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From touchless to high-tech, the smart home at CES 2021 reflected the times

Commentary: The past year certainly affected what we saw at CES, from absent brands to new touchless tech.

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Alarm.com's new touchless doorbell reflects the focus of some CES 2021 products.

Alarm.com
This story is part of CES, where our editors will bring you the latest news and the hottest gadgets of the entirely virtual CES 2021.

CES went virtual this year thanks to the ongoing pandemic, and while there was less news than normal we still got a good look at where the smart home is headed in 2021 and beyond. We saw new ways of thinking about the smart home when it comes to touchless tech, home security and virtual assistance around the house.

Not everything was reasonably priced or even out of the concept phase, but hey, that's what CES is all about -- the weird, wacky and wholly unaffordable tech of the future. Here are the highlights from the smart home category at CES 2021.

The touchless trend

Going touchless was a clear trend for CES 2021, with several companies demoing products that either reduce or remove touch interactions. Alarm.com's touchless doorbell is one good example. Kohler also expanded its line of touchless faucets and toilets (and rolled out a $16,000 bathtub). 

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Kohler

We also saw plenty of tech with cleanliness in mind. Air purifiers were seemingly everywhere, with two portable models, the Luftqi Luft Duo and the FrescheAir Portable HEPA Air Purifier/Deodorizer among them. The biggest is question of course is whether any of these are effective at cleaning the air and eliminating viral contaminants. We look forward to testing them out.

Read moreAir purifiers at CES 2021 are getting smaller, smarter and more innovative

Big players stayed home

Google was absent from CES this year, leaving a two-story, slide-shaped hole in our tech journalist hearts. Amazon didn't make any direct announcements, with Ring's end-to-end encryption update for its video doorbells and cameras the only tangential exception. Apple held a news event unrelated to CES, announcing a new tech education campus in Atlanta and a developer academy in Michigan, as part of its $100 million racial equity and justice initiative.

This year's CES was quieter for big brands and that was also true for these smart home giants. Both companies released plenty of new products last fall, so a quiet CES doesn't really indicate that the brands are taking any less of an interest in new smart home tech. It's likely there will be more news from Google and Amazon later in the year.

Now playing: Watch this: Our top smart home tech from CES 2021
21:47

Kitchen upgrades

Smart kitchen technology didn't make leaps and bounds this year, but we did see a few interesting (and expensive) products that could change the way you interact with one of the most important places in your home.

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Samsung's Bespoke fridges will come in multiple colors and configurations.

Samsung

Samsung's fridge lineup expanded

Samsung debuted US availability for its Bespoke line of refrigerators. We saw these modular, colorful fridges at IFA 2019 in Berlin, but at the time they weren't expected to cross the pond. Now, US customers will be able to customize their fridge in a multitude of colors and arrangements with the Bespoke's modern design.

Samsung also announced updates to its Family Hub software. The 6.0 iteration adds a new SmartThings cooking platform and boasts Alexa integration in a space previously occupied solely by Samsung's in-house assistant, Bixby. 

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LG adds InstaView to its newest range.

LG Appliances

LG InstaView added tech and touchless features

LG expanded its InstaView line of large appliances and while it announced them ahead of CES, we got a better look at the products this week. 

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A UV light cleans the water dispenser of this LG InstaView fridge.

LG

The InstaView Range LG highlighted includes an "air sous vide" mode, intended for low and slow cooking inside vacuum-sealed bags (sold separately, of course). It's also the first range from LG to feature the knock-twice-to-view signature InstaView feature that lights up the interior of the appliance. 

The newest InstaView refrigerator comes with a few new features, as well. A UV sanitizer activates every hour to kill 99.99% of bacteria found in the water dispenser. The InstaView panel got larger, and more interesting, while LG unveiled refrigerator doors that can open via voice command. 

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The ColdSnap is a Keurig-style ice cream maker. 

ColdSnap

On-demand ice cream

This one's just for fun. Everyone on our team was enamored with the Sigma Phase ColdSnap. This countertop appliance takes a Keurig-style approach to dessert with single-serve ice cream pods ready in 60 to 90 seconds.

Pods will cost $2 to $3 each and there are nondairy options, as well as frozen beverages and smoothies. Weighty at 50 pounds and likely in the $500-$1,000 price range, the ColdSnap won't be for everyone.

Now playing: Watch this: ColdSnap makes ice cream from pods in less than 2 minutes
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Robots

It wouldn't be CES if there weren't robots buzzing around promising superior smarts and helpfulness in our future homes. 

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Bot Handy is a concept robot that could help your load the dishwasher.

Samsung

Samsung introduced multiple robots this year, some more ready for market than others. The Bot Handy is the most eye-catching one: It's nearly human-sized and equipped to help with household tasks.

Though still in the concept phase, Samsung said the Bot Handy can analyze the weight, material and size of items in order to pick them up without damage. The robot would be able to help with things like loading a dishwasher, putting toys away or pouring a drink.

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The JetBot 90 AI empties its own bin. 

Samsung

Samsung also showed off the JetBot 90 AI, a robot vacuum that empties its own bin and uses lidar to navigate and a camera to identify objects potentially hazardous to the bot.

Read moreA virtual CES 2021 means we're missing out on meeting these cool robots in person

Wi-Fi

The Wi-Fi Alliance began certifying Wi-Fi 6E devices last week, paving the way for all sorts of new gadgets at CES that can transmit in the much wider 6GHz band. We saw several brands jump on the Wi-Fi 6E train with new, smarter routers, including Netgear, TP-Link and Linksys

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Netgear

Wi-Fi 6 can support seven 160MHz channels at once, making the 6GHz band much wider than the 2.4 and 5GHz bands we're used to. That means it'll act as sort of an exclusive superhighway for the latest devices equipped to take advantage. Of course, much of that will depend on individual device makers. 

Home security

Home security didn't give us any ground-breaking new devices to look forward to (perhaps because everyone's home all the time) but there were a few interesting items at the virtual show. In addition to Alarm.com's touchless doorbell, Chinese TV manufacturer Konka launched 10 smart home products, several of which were smart security cameras. The affordable brand could be competition for brands such as Wyze and Blink. 

We also saw an interesting security monitoring system called the Origin Hex Home security system, which claims to monitor motion in your home via Wi-Fi waves for up to 1,500 square feet with just two devices. 

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Nobi watches over your loved ones from above.

Nobi

If you're concerned about the safety of aging loved ones, the Nobi, a ceiling-mounted smart light packed with sensors, can watch over them. This AI-powered light uses sensors to detect motion and know if a person is lying in bed or has fallen onto the floor. A speaker and microphone can check on the resident and call for help.

The peace of mind it offers won't come cheap. The Nobi will be available for professional installations in places like nursing homes first with a subscription cost of $119 a month, including hardware. 

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The MyQ Pet Portal automates Fido's bathroom breaks.

Liftmaster/MyQ

Meanwhile, MyQ showed off a $2,999 smart dog door that promises to be secure for your home and safe for your pet. With its two-way cameras and audio, companion app and Bluetooth collar charm for your dog, the MyQ Pet Portal could replace your entire door.