CES 2021: Highlights

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For the first time in history, annual tech show CES went virtual this year. For some at Cubic it was their first January in 12 years to not travel over to Las Vegas to attend. The global COVID-19 pandemic forced CES online and was a catalyst to the wave of technological innovation we are experiencing.

Analysts from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) opened the event commenting on the acceleration digital transformation took in 2020. Steve Koenig, VP of Research at CTA shared the sentiment that ‘When the economy is at its worst, innovation is at its best.’ This was visible by the number of talks that focused on how agile the industry has been in delivering new 5G use cases, the advancement of in-vehicle technologies, and the emergence of drones taking to the skies en masse as a contactless delivery solution.

CTA analysts categorised into six themes the trends to watch out for in 2021:

-5g connectivity

-Vehicle tech

-Robotics & drones

-Digital transformation

-Smart cities

-Digital health

5g connectivity enabling innovation

Hans Vestberg, Chairman and CEO at Verizon gave the opening keynote address, setting out real-life 5G use cases which give the everyday consumer access to advanced technologies. The Verizon 5G ultra-wideband network now has 200 million users across 1,800 cities and towns in the US.

According to Vestberg, “We have leapfrogged five to seven years in terms of digital innovation … 5G is an innovation platform that makes other innovations possible.” With 5G ultra-wideband, connectivity is 10 times faster than 4G, with ultra-low latency. It can support up to 1 million connected devices per square KM and maintain a signal even when a device is moving up to 500KM per hour. Inconceivable capabilities!

In terms of mainstream use cases, Verizon is bringing 5G to sports stadiums, museums (augmented reality exhibitions at the Smithsonian), education (5g-enabled learning labs in schools using augmented and virtual reality), and smart cities (real-time traffic information).

During other CES talks 5G connectivity’s potential for enabling V2X technology was highlighted. 5G-powered V2X can relieve traffic congestion and reduce fatal road accidents. Furthermore, as software becomes more embedded in our vehicles, 5G will ensure faster in-vehicle software upgrades, at scale.

We at Cubic pioneered the first automated process for carrying out these ‘Over-The-Air’ updates, regularly future-proofing millions of vehicles globally. Some commentators at CES indicated that seamless access to this OTA feature will allow vehicles to appreciate in value, an entirely new concept for the automotive industry.

Vehicle Tech in a ‘transformational decade’

CTA analysts identified several areas of vehicle technology that will develop over the coming year, namely Mobility-as-a-Service, cellular V2X, self-driving, and electrification.

During the GM keynote, Chairman and CEO Mary Barra set out the automaker’s vision of zero emissions, zero crashes, and zero congestion, with electrification identified as key to achieving this. GM has committed to spending $27 billion on electric vehicle development by 2025, recently opening a new battery making facility in Ohio.

Using an almost completely wireless battery management system, GM can optimise performance and charging capacity. A major target is supplying batteries that will produce up to 450 miles of range from a single charge at 40% less cost, and at 25% less weight than current GM EV batteries.

GM is planning to launch thirty EV models globally over the next five years. They have even manufactured the world’s first all-electric super truck – the GMC Hummer EV, which they claim can drive diagonally! To drive the switch to electrification forward, they need a team of software experts. Steve Carlisle, EVP & President at GM North America commented during a separate talk that GM is hiring 3,000 additional software engineers as the company is now operating in a ‘transformational decade.’ With targets as ambitious as this an all-electric zero emissions future could arrive sooner than we expect.

Redefining in-car experiences

Industry experts such as Andrew Poliak, CTO at Panasonic Automotive, focused on the emergence of personalised in-car experiences. Pre-pandemic the car was perceived to be the ‘third space’ where many spend their time (after home and office). Now with a large swathe of the population working from home, the office and home spaces have merged. The car has quickly established itself as the ‘second space’ with passengers now treating them as mini entertainment centres.

According to Poliak, as needs, situations, and habits change e.g. opting to travel on holiday by car rather than plane, we will start to interact differently with our cars. They will adapt to our newly found habits by becoming personal devices, where we can activate and deactivate features as we please.

Cubic’s content classification service – PLXOR – will come in handy for automakers, giving them the insights to tailor content packages based on individual driver preferences, thus improving user experience.

Autonomous delivery systems take flight

During his keynote, Vestberg announced that Verizon Skyward is launching a new connected drone delivery service in collaboration with UPS Flight Forward, leveraging 5G and mobile edge compute. Verizon Skyward provides a reliable network to connect drone sensors and cameras, whilst UPS can control and communicate with the fleet of drones via Verizon’s ultra-wideband 5G.

This isn’t the only drone collaboration for UPS. They teamed up with CVS and Matternet back in April 2020 to deliver prescription medicine via M2 drones to retirement communities in Florida. To date UPS Flight Forward has successfully completed 3,800 drone delivery flights.

A company that similarly had to pivot its business model at the onset of the pandemic is drone delivery-as-a-service company Manna. Manna expertly provided its fleet of drones as an alternative contactless delivery service during lockdowns, getting life-saving medicines and essential goods to cocooners faster. At Cubic, we provide connected software to Manna’s fleet of drones enabling real-time data to be exchanged between drone, pharmacy, doctor, and patient from take-off to landing, with minimal latency.

Technology powering the new normal

The growing demand for creative contactless solutions in a socially distanced new world was the catalyst for these autonomous mobility innovations. Other examples of novel technologies highlighted at CES, spurred on by COVID, are Panasonic’s in-vehicle air purifiers, and robots used to stock shelves, and sanitize supermarkets and workspaces e.g. Amazon’s virus killing robot. As we return to offices post-COVID, we will rely on these types of technologies to live more normal lives.

According to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella we’ve seen “two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” The pandemic has clearly not hampered technological innovation, only accelerated it. If you’d like to learn more about Cubic’s innovation projects, contact us today.

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