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CES 2018 gets serious about health, wellness and medical tech

With the slew of self-care, fitness and sleep devices on show at CES, the health and medical industries are making big rumbles in consumer tech.

Sarah Tew/CNET

When "health tech" first started popping up at CES a few years ago, it was mostly centered on step counters, digital workout coaches and heart-rate trackers. These days, of course, that technology is widely available in consumer wearables from the likes of Fitbit, Garmin and Apple. But the devices we saw at the 2018 iteration of the world's biggest electronics show raised the bar for health, fitness, wellness and medical technology in some surprising new ways -- and for an audience that reaches far beyond runners and gym addicts. 

This isn't surprising considering the huge demographic changes we're experiencing. Tens of millions of Baby Boomers (people born roughly between the end of World War II and the mid-1960s) are reaching their golden years now, and tech industries are rushing to help the elderly and those in the disability community succeed and live independently. 

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The increasing focus on medical-grade tech is also why CNET's Next Big Thing panel at CES 2018 focused on what we called The Invisible Doctor, in which experts from United Healthcare, Doctor on Demand, Samsung and the Institute for the Future discussed how the future of medical care and technology will increasingly intersect.

Below is a roundup of all the compelling tech we saw that's related to self-care, elderly care, health monitoring, fitness and healthy living and sleep. We also want to give a shout-out to the NeoMano robotic glove, which didn't quite fit in any of these categories, but was a favorite nevertheless. It's a special glove that helps those with spinal cord injuries perform everyday tasks using their hands.

Keep in mind that while we were learning about these devices down on the show floor, we weren't able to test all their company's claims thoroughly and accurately, so take their assertions with a grain of salt. Even getting a reading of something considered quite simple, like a heart rate, isn't always accurate in fitness wearables and heart-rate trackers.

Still though, we couldn't help but be impressed by these products' initial concepts and intentions. If these devices do what they claim and ever actually escape developer limbo (unlike other CES vaporware we've seen), these products can help us lead not only more advanced lives, but healthy ones as well.

Self-care: Taking the reins for your health

These days, the term "self-care" -- or taking a conscious initiative to take care of one's mental and physical well-being -- gets thrown around a lot. Though some companies use the concept liberally to peddle their products, it can mean more than just pampering yourself with bath bombs and candles.

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The My Special Aflac Duck "receiving" chemotherapy to help ease kids being treated for cancer.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET
  • My Special Aflac Duck: This robotic companion duck toy comforts kids being treated for cancer by helping to ease anxiety. The duck nuzzles, waggles its head and mirrors health care routines like receiving chemotherapy.
  • Olfinity air monitor, purifier and aromatherapy diffuser: Olfinity's air monitor assesses your air quality in real time with sensors while its purifier cleans your indoor air. Its aromatherapy diffuser creates a controlled 20-minute aromatherapy session with purified air and organic essential oils.
  • Oska Pulse: This Pulse Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) device is designed to increase blood flow to impacted areas of your body. For those who suffer from chronic pain, Oska claims its Pulse eases muscle stiffness and temporarily relieves minor pain. It works with an app so you can control the device remotely or track your pain relief progress.

Elderly care: Safeguard your loved ones

If you have older relatives who are aging, it's easy to worry about their well-being when you can't regularly check up on them. These products, though a bit silly-looking, have the best intentions of keeping your elderly relatives safe.

The Hip'Air deploys to break a fall and protect your hips.

Helite
  • Helite Hip'Air: Hip injuries can be deadly, and a simple fall is all it takes to get one. Developed in nursing homes around France, the Hip'Air looks like a fanny pack and is equipped with sensors, a battery, airbags and an air cartridge. When the sensors detect a fall, the airbags deploy to help break the fall and avoid serious injury.
  • E-vone smart shoes: Featuring GPS and other sensors that detect abnormal movement, these shoes from E-vone are aimed for older adults, workers and travelers. When the shoe senses a fall, alert messages are automatically sent to the user's provided emergency contact or emergency services.

Health monitoring: Keep tabs on your body

As the ancient maxim goes, "Know thyself." One way you can start is measuring and gathering important stats about your body, as well as the parts of the environment around you that can negatively affect your health.

