In a few short weeks – after the holiday music has faded away, after the decorations start to come down – thousands of conference attendees will pour back into Las Vegas for CES following a one-year hiatus from the city’s winter tech showcase.

For many, it’ll be a break from the hamster wheel of video conference calls, virtual meetups, and solitude. For this conference-goer, I’ll be feeling a blend of cautious optimism and practical concern: excitement about seeing old friends, clients, and members of the media beyond my computer screen, though wary of the risks posed by our enduring health crisis. Be that as it may, CES is coming back to Las Vegas and that means we’ve got a week of announcements and news moments to satisfy the itch for everything tech, present and future. What will that look like as the calendar switches to 2022? 

Here are five categories I’ll be watching closely at this year’s show:

Smart Home Wizardry. Like many of you, I spend much of my time within running range of my house these days. During CES 2022, I’ll be curious to see how brands have reevaluated how they define smart home products and the needs of consumers. Afterall, it’s no longer just the place we begin and end our days – even as many begin to venture out a bit further afield, home remains a multitool and it’ll be that way into perpetuity. How are brands adjusting? How are they serving the practical needs for wellbeing, for peace of mind, for an escape from stress? This is a storyline to which I’ll be paying close attention.

Performance-Driven Sports Tech. Now that we have the capability to track just about every data point associated with the world of endurance sports, we’ve seen an explosion of products designed to do just that – it’s a topic I’ve covered before. Not all of it is useful, of course, but some of it is. I’m curious to see how brands are fine-tuning their data analysis of human performance and thus, whether any products launched during this year’s show can draw a line between tracking and performance boosts. Further, I was pleasantly surprised to find one of my favorite brands, ASICS, on the show room floor demonstrating a high-tech running shoe during CES 2020 and I’d love to see more innovation in this area as well.

NFT Utility. As I mentioned during a recent panel discussion about NFTs (non-fungible tokens) in sports, brands like NBA TopShot from Dapper Labs are bringing NFTs into the mainstream and creating an entry point for leagues, teams, and players to connect in a more meaningful way with their fans via utility. The idea of utility is that the holder of a specific NFT – be it a “moment” on TopShot or a piece of digital artwork – is given some added benefit for doing so (access, merchandise, etc.). Now take that concept, apply it to brands, and you can start to dream on the possibilities. Now that NFTs will have their own conference track, it’ll be fascinating to see what kind of progress may come in 2022 as it pertains to brand acceptance and use of this nascent technology.

The Fast and The Furious: EV-edition. There was a time several years ago when CES morphed into an auto show and many participating automakers touted a fully autonomous future coming soon to a road near you. We have made progress toward a self-driving future, albeit slow and steady progress. However, automotive innovation takes on many forms – some that we dabble in everyday without even knowing. I will be interested in seeing how automakers and OEMs are working together on less in-your-face technology with an eye toward keeping passengers safe. And for those pining for autonomous, there will certainly be plenty of that, too.

Space Tech – I’m here for it. For the first time, the Consumer Tech Association (CTA) has made space tech a topic of interest at CES. Bring it on: Give me all the space tech and give it to me now. While a certain tech savant is focused on helping humanity colonize Mars – I see you, Elon – I’m interested in seeing other equally impressive innovations and missions that don’t often grab all the headlines. From creating sustainable habitats, to nurturing space-ready agriculture, to household brand names using otherworldly robotics, this is an onion I’m ready to peel.

Are you attending CES 2022? If so, I’d love to hear from you. Further, drop a comment below or shoot me a note and let me know what you’re paying attention to this year as CES returns to Sin City!