CES may be the world’s largest showcase for technology’s giants, but it’s also one of the primary hubs for the scene’s innovative upstarts. One of its convention areas, known as “Eureka Park,” often hosts more than 1,200 startups from more than 40 countries.
And although flashy booths from the likes of Google, Intel, Huawei and more typically generate buzz, it’s the startups that tend to have riveting stories — and even some of the most talked-about products.
Here are five of the most inspiring startups we found at the show.
Leal Tien has always been a fan of science-fiction novels. That’s why The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s “Babel fish” — a creature that can reside in your ear and translate any language spoken to you in real time — inspired him to co-found his translation tech company.
Launched in November 2018, Timekettle‘s headline product is the WT2 Plus, a set of AI-powered translation earpieces that are already brought in about $3 million in sales despite little to no advertising.
Another of Tien’s inspirations? His parents, who speak only one language. “It was too awkward,” he remembers hearing. Finally, Tien understood that it wasn’t just about translation — it was about communication, comfortable interaction and building closer relationships.
Currently, most translator options on the market require more work on the consumer’s part than the WT2 Plus does. But using Tien’s solution, people can communicate via simply splitting the earpieces and sharing one with another; then, they can both start communicating immediately.
Build something you yourself would buy, and others will likely do the same. That’s one of the reasons Christian Adel Michael and Julie Kronstrom Carton founded MATE in 2016 after spending about two years searching for a cool, affordable electric bicycle.
The brother-and-sister team hail from Copenhagen, a city that apparently has more bikes than people. When the two couldn’t find a hip, clean-cut e-bike, they knew there was a “hole in the market,” Michael said.
Since that first campaign, MATE has sold 8,000 bikes to customers in more than 50 countries. The e-bikes are available now, and until Jan. 31, 2018, discounted pricing starts at $699 plus shipping costs. After that date, prices in the U.S. will likely rise to between $1,400 and $2,000, Carton said.
It’s difficult to disrupt the hearing aid industry — it’s institutional, and it’s regulated by the FDA. But among individuals ages, 20 to 69 with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids, only about 16 percent has ever used them. That suggests the time is ripe for something new.
And Eargo — cool, invisible hearing aids sold directly to consumers instead of through a clinician — offers just that. Prices range from about $1,950 to $2,750, which the company says is much lower than the $8,000 to $10,000 industry standard for “invisible” hearing aids, and they come with a sleek portable charging case.
Founders Florent Michel, a medical doctor, Raphael Michel, and Daniel Shen wanted to decrease hearing aid cost and stigma, and they did it by way of the former’s invention of Flexi Fibers — medical-grade silicone and a key part of Eargo hearing aids.
Hearing aid regulations were stringent, but Eargo found a grey area: The FDA doesn’t regulate the sale of hearing aids. That’s regulated state by state, and if you’re certified to sell (or “dispense”) hearing aids in one state, you’d have to pass an examination to sell them in another.
Eargo put its product up for sale online, directly to consumers. Industry veteran Christian Gormsen thought it was crazy (What kind of consumer is going to spend thousands of dollars on hearing aids online, especially when many are in their 60s and older?) Now, Gormsen is Eargo’s CEO.
In 2005, Emanuele Musini’s father passed away from a heart condition. He hadn’t been taking his medications as directed or following all of his doctor’s orders, Musini said, and the tragedy hit his family hard. A nagging thought kept at Musini over the following years: What if there had been a “someone” there to help keep an eye on his father and his health plan? What would have happened then?
That’s why he created Pillo, a healthcare assistant for the home, after co-founding his company Pillo Health. The device is available now and costs $499, plus a $39 monthly subscription. The user can then opt for Pillo to dispense it.
Another feature of Pillo: A user can ask it questions about health, from general (“How many calories are in an apple?”) to specific (“Show me my wellness plan”). They can scroll through their medication types and times, as well as their “care friends” (or caregivers).
Consumer robotics company Intelino is the very definition of a startup: founder Dr. Armen Kroyan officially launched it the first day of CES 2019. Its first product? A $99 “smart train set” billed as the first of its kind, complete with engine, wagons, track pieces, decals, charging cable and — perhaps most unique — “action snaps,” or small, colored plastic tiles that can snap onto any piece of track.
The tiles’ colors are correlated with different smart features — green denotes speed, for example, so placing three green action snaps in a row would command the train to move fast, two would yield a medium speed and one would mean slow.
One redaction snap tells the train to stop for two seconds, while three in a row would make it stop for 10. Blue is associated with a direction, while yellow is for dropping off a wagon.
And there’s an optional Bluetooth-enabled companion app that can act as a training dashboard, manual override mode, way to create custom action commands for the snaps and more.
Kroyan dreamed up the new take on “connected play” from firsthand experience as a parent to two young boys. His older son, now age 7, has been playing with train sets since he was 2, but the way he played with them shifted over the years: At first, he needed a lot of help building the tracks, but as he grew, he built more and more elaborate track designs.
Kroyan wanted to create a way for kids, including his own, to use technology actively instead of passively consuming content by way of screens.