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Exosuits, toilet paper ’bots and more: The wacky gadgets of CES 2020

By Benjamin Bullard
The Sarcos Guardian XO exoskeleton

One of the coolest things about the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is just how out there some of the ideas are for the next wave of gadgets we might be seeing in the months and years ahead. Plenty of companies show up to CES each year with devices that are polished and ready to hit the market, but there’s always an abundance of gizmos that — no matter how common they might one day become — just feel downright wacky… in the best possible way.  

The beauty of it all is that sometimes the far-fetched and the ready-for-action converge in the same device, and that’s just the case with the Guardian XO exosuit, the product of a partnership between Delta airlines and Sarcos Robotics. Capable of assisting lifts of up to 200 pounds and good for up to eight hours of continuous use, it’s hard to see too great a difference between stepping into this bad boy versus strapping in like Ripley to take on an alien Xenomorph (or stomping like Jake Sully through the blue-hued jungles of Pandora). 

According to Sarcos, the Guardian XO is aimed not at steel-trap alien jaws, but at helping to reduce occupational injuries while enabling laborers to accomplish feats of mechanically-assisted strength no human ever could. As “the world's first battery-powered industrial robot to combine human intelligence, instinct, and judgment with the power, endurance, and precision of machines,” the XO, says Sarcos, “augments operator strength without restricting freedom of movement to boost productivity while dramatically reducing injuries.”

Via Digital Trends, Delta plans to to deploy its first unit sometime “during the first quarter of 2020 to give their frontline employees the opportunity to experience the technology in a real-world, on-the-job setting.” That’s great and all  — but we’re already thinking of all the epic bot-on-bot arena battles that somebody might one day stage in metal skeletons like these.

If suiting up in a synthetic skin of strength armor isn’t your speed, maybe you just need a little AI companionship — and that’s exactly what Samsung appears to be offering with the uncanny valley-defying Neon, a “chatbot” designed to look and behave like a regular human being — right down to the diverse hairstyle and fashion palate you can choose for your highly emotional, lifelike robot buddy.

Unlike a lot of vaguely humanoid robots that we’ve seen hitting the streets over the past couple of years, Neons evidently aren’t designed to perform any extraordinary heroics. No heavy lifting or heat-sensing tech here; these robots simply want to show you they have feelings too. Described by Samsung as the “first artificial human,” the Neon “is a computationally created virtual being that looks and behaves like a real human, with the ability to show emotions and intelligence."

Samsung Neon Robot Companion

Capable of communicating in several languages (okay, for some of us that is pretty heroic) and always ready to emote to convince you of just how human they are, the Neon, says Samsung, is “[n]ot an AI assistant. Not an interface to the Internet. Not a music player. Simply, a friend.”

Whether you need a friend or not, hit the streets with one of these as your sidekick, and you’re bound to start more than a few conversations with strangers. There’s no word yet on when we’ll be able to run out and buy Samsung’s eerily realistic idea of robot friendship, so for now we’ll just be over here in the corner, hitting the product page’s refresh button all by our lonesome. 

Bellicose or bashful, one thing humans of every disposition need is — you guessed it — toilet paper. But what do you do if you’re stranded and you can’t find a roll? Well, we won’t walk you through all the out-of-TP scenarios that people endured back in the hazy pre-robot days, but thankfully, those days appear to be over. 

Say hello to what may be the most single-purpose consumer robot we’ve ever seen — the RollBot, a helpful little two-wheeled delivery droid from the double-plied genius minds at Charmin. Self-balancing and bent on making sure you don’t ever end up entertaining other unthinkable alternatives to help you finish your business, the RollBot exists only to show up with a roll of toilet paper just when you need it most. 

Via Motor Trend (what, there were no Lamborghinis or Batmobiles to cover this week?), Charmin says the RollBot communicates with a user’s smart phone via Bluetooth, and can “seek out said user when they send out a digital SOS,” all while navigating floor-level obstacles with an array of infrared sensors. Sadly (we think), this little fella is just a proof of concept for now — but we’ve gotta admit, it’s an idea that’s just flush with marketable potential.