From humanoid robots to zero-emissions drones, CES was filled with lots of tech that may be relevant to government soon.
Sadly, I was once again unable to attend the yearly Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Even before the Omicron variant of COVID-19 threatened to shut down the in-person side of CES this year, I had decided that it was too risky to attend. Unlike last year, when CES went fully virtual, the show management for 2022 decided to push ahead with in-person activities, even though many of the biggest names in technology pulled out at the last minute over safety concerns. Because of the decision not to fully embrace virtual activities, it’s clear that not as much planning went into the virtual side of CES. That made it more difficult for me to sample what the show had to offer this year.
My history with CES is a long one, even though I didn’t start attending the show by choice. All of the things that I normally cover, like enterprise, government and business technology, take a back seat to consumer level tech at CES. I used to get my fill of government type technology at the now defunct Comdex trade show. When it closed its doors back in 2003, I started attending CES instead, which always occurred at about the same time of year. Over the many years of attending the show, I have to admit that I have really started to enjoy CES.
Finding technology of interest to government and enterprises at CES is not impossible, but it’s normally hidden behind walls of televisions, electronic scooters and other consumer-only devices. The 2022 show was no exception, but there were some interesting items on display that might be of interest to government.
Droning On for Government
Last year, drones were really big at CES, something that government obviously has a keen interest in advancing. We covered several stories about drones in government service throughout 2021, and agencies at all levels keep finding innovative ways to use them. Some of the drones at CES this year could provide the foundation for furthering those programs.
One of the most innovative drones this year, and the winner of a CES innovation award, was the JOUAV DJ25 from JOUAV UAS Solutions. The DJ25 uses a hydrogen fuel cell to power an electric motor. So there is no oil or gas needed, and very little maintenance required. In addition, the drone produces almost no noise or vibration, and has absolutely no emissions. It’s quiet, provides a stable platform for a camera or other monitoring equipment, and is basically untraceable. I am sure we can all think of a few government agencies that would find that unique set of traits useful. As an added bonus, it’s also extremely environmentally friendly.
The DJ25 can carry a payload of up to 8.8 pounds and has a runtime of just under six hours. It’s a fixed-wing type of flying drone, much like an airplane, but also has rotors that can be activated in an emergency to help the drone land safely in an emergency. The rotors are also used for vertical takeoffs and landings, so it can be launched from almost anywhere.
And yes, it does carry a tank filled with pressurized hydrogen, but before you start thinking about the Hindenburg, know that the company has tested its drone in a variety of crash situations, and the tank remains secure without exploding in a ball of fire. The company produced a very nice video showing the DJ25 in graceful flight.
Wi-Fi Goes to 6E
Better wireless communications, especially for the 802.11ax connections that everyone from government to business to normal people in their homes are using, is something we all want to improve. The current standard brings wireless communications close to wired speeds, but only in optimal conditions, and rarely in shared spaces where lots of devices are using the same signal.
To compensate, companies started working on Wi-Fi 6E back around 2020, although very little beyond just specifications were revealed until recently. The reason that 6E has so much potential is that it allows routers to send and receive signals in the recently opened 6GHz band alongside the typical 2.5 and 5GHz bands that most routers use today. And that 6GHz band is rich in bandwidth, with over twice as much available than the 5GHz band. This could allow 6E routers to easily create and support several 160MHz channels for pushing data, with none of them overlapping. In fact, it could actually make wireless communications faster and more reliable than wired connections.
At CES, we actually got a glimpse of routers using 6E technology. The most impressive, which also won a CES innovation award, was probably the Netgear Nighthawk RAXE300, which should be available soon for about $400. The Nighthawk looks a bit like either a swimming stingray or an imperial shuttlecraft from Star Wars, and is currently aimed at consumers with large bandwidth needs, like competitive gamers. It would be a welcome addition to office or agency settings too, however, especially those where the coverage is spotty or there are a lot of people and devices trying to use the same signal.
Hiking into the Uncanny Valley
In addition to more normal types of technology, CES always seems to introduce something that is both amazingly cool and also a bit head scratching. This year, that designation easily goes to Ameca, a human-like robot that was able to smile, react to questions, and generally assure people that there is no truth to the rumors of a pending robot revolution.
Ameca was created by British technology firm Engineered Arts. They have a bit of a reputation for creating realistic-looking robots that stray too far into the uncanny valley where designs get creepy and off-putting for most people. A few of their previous creations could be considered nightmare fuel for some.
With Ameca, the company decided to design a robot that does not try to look like a real person. Yes, it has human features, but nobody would mistake it for an actual person, even in bad lighting. According to Engineered Arts, Ameca shows that robots can move beyond entertainment into useful roles, like answering questions about flight times or gate assignments at an airport. At CES, visitors could ask Ameca basic questions, and it would process them and give seemingly correct answers. It also knows how to focus its eyes at the person it is talking with, and gesture more or less appropriately to add emphasis to whatever it’s saying. That almost makes the backend artificial intelligence and language processing software more impressive than the frame of the robot, at least in terms of potential future use cases.
The fact that Ameca looks like a robot, and is not attempting to appear too human, apparently makes people more relaxed about talking with it. All of the videos I watched of Ameca at CES featured a crowd of people gathered around the unit.
I’m not completely convinced of Ameca’s wider usefulness, but I would at least feel comfortable talking with it at an airport. And although it pretends to breathe, you wouldn’t need to worry very much if it doesn’t wear a mask.
John Breeden II is an award-winning journalist and reviewer with over 20 years of experience covering technology. He is the CEO of the Tech Writers Bureau, a group that creates technological thought leadership content for organizations of all sizes. Twitter: @LabGuys