Product, Service & Design Innovation
CES Tech for a Better World:
Insights on Innovation and Social Purpose

With the 2019 Tech for a Better World honorees, CES makes the statement that technology should positively impact humanity and the natural world.

The 2019 Consumer Electronic Show (CES) — the world’s largest and most influential tech event — concluded on Friday with a record 1,200+ startups among the 4,500 exhibitors. More than 20,000 products launched from the show floor, including 35 mighty innovations that do more than improve your selfie game: They use technology to change the world.

I’d know. This time last year, I found myself at CES alongside a 4-lb, 11” robotic companion with a social cause: My Special Aflac Duck. We worked with our partners, Aflac and Sproutel, to develop that breakthrough idea, which received the 2018 CES Tech for a Better World Award.

With this amazing accolade under our collective wings, here’s my take on this year’s honorees, and what purpose-driven brands and organizations can learn from them.

Polls show that security and health top the list of issues Americans care about most, and those concerns were reflected in this year’s honorees. Among the notable inventions — including this year’s winner — that focus on health and wellbeing are:

  • Atmospheric Water Generator (Watergen): GENNY is a water-from-air generator that offers constant access to safe drinking water, eliminating environmental waste and plastic bottles, as well as a dependence on tap water. This product won the coveted 2019 Tech for a Better World top honor.

  • ChuangChuang, The Intelligent Commercial Service Robot (Chuangze Intelligent Robot Co., Ltd.): Medical facilities and educational institutions one day may use this intelligent service robot as a back-up doctor or teacher. Remote transmission allows it to share resources as well as expert guidance.

  • Oticon KAIZN™ (Oticon, Inc.): An AI hearing aid that learns users’ hearing needs and sound preferences and automatically adjusts to optimize sound settings in different situations.

  • QTrobot (LuxAI): A humanoid robot, built to reflect scientific approaches to teaching new skills to children with autism spectrum disorder.

Other honorees are designed to promote safety and security, including:

  • App-Elles (Resonates): A SOS bracelet connected to a free safety app for female victims of violence. App-Elles® enables users to alert their contacts with easy, real-time GPS tracking and live audio streaming. 

  • E-vone, the Shoe with Fall Detection (E-vone): A fashionable, connected shoe. Designed for our aging population, E-vone can detect falls and automatically alert caregivers.

  • Hive Link (Centrica Hive): A service that uses connected smart devices to learn the routine of a vulnerable individual. Families can use an app to check their loved one’s activity log, getting critical notifications related to changes in routine or unusual activity.

With the 2019 Tech for a Better World honorees, CES makes the statement that technology should not only be about greater speed or convenience in our lives; it should positively impact humanity and the natural world. Technology needs a deeper purpose.

Here are a few take-aways for purpose-driven innovators everywhere:

  • Respond to authentic social needs — safety and health are basic human needs and there are many ways to address them. Make sure your social purpose-oriented tech breakthrough doesn’t just sound cool, but addresses real human needs such as clean water, the prevention of victim abuse or improved hearing or vision.

  • Ground your innovation in critical needs and insights — for My Special Aflac Duck, it took months to determine an unmet need — social and emotional support — for children undergoing cancer treatment. Once the concept was developed — a social robot — it took over one year of child-centered design for Sproutel to create the needed functionality to its shape, features and core interactive elements. Deep research brought the duck to “life.” Thorough analysis and listening are key to developing breakthrough social impact innovation.

  • Stand out by leading with the issue — CES reports that the number of honorees in the Tech for a Better World category increased markedly this year. It’s tough to get noticed. This year’s honorees didn’t lead with technical specs, however impressive they were. They clearly communicated about the issue they are addressing and how their product helps solve it.

Following these and other best practices resulted in an incredible year for My Special Aflac Duck. It included thousands of miles traveled, more than a dozen speeches, billions of media impressions and multiple accolades, all culminating in the most important impact: providing social-emotional support to the thousands of children undergoing cancer treatment across the U.S. I can only hope that the 2019 honorees will create impacts that are every bit as profound.


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