The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas over the last 30 years morphed through generations of gadgets and pushed aside competing events to become the nation's largest technology convention, attracting government officials, celebrities and enthusiasts.
At the 2020 version of CES next week, 14 Minnesota companies will jockey with 4,500 other exhibitors for the attention of 175,000 attendees, trying to make deals key to their goals for the year ahead.
In addition, Ed Bastian, the leader of Delta Air Lines, the dominant carrier at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, will give a keynote speech that looks at how technology will shape travel in the future. Other major speakers include Ivanka Trump and several of President Donald Trump's Cabinet secretaries. Behind the scenes, another major Minnesota company, electronics retailer Best Buy, will be making deals to fill store shelves in the coming year.
Here is a look at what some of the other Minnesota companies are doing:
Digi International. For the third year, the Minnetonka-based maker of electronic components and software will have a booth at the show, a sign of the event's broadening reach and appeal. Its chipsets are used in many everyday products, from kitchen appliances to sporting goods, that have become part of the "internet of things" movement.
"CES has a longstanding reputation for introducing the latest technology," said Elizabeth Herberg, Digi's director of marketing. "When companies have limited budgets for going to trade shows, this is one that checks off a number of requirements. Because it's got a large diversity of people and companies, there's always a way for us to connect with buyers."
When Digi first went in 2018, the company didn't take any of its hardware because executives thought most of the attendees would be marketers or high-level executives. Instead, they encountered many engineers and developers. That led them to take many of its chips and other components last year.
This year, the firm will take the components but will also demonstrate new software and development tools that distinguish its chipsets from competing products. "There's a lot of tools that allow developers to fast-track their products," Herberg said.
AirSelfie Inc. This Minneapolis startup company is likely to attract some major media attention with its $99 Air Pix that's a combination drone and digital camera not much bigger than a hockey puck. A user can give a light forward toss to launch the drone, which then flies a few feet away, levels off and takes a few pictures of the user before flying back.
"It's a very social device," said Greg Appelhof, president of AirSelfie. "Most people have never seen anything that just kind of flies in front of you."
The photos are automatically sent to the user's smartphone and can then be posted to social media. After selling about 28,000 units in various iterations over the past year, the company on Sunday will formally introduce several versions and try to line up retail distribution at the show.
"Our No. 1 goal is to create a new category of product, called aerial camera, that sits within the camera category," Appelhof said. "In electronics, cameras are one of the most widely distributed products."
Allerio. Another startup company, this one from Duluth, will show its product aimed not at consumers but a very specific type of medical professional: paramedics and emergency responders. The firm in October began selling a mobile device for paramedics to have high-capacity broadband data connections wherever they are, even outside an ambulance or emergency vehicle.
"Emergency medical services need to have the ability to do two-way telemedicine and video from the bedside in a home or in a commercial building when out on a call," said T.J. Kennedy, the company's co-founder and a 25-year veteran of the emergency-services industry. "In order to do that, they need to have good connectivity and high enough bandwidth to always connect."
The device is a one-button radio system small enough to attach to a responder's gear bag or backpack. By going to CES, Kennedy said the firm can make other electronics makers and distributors aware that the company's product can be part of systems sold to first responders.
"We expect there will be lots of other partners that have solutions offered in that market," Kennedy said.
Comply. For more than 20 years, Oakdale-based Comply, formed by a former 3M scientist, has been making foam fittings for earphones and has relied on CES to meet other manufacturers and distributors. About three years ago, the company stopped building a booth on the show floor and instead rented hotel suites to meet existing and prospective customers.
"Having that kind of a splash presence was no longer necessarily something we needed to do," said Sam McKinney, business development manager in Comply's retail unit. "We have enough of a presence in the industry that we were finding over a couple of years a decline in return."
The company makes foam tips for numerous earphones and wireless buds, including those by Apple, Jabra and Samsung. As the wireless buds have taken off, consumers have increasingly turned to the add-on tips as a way to keep them secure.
"We're putting a lot of the weight of the company behind that trend," McKinney said. "Those wireless devices are truly convenient, but without a secure fit they can easily be lost."
Bracketron. This Edina-based firm also produces accessories that are in the groove at the moment: mounts and charging devices for smartphones in cars. Many states have written laws in recent years that make it illegal for drivers to hold phones while driving.
"There's so much tension to not text and drive, but there's also so many cool tools on a phone that help people get to places safely," said Andy Chow, the firm's product development chief. "We're really focused on simple products to keep phones charged and keep hands free."