In a “normal” year, CES is an event built on spectacle, in what is arguably the world’s best venue for Las Vegas excess. Robots, butlers, cars that do everything but levitate, paper-thin televisions that one can roll up and carry with them, mechanical suits and just about any other type of “you have to see it to believe it” technical wonders are standard fare for the massive trade show that kicks off every calendar year.

But the year 2021 will not be a normal year off to a normal start, meaning the “see it to believe it” part of CES will be a bit different. Like Google’s, Apple’s and Amazon’s big device events that came before it, CES is going virtual this year, swapping out Vegas for an all-online format – which means the world will get to see the latest round of wonders put out by the tech industry.

As always, big-screen TVs with ever fancier features, smart cars and wild gadgets are a prominent part of the program. And after almost a year spent at home for most consumers, much of the CES innovation this year involves building smarter, more connected and cleaner homes. The smart home has notably been a hot area during the pandemic period, with sales of goods like smart speakers, connected security systems and robots spiking over the last several months. The expectation for CES is more innovation and development along that line. But much of the smart home innovations presented at CES, Digital Trends reports, will likely come care of smaller independent players looking to stake a claim in the fast-emerging market.

Among the categories that will see the most smart home activity, according to the show’s organizers, are home security and whole-home Wi-Fi (a.k.a. mesh Wi-Fi) routers, which extend wireless networks and optimize home networks that support numerous devices. For example, Netgear received an innovation award this week for its Orbi Pro WiFi 6 (SXK80) Tri-band Mesh System for work-from-home and home-based businesses. Whole-home Wi-Fi systems reached revenues of $1.1 billion in 2020, according to the CES organizers.

Wireless providers will also make a play in the home broadband market, and 5G home gateways will be a major part of that rollout. Here, Leedarson’s FINET 5G gateway won an innovation award for its wireless security gateway, built to handle 5G technologies with faster download speeds and the ability to orchestrate multiple devices for remote work.

Also widely forecast for a big year, according to the expert tech watchers going into CES 2021, will be a massive push from makers of smartwatches, fitness bands and more out-of-the-box wearable concepts to the digital audience. The Vuzix Next-Generation Smart Glasses (NGSG) enter the show with multiple CES 2021 Innovation Awards for design and engineering. The glasses, according to their parent company, combine most smartphone and smartwatch capabilities, featuring a see-through 3D display powered by one of the smallest micro-LED display engines in the world.

“Vuzix has been working on wearable display technology for the last 20 years, and we are excited to announce this culmination of breakthroughs in the development of our technology that opens the door for a new wave of consumer and enterprise smart glasses devices from Vuzix. A balance of technology, style and substance is embodied in the industrial design and specifications of our Next-Generation Smart Glasses,” said Paul Travers, president and CEO at Vuzix.

Also expected to make a showing at CES in 2021 will be advances in smart car connections – particularly in regard to upgrading infotainment systems to more clearly mirror smartphone functionality, with shopping and gaming capabilities embedded directly in the vehicle’s display screen.

“Autonomy is the next frontier for many companies, and it’s a topic we’re expecting to hear much more about during CES 2021,” Digital Trends noted.

That front will be dominated by a public showing of Zoox’s low-speed robotaxi. The scaled-down autonomous cube, which was built by recent Amazon acquisition Zoox, features four-wheel steering that permits it to maneuver into very tiny spaces, and can drive in either direction.

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