  • Lenovo Vital Motorola Moto Mod: Moto Mods can be attached magnetically to Motorola phones like the Moto Z2 Force and Z2 Play. The Vital Moto Mod measures your heart rate, respiratory rate, body temperature, blood oxygen levels and your blood pressure.
  • Nima peanut sensor: Nima, the company that created a Bluetooth-connected gluten detector in 2017, has made a version of its device that tells you if there are traces of peanuts in your food, helping peanut allergy sufferers so they can test their food before they eat it.
  • Sensio Air: Speaking of allergies, this football-shaped allergen detector tracks grass, mold, pollen and dust inside your house so it can warn you when your allergies could act up. When you need to venture outside, the Air's corresponding app connects with 220 sensors placed throughout the world by Sensio to measure environmental conditions like pollution and weather.
  • L'Oreal UV Sense: Perhaps the tiniest wearable we've ever seen, the UV Sense measures UV exposure and can be worn on a fingernail, pair of sunglasses or any other item that's exposed to sunlight. It's reusable and re-adhesive, battery-free, and works with an app to help users be mindful of sun exposure.
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The L'Oreal UV Sense device is the smallest wearable we've seen.

Josh Miller/CNET

Lifestyle and sleep: Live right, sleep right

The products below aim to help you live healthily throughout the day as well as through the night. The latter is especially important since not getting enough sleep has been associated with health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes and increased risk of heart attacks.

  • The Quartz Bottle: Using ultraviolet light to keep itself and the water inside clean, Quartz is a water bottle that has a UV-C light in its lid. Every four hours the light is triggered, which Quartz claims help purifies the water and the bottle itself.
  • Kolibree Magic toothbrush: Geared towards kids, this toothbrush uses an augmented-reality-based phone app and the phone's front-facing camera to incentivize kids to brush their teeth thoroughly.
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    This sleep pillow "breathes" in and out to help you fall asleep.

    Somnox
  • Osram SFH 4735 embeddable emitter: First introduced as SCiO in 2016 as a standalone scanner and then again in 2017 as a phone, the Osram chip is a near-infrared spectrometer that can tell you the chemical components of an object and gathers information on things like soil content, body fat, medicine, how sweet a piece of fruit is and more. 
  • Dreamlight sleep mask: Launching as an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, Dreamlight is a Bluetooth-connected sleep mask that covers your eyes and ears. It dims and illuminates light to match with your breathing and plays ambient sounds to block out noise.
  • Somnox robot pillow: Somnox is a robot pillow that features an accelerometer, an audio sensor and a carbon dioxide sensor. As you hold it to your chest when you're in bed, you can feel Somnox expand and contract as if it were breathing. This, in turn, helps you relax and regulate your breathing as you fall asleep.
  • Nokia Sleep: The Wi-Fi-enabled mat sits under your mattress and gathers all kinds of info about your sleep. It tracks how long you sleep, as well as how restful your sleep was and your snoring patterns, and then gives you recommendations on how to improve your sleep.
  • Sleep Number: Though smart-mattress maker Sleep Number didn't announce a physical product at CES, the company wants to take it a step further than Nokia's Sleep matt and says it's looking into the future where its mattresses can help with diagnosing conditions like heart attacks, sleep apnea, the flu and more.
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    The Omron wearable measures blood pressure.

    Josh Miller/CNET

Fitness: Stay fit on the go, go, go

As the OG piece of consumer health gadgetry, there's no surprise that fitness trackers made multiple appearances at CES this year. But in a sea of smartwatches and wearables, each new product had a unique feature to help it stand out.

  • Omron HeartGuide: Submitted for FDA clearance later this year, the HeartGuide is a fitness tracker that has a special band to take your blood pressure. The watch's band inflates and it takes manual readings and spot heart rate measurements. It can also be programmed to take readings at night, which test for hypertension and risk of stroke while sleeping.
  • Coros Pace: Built with triathletes in mind, the GPS-enabled Pace features dedicated modes for running, cycling and swimming. Coros also claims the watch lasts up to 30 days on standby mode, which is especially impressive for a wearable.
  • Garmin Forerunner 645 Music: When it comes to fitness watches specifically, storing music is a novelty. But Garmin's first music watch can store up to 500 songs, and also has GPS tracking, running-focused training modes and a digital payment system called Garmin Pay.

The robots of CES 2018: Cuteness reigns supreme, but we also saw the foundation for substantial innovation.

CES 2018CNET's complete coverage of tech's biggest show.