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

But we're looking forward to meeting them all at a later, safer date.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
6 min read

Here come the droids.

Yukai Engineering

This year's all-digital CES is a tough one for everyone involved, but it may be even harder if you're a robot.

Robots can pique people's interest via the written word or videos, but there's nothing like showing people what you can do in person to really make a good first impression. And the robots you meet at CES never fail to impress.

Weird, cute and vaguely menacing: Here come the robots of CES 2021

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I've been thrilled by robots ever since I was a little girl, and if I could go back and tell my younger self about the interactions I've had with robots on the Las Vegas show floor over the past few years, those stories would blow my tiny mind. I've played ping-pong and Cards Against Humanity with robots, I've been served pizza by one, and last year at CES I met a snoring Labrador puppy robot that was so realistic it made me want to take it home and love it like I do my cat.

CES 2021 is proving to be very different from previous years. With no opportunities to meet spectators on the show floor due to CES being staged as a virtual event, all of those robots ready to show the world what they can do are having to do so online. It doesn't mean we're any less excited to find out all about them -- but the impact is blunted by the fact that you're viewing their activities through a Zoom feed on your monitor. 

Here are the robot friends we've met so far.

Robots to keep us safe

If 2020 taught us anything, it's that sanitation and hygiene are key to keeping people safe. It also showed us that there may be jobs that are better for us to hand over to technology to help humans stay safe.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging around the world, it's no surprise that this year at CES several companies are showing off robots that can sanitize surfaces.

One such droid is Coro-Bot, an "antivirus disinfection robot" created by Hills Engineering from South Korea. The robot has autonomous driving capabilities, allowing it to move independently around environments. It uses its flexible arms to identify the areas in need of cleaning, and sterilizes them using ultraviolet. It also contains an air circulator that it says kills airborne coronavirus and other viruses using a far-Infrared ceramic filter. It's easy to imagine robots such as these being used in hospitals and other environments in which it's imperative to ensure there's no sign of coronavirus.

Watch this: LG shows Cloi UV germ fighting bot at CES 2021

LG has been working on a similar robot, which it plans to unveil at CES, that radiates ultraviolet light to disinfect high-touch, high-traffic areas. Again, the robot can move autonomously, navigating around furniture to clean the entire room. It's designed for hospitality, education, corporate, retail and restaurant venues, as well as transportation. 

"Whether it's hotel guests, students in classrooms or patrons of restaurants and other businesses, they can rest assured that the LG autonomous UV robot will help reduce their exposure to harmful bacteria and germs," Michael Kosla, vice president of LG Business Solutions USA, said in a statement.

Like LG, Ubtech every year shows off new robots at CES, and this year it brought its own sanitizing robot to the show. The Adibot robotic system includes two robots -- the larger Adibot-A and the smaller mobile Adibot-S -- which both use UV to disinfect surfaces. Ubtech has already announced pricing for the two droids, which cost $40,000 and $20,000, respectively.

Watch this: Ubtech Adibot is a UVC-wielding robot that disinfects on command

Robots to entertain and educate

If you've been keeping an eye on the robotics world, you might have already spied Moxie around over the past year. This friendly-faced teal robot made by startup Embodied was recently announced as one of Time's best inventions of 2020. Plus, it was listed as a CES 2021 Innovation Award Honoree.

This companion robot helps children build social, emotional and cognitive skills through everyday play-based learning and the delivery of educational content. Better still, it's built with input from educators and child development experts, and Embodied has been outspoken about taking security extremely seriously. If you've been struggling with home schooling very little ones this year, Moxie might be just the thing you've been looking for to lend a hand.

Moxie home-school helper robot

Moxie is the home-school helper you've been hoping for.

Embodied Inc.

From Japan, Yukai Engineering always brings the fun to CES with its cute home robots -- one of which is famously a cushion with a robotic tail. This year at the show, the company is introducing the Petit Qoobo, an identical but smaller sibling to its much-enjoyed animated cushion, along with an updated version of its Bocco Emo emotional home companion robot.

Also from Japan will be Vanguard Industries, and we have high hopes that the company will use the opportunity to introduce its adorable AI pet robot Moflin to the world.

Sort of like a little gray guinea pig, this is the closest thing we've seen to a robot that looks appropriate for anyone aged newborn or older. (It's dinky with some really soft-looking floof going on.) Each Moflin develops an individual personality over time and can express emotion through movement and sound. This is one robot we're really sad not to be meeting in person.


Meet Moflin.

Vanguard Industries

Robots to help around the home

With robot vacuum cleaners a mainstay at tech shows and in many people's homes around the world, it's not surprising that robots designed to lend a hand at home are appearing on the big stage at CES 2021.

At its press conference Monday, Samsung showed off the Bot Care and Bot Handy, the first of which is a kind of personal assistant that monitors your health and the second of which will lend a hand with pouring you a glass of wine or emptying the dishwasher. Samsung's JetBot 90 AI is a next-level robot vac, which comes with a self-emptying dustpan and Lidar for navigation.

Watch this: Samsung debuts Handy robot for household chores at CES 2021

Some robots are tricky to categorize -- are they genuinely helpful, or just good fun? Looking at San Diego-based Moorebot's Scout robot, the answer seems to be: it depends who has control of it. Looking like a palm-size remote-control car, Scout is both a toy and a tool.


Some robots are cute, but this is a tough boi.


The tiny robot can monitor your house with its autonomous patrolling function, two-way radio and night-vision capabilities -- making it an ideal prop for a new Home Alone film. But kids and adults alike can also build their own applications for Scout, giving it an educational edge.

Robots that take the manual out of manual labor

One of the biggest names in agriculture, John Deere has been a big presence in recent years at CES by bringing its iconic and eye-catching green machinery to the show floor. This year, the company has been given a CES Innovation Award for the robotic capabilities of its X Series combine harvesters. With cameras that allow farmers to see directly inside grain tanks, computer vision, autonomous driving capabilities and in-field machine-to-machine communication, the X Series must be among the biggest robots to ever win the award. The company is already giving select reporters a virtual experience of its CES wares. 


Imagine trying to get one of these into the Las Vegas Convention Center.

John Deere

Another robot designed to support those working outdoors is Daesung's Hive Controller. This robot is all about honey extraction, removing honeycomb from a beehive -- usually a time-consuming process performed by two to five skilled individuals -- in around a minute. With bees at risk and honey achieving superfood status, any robot that helps the honey industry thrive is going to be well received by us.

Hive Controller makes extracting honey much quicker and easier.


Many industrial robots such as the ones described above are designed to perform ultra-specific tasks, but the Dual Arm Robotic System, aka DARS, from the Industrial Technology Research Institute in Taiwan is quite the opposite. 

DARS has been given human-like arms and hands that can serve multiple applications in health care, professional services, smart manufacturing and hazardous environments without using specifically designed tools. Its high level of dexterity combined with its advanced machine learning capabilities mean the robot is able to do complex human tasks such as playing the piano.

Watch this: This robot mimics human movements (and can even play the piano)