonomous tractor is more innovative than, say, a humanoid robot? Or a health-monitoring wearable? Or a VR headset meant for the metaverse?

One CES attendee had a guess at the criteria.

“It’s that intersection of high tech that matters to the world,” Julian Sanchez, Director of Emerging Technology at the tractor manufacturer John Deere, told me this week.

Deere — and its creation of a precise “See and Spray ” herbicide dispenser — was one of 15 recipients of the annual “Best of Innovation” Awards at CES.

The “See and Spray” system uses trained cameras to zero-in on weeds and distribute only the exact amount of herbicide needed to strike the unwanted plants. The A.I.-enabled technology reduces costs and supports sustainability efforts — two benefits that matter to the world, you might say.

“This is helping save thousands of dollars for farmers and also helps the environment,” Sanchez said.

While 2,200 other exhibitors will almost certainly claim to “matter” too, plenty of this year’s “Best of Innovation” technologies found unique, sophisticated ways to address problems of significance.

Here’s a look at some “Best Of” winners who are providing answers to major questions related to mobility, agriculture, smart homes, and even lost pets.

A VEHICLE YOU CAN FIT UNDER YOUR BED

The WHILL Model F – Foldable Personal EV; WHILL, Inc. (Yokohama, Japan)

Weighing just under 60 pounds with a battery, the personal electric vehicle known as the WHILL Model F  folds up in “one click.”

“You can store it under a bed when you’re not using it, put it in a corner, or put it in a closet,” said Jonathan Jennings, Director of Product Marketing at WHILL. You can even drive the app-connected vehicle remotely — an advantage for caregivers who may need to take over for tired patients, according to Jennings. The connected EV also allows users to secure the chair, as well as check motor stats, total mileage, battery level, and other indicators of overall health.

 

 

A BATTERY FOR THE OFFSHORE POWER GRID

Ocean Battery; Ocean Grazer (Groningen, Netherlands)

The modular Ocean Battery  effectively takes hydrodam technology — the generation of energy from falling water — and brings it directly to the sea.

With the Ocean Grazer technology, excess renewable energy from offshore wind farms can be routed to the battery, pumping clean water from rigid underground reservoirs. As the battery sends water from the stiff reservoirs into flexible bladders, located atop the seabed, the water becomes highly pressurized. When there is a demand for power, this stored water-energy flows back from the flexible bladders to the low-pressure reservoirs, which then drive multiple hydro-turbines to generate electricity. “At sea, you get the pressure difference for free,” said CEO Dr. Frits Bliek. “You don’t have to build a hydrodam. It’s available as a natural force.”

A model of the ocean battery, with reservoirs and bladders above and below the seabed.

LAWN CARE, AUTOMATED

OtO Lawn; OtO Inc. (Concord, Ontario, Canada)

OtO Lawn  is a solar-powered, smart irrigation device that only requires a hose and a Wi-Fi connection. A user then goes into their phone and moves a joystick to determine the exact parts of the lawn that need the most love. The cloud-connected system uses wind and rain reports to determine optimal times to send out water. With the scan of a QR code, the system can also deploy fertilizer, mosquito repellent, and enzyme-based cleanup for dogs. The idea, according to CEO Ali Sabti, is to still work on your lawn, but in a way that’s not exhausting or expensive. “OtO is still DIY, but it cuts a lot of the work and makes it extra convenient where you can actually enjoy the different aspects of your yard versus having to do this manual work on an ongoing basis,” said Sabti.

 

 

FIND YOUR DOG WITH YOUR SMARTPHONE

PetNow – The Nose Print Identification App for Dogs; PetNow Inc. (Seoul, Republic of Korea)

A dog’s nose is actually a lot like a fingerprint; it’s unique and doesn’t change, which makes the feature a valuable authenticator for a pup. “PetNow ” offers a way for owners to find their lost dogs. An owner begins by registering their dog’s nose print with the service. When someone sees a lost or abandoned pooch, the human finder can download the PetNow app, scan the lost animal’s nose, and confirm the owner and owner’s location. “What we’re trying to do is essentially make a world without lost or abandoned dogs,” said Peter Jung, Business Development Manager.

Rocky is lost and found, once the camera scans its nose.

SMART HOMES, SMART WATER

RainStick Shower; RainStick (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

The RainStick  shower recirculates a small amount of water again and again, saving both energy and water and, in fact, doubling the flow. The water moves in a loop and continuously gets screened, filtrated, and hit with an intense UV cleaning treatment. A pump sends water at 3 gallons per minute, and a heater in the RainStick maintains temperature. The product comes with a drain reservoir with about a half-gallon of freshwater. “We’ve done an incredible amount of things to make our home smarter, but we’ve really left intelligent water use behind,” said Sean McFetridge CTO of RainStick , “so this is another tool in our kit to just do more with less.”

 

 

A DIGITAL TEST STRIP FOR COVID-19

TestNpass; GRAPHEAL (Grenoble, France)

TestNpass  combines just what you’d expect: A test and a pass. The detachable pass, containing encrypted facial-recognition data, acts as an authenticator and interfaces wirelessly with smartphones and access points like doors.” We use the same technology as non-contact banking and credit card encryption,” said Dr. Vincent Bouchiat, CEO and co-founder at GRAPHEAL.

TestNpass’s graphene-based biosensors detect COVID-19 antigens and provide digital results. The free smartphone app integrates a biometric identifier to anonymously identify users on-site. The tool, which offers results in about 5 minutes, may be useful for organizations that may need to screen large populations for pathogens — like the organizers of a giant conference in Las Vegas, for example.

With Testnpass, the “pass” detaches from the test.

TURNING WINDOWS INTO DISPLAY SCREENS

VideowindoW Glare Control Display; VideowindoW (Delft; Netherlands)

By adjusting the transparency of glass, VideowindoW  turns everyday windows into a screen. With the “Shading as a Service,” you can project anything you like: commercials, auto-generated flowers, games, or flight information. Rotterdam Airport, in fact, has used VideowindoW in its terminals. The VideowindoW breaks up glass into pixel-like liquid crystal display modules. Each pixel’s transparency ranges and is continuously adjusted to exterior daylight.

The thin-film transistor liquid crystal display is a sustainable approach, said international business strategist for VideowindoW Jan Karel Mak, because the screen reduces the energy consumption of a building. “It doesn’t need much energy because the light comes from outside, so there’s no lamps and no cooling.”

 

 

Other “Best of Innovation” honors were awarded to the FreeStyle Libre 3 system from Abbott; the Galaxy Z Flip3 Bespoke Edition from Samsung; the Leica BLK ARC Leica Geosystems; Magna ICON Digital Radar from Magna International; POLYGON from IRSAP SPA; TCL X9 8K OD Zero Mini-LED TV (X295 PRO) from TCL Electronics; and Thunderbolt 4 – Truly Universal Cable Connectivity from Intel.