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Sophisticated algorithms make drones and cars smarter than ever at CES2015

Tech and Innovation

Posted on January 15, 2015

4 min read

Jason Cartwright is the editor of techAU and travelled to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. This is what really caught his eye at CES2015.

Traditionally drones make for great entertainment and more recently the emergence of creative video uses has been the main selling points. Drones have also got a pretty bad wrap in the media, with the focus on the safety and privacy risks, rather than the potential benefits.

At CES drones were a key theme of the show and perhaps the natural evolution of drones is to start to deliver the potential benefits that stand drones in a distant category from remote controlled flying toys.

There were easily a dozen companies that had drones at the show including Hexo+ and AirDog that auto-follow users. These are pre-programmable so you can make sure that your weekend extreme sport is captured like a Hollywood film.

The most impressive demonstration by far was during Intel’s press conference. Combining new mobile processors and complex software algorithms (known as RealSense), drones can now avoid objects (and people) in the world they’re flying through.

Controlling a drone is becoming easier all the time, but Intel demonstrated a drone tasked with flying from point A to point B, with obstacles in the way. It’s one thing to do a stage demo and another entirely to show off a drone flying through the forest at speed while automatically dodging trees.

During Intel’s keynote, they had people run at Asctec drone and it was smart enough to avoid them. We’re used to feeding an input into the controller and the drone unintelligibly following the command. Now we’re starting to see drones verify if that command (or law of robotics) will negatively impact another human before execution.

With this level of sophistication, we can absolutely get to a stage where drones simply can’t run into people, so the safety issues go away. This sets the stage for services like Amazon to deliver packages or emergency services to fly equipment to patients, through our streets safely.

A futuristic car

The most futuristic vehicle at CES this year was easily the Mercedes Benz Concept car that had opaque windows. What good are windows when the car is better than you at driving? It’s also possible that the way driverless vehicles could slice through traffic would scare passengers that aren’t in control, so shielding people from the outside world, may be necessary.

The passengers can also rotate in any direction in luxurious chairs. While you might be immersed in your virtual reality glasses during the commute, it is anticipated you may also want to talk to your family or friends, more like a lounge room on wheels.

Something a little closer to market is Nvidia’s bold plans for the car. The graphics maker says the most powerful computer in your life will be in your connected car. They have a Drive PX platform which contains 2 of their brand new Tegra X1 chips. These chips will power up to 20 megapixels of displays inside the vehicle, as well as the vehicle automation features. By the way, each Tegra X1 has more processing power than the fastest supercomputers on the planet, just 15 years ago.

Nvidia are moving past current techniques of lidar and sensors to for a view of the surrounding environment around the car. Instead they are creating a 360 degree view of the vehicle with up to 12 ultra-wide angle, high resolution video cameras, paired with software to do some amazing things.

Auto-valet is a feature that allows you to pull up to a parking garage for the first time, get out, and using your phone tell your car to go find a park. The car then proceeds through the parking lot (even multi-story) and finds an available park. Once you’re done shopping, just summon your vehicle and it’ll come pick you up. If you’re a valet, it’s probably time to look for a different job.

Hardware is definitely an important part of these industry developments, but it’s really the software side that’s making revolutionary leaps. This means companies will compete aggressively for talent with the biggest companies in the world.

While of lot of CES is about the arrival of things we already expect, it’s exciting to be surprised by companies that push the edge of what’s possible. Technology is a competitive space and don’t be fooled, it’s a race as the first past the post will be handsomely rewarded. Word at the show is that full autonomous cars are likely to hit showrooms as soon as 5 years from now.

The future is bright and can’t arrive soon enough.

Read more about Jason’s CES visit on techAU.