COVID-19 is the obnoxious and uninvited guest at the party, but CES 2022 organizers and in-person attendees are making the best of an awkward situation. At the opening session on Wednesday, Jan. 5, CTA President Gary Shapiro said, “Masks off for the photo!” as a group gathered on the main stage . In the chat during the livestream of remarks from Shapiro and his EVP of CES Karen Chupka, one person commented, “One of my coworkers got to CES and tested positive for COVID. He is quarantined to his room for the duration.”

There were familiar scenes of crowds lining up and streaming into the showroom floor, although numbers were a fraction compared with attendance in previous years. The showrooms are not empty but the small number of cars in a hotel parking garage reflects the fewer in-person attendees this year. “ Low volume but high quality ” is how one person described CES 2022.

The Consumer Technology Association reports there are tens of thousands of attendees and over 2,300 exhibiting companies, including more than 800 startups.

AcuityAds CSO Seraj Bharwani attended in person and said there is obviously a much smaller crowd at CES this year.

“This year the C-Space is a ghost town,” he said. “The absence of brand marketers, especially the big tech companies and agency holding companies, made it a non-event from a marketer’s perspective, which of course made it less productive for the adtech and marketing solution providers who go to CES to make in-person connections.”

The crowds are smaller this year but there is still plenty of cool tech to see at the show. BMW’s color-changing car is attracting a lot of attention. John Deere showed off an autonomous tractor and GM CEO Mary Barra unveiled the new electric Silverado . A digital health company offered high-tech pillow will nudge you to change position if you start to snore.

Sushil Prabhu, CEO of Dropp, attended in person for the first time this year. He said the smaller crowds didn’t influence his experience of the event.

“The excitement in the autonomous, connected vehicles, robotics, biometrics in cars, even fuel cell-powered cars was beyond my expectations,” he said. “There was similar excitement in the health and fitness sector with a wide range of body scanners, very sophisticated weight scales and watches that can measure everything from EKG to nerve signals.”

Prabhu spoke at the event during the “Fintechs and the Promise of Inclusivity and Diversity” session on Wednesday. He noticed that fintech had a much lighter presence in terms of showcasing products but a better presence within the speaking side of the event.

Another “innovation” at this year’s show is the color-coded sticker attendees can add to event badges to show their comfort level when it comes to greeting other people . Red means keep your germs to yourself and wave, yellow means an elbow bump is OK and green means a handshake is OK.

Bharwani said the stickers were offered with good intentions but most people were not using them.

“People who did make it to CES this year are apparently braving it by hugging each other,” he said.

Attendees had to show proof of vaccination before receiving a badge, and each person got two self-test kits when they registered. People are expected to use both tests during the week to limit the risk of exposure.

CTA is not tracking case numbers at the show. If an individual tests positive at the show, he or she has to return the badge and leave the show. Case numbers are breaking records across the U.S. with an average of more than 500,000 new cases a day, and the whole country is in the red zone . Las Vegas is a hot spot in Nevada.

There seems to be enough personal protective equipment at hospitals during this surge, but treatments for COVID-19 are in short supply. Some hospitals have run out of certain drugs and others are turning to algorithms to decide who gets treatments for Omicron cases .

Tests are not easy to find in retail stores, and Kroger and Walmart raised the price of self-home kits after a deal to sell the kits at cost expired . The federal government is still working on the details of a plan to send free tests to anyone who requests one. Any leftover testing kits from CES 2022 will be a hot commodity.

It’s too soon to know if CES2022 will be a superspreader event. If attendees follow the rules for testing and masking, organizers will have done everything they can to balance the benefits of in-person events with the risk of COVID-19.

People attending CES 2022 in person can use stickers to indicate how much social distancing they want: a lot, a little, or none.
Image: Twitter/DamienLicata