CES always guarantees a few things to be seen at each year, startups, fancy tech, massive over hyped products and little follow up. The Consumer Electronics show brings together more manufacturers, trade analysts, small businesses and corporate entities than any other conference I've ever attended. In fact with 180,000 attendees in attendance, it is the largest conference that most techie millennials dream of.
What can we expect this year in the autonomous or drone industry?
While last year didn't bring too many product additions to the unmanned or drone community, we actually saw a complete and total retraction of drone companies and manufacturers from the overall CES presence.
CES can show us the wonders of the tech industry, albeit CES can also showcase failures. Last years CES was pretty much a demonstration of a satirical play of what can go wrong when you fail to innovate, and your product becomes a commodity. Yes, I'm talking about the action camera market. What a disaster.
While the same story could play out with many drone companies the future has yet to foretell what will happen. While DJI remains prominent in the industry there are FINALLY some drones that offer the simplistic control of DJI without the big brother. Albeit, DJI has a plan to forego these big brother features with a new professional DJI crowd. But will you make the cut?
This year, I'm excited to see what Autel puts out at CES. (RUMOR MILL) Supposedly, the rumor is that Autel will release a 1” sensor quadcopter that offers all that a Phantom does, without the Geo limitations. As we have heard that before with a Yuneec, Autel is launching this drone after maturing in the industry. Risk is low, and reward potential is high as many enterprise DJI users continue to struggle to find an adequate low cost and flexible solution.
If a drone manufacturer were to release a 25-35mp camera drone with a global shutter and various intelligent flight maneuvers, the ability to hot swap cameras and have a long flight time without a Geo fence… enterprise users would gobble at that offering.
So with our hopes and dreams spread across the table, what can we expect to learn at CES? Let’s dive into some of the camera technology and drone or unmanned technology we may be poised to see this week.
If no-one from the US Government is able to show up due to the Government shutdown, Tech will move on. While we’d love to have them there, and hear what they’ve got to say about the tech industry in general (& the UAS community specifically), historically the tech industry has outpaced government regulations. So while the industry doesn’t need the government there to move forward, having them as partners certainly smooths the road ahead.
Rumors are flying that Autel will be launching a new and improved update to the Evo drone. I've never been a huge fan of Autel but some of the industry’s respected reviewers has showcased the power of Autel, thanks Bo! If Autel launches a 1” sensor with a global shutter, watch out DJI! While the EVO drone primarily competes with the Mavic series from DJI, it fails to reach the resolution that DJI currently offers. We’ll see what Autel has up its sleeve.
This particular issue is close to my heart as I worked on a project in 2013 with the assistance of Sandia National Labs, in which power stations with inductive charging (wireless charging) for drones were being tested for a security infrastructure.
Many companies have actually showcased inductive charging over power lines and other “boxes,” that charge drones while in flight. It would be understandable if inductive charging became quintessential to a BVLOS drone operation as the system would allow for day long operations. (Beyond visual line of sight)
CES will showcase a new company, Global Energy Transmission claims that they enable battery-powered drones to fly perpetually. Drones are able to hover for a few minutes over a charging area (called a GET power hotspot). The drone power hotspots can be installed kilometers apart along flight routes allowing for Beyond Visual Line of Sight operations to commence uninterrupted Once in the hotspot, the drone is charging via the company’s wireless power receiving system.
Talk about a touchy subject! It seems like the US government can't make up its mind to use DJI drones at the federal level. Memos were leaked showcasing DOI’s order to halt purchases and rumors swirled that it was then redacted. Honestly, I'm not sure if there is a non purchase order out by DOI or not. Either way, there is still a chase to find an American, European or British made drone that performs at the level of DJI.
Intel Falcon 8 Plus was thought to be this solution, but after using the product myself… it does not purport to be a scalable solution that is easily operable. While the mission control application was hyped to make the workflow easier, it has yet to be seen. All of which is disappointing as some of the features from Intel’s mapping software are rather exciting, if delivered.
It will be interesting to see what Intel launches and what other potential drones will be showcased as a solution to an American competition.
Even Tesla is now in the mix with the acquisition of Impossible Aerospace. A drone that is actually built around the battery instead of the opposite. While I haven't had a chance to fly the heavy bird, I am excited to fly it. There are many niche services for a drone that can fly over 2 hours. The question still remains, what happens if you have to fly beyond that time, do you buy another drone?
Intel is putting on a show Monday for Press Day to showcase their new innovations in autonomous aviation. Don't assume I am speaking about drones. We should see another demonstration showcasing personal helicopters to illustrate the society of the future. Awesome, just make the UAV’s able to be taken over by the passengers in case of an emergency!
5G has been promised to the Americas for multiple CES’ but this year the ripples effects and ecosystem of 5G may appear. 5G internet is a magnitude of scale better than the cable WiFi you're bragging to your friends about. Imagine if you could get WiFi at home from your cellular carrier that was 2-3x faster than what you currently have. This massive increase in speed could also allow for real time cellularly connected drones. Again this connectivity will allow for companies like Amazon to actually deliver drones, which they said they would do 5 years ago.
The answer is a surprising YES. The persistence by Jeff Bezos to make autonomous delivery possible is truly inspiring and motivating. Amazon is not going to operating drones under the FAA’s current Part 107 system that explicitly states nothing can be carried or dropped from a UAV.
Amazon is extremely intelligent and I believe they may have already certified their new aircraft under the FAA’s 14 CFR 135, NOT 107. This allows Amazon to literally operate under their own set of rules and guidelines that all air carrier have to follow. This new regulatory pathway has already been systematized for a long time. The FAA has not systematized the process for waiving most of the regulations that Amazon wishes to waive, in order to fly.
In short, CES should actually showcase many new useful and practical drone technologies as the industry has already matured past the novice level.
Here’s a complete list of drone and drone-related companies that are expected to exhibit this year at CES 2019: