Last year I was unable to attend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in person, but was fortunate enough to have a few colleagues covering the event. They sent back reports about the newest technology that would soon be populating inside our homes and offices. This year, however, nobody can get to the show because of the ongoing pandemic. It’s gone completely virtual. On the bright side, that means that all of the keynotes are open to everyone who wants to stream them. A few companies have even set up virtual booths that you can visit without leaving your home.
The bad news is that the number of exhibitors is way down this year, with fewer than half as many as attended the last physical show in 2020. That makes my job for Nextgov a little bit more difficult. It’s not always easy to pick out potential government technology at CES because it’s hyper-focused on consumer products like televisions. In the past, however, the sheer number of exhibitors, which could sometimes soar into the thousands, meant that spotting government trends or tech that government might be interested in was at least possible by wearing down the soles of your shoes wandering around the multi-level, maze-like complexes that hosted the show.
I didn’t have to do any wandering this year, but there was also less to find. Even so, CES offered quite a few interesting nuggets that might hint at future government technology.
5G Will Finally Be Everywhere
In 2019, the concept of 5G was just starting to roll out, and companies were beginning to imagine what customers could do with bandwidth that was up to 25 times faster than was available at the time. Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg keynoted CES that year and talked about the pending new technology almost as if it were magic. He was back this year to kick off the 2021 virtual show, but with many more real-world examples. According to Verizon, their 5G service is now available in 2,700 cities serving 230 million people.
At the show, images of blockbuster movies being downloaded over lightning-fast connections in seconds were highlighted, but government is already investing in more practical 5G projects, a trend that will continue as the technology proliferates. For example, much of the Department of Defense’s digital modernization strategy will depend on 5G communications.
It’s not just the speed that makes 5G useful in government and the DOD. The core of the 5G transport layer is almost fully comprised of software-defined networking technology. That gives the DOD a lot more control over its data and bandwidth. For example, by using network slicing, they can allocate bandwidth based on mission priorities going all the way out to the edge. That way something like a critical video feed coming in from a drone in a forward area can have more than enough bandwidth dedicated to it so that it can stream its feed in real-time without getting disrupted by other applications on the same network.
The intelligence community is also interested in similar projects relating to 5G. In September, the Defense Information Systems Agency released a request for information about how it could deploy dynamic spectrum sharing across a broad range of capabilities. Specifically, it wants to improve bandwidth allocation in the areas of training, readiness and lethality. The backbone of 5G is almost tailor-made to drive specific projects, giving greater control for both public networks and the more highly classified, closed environments used by the IC.
IoT Getting Back to Its Roots
Although 5G is driving many of the innovations on display at CES this year, the really interesting stuff stems from the innovative applications that use it. I wrote a lot about smart cities over the past few years, including some truly innovative towns that are really pushing the envelope on what is possible. One of the most advanced places was Peachtree Corners, Georgia, where much of the infrastructure is computer-controlled using internet of things sensors and artificial intelligence.
One of the main partners working in Peachtree Corners is Bosch, which installed many of the IoT sensors around town as well as the artificial intelligence that drives them. At CES this year, Bosch described their work in this area.
Bosch CTO Michael Bolle explained that while most companies in 2020 focused on building AI to predict or model human behavior, they instead built what they are calling industrial AI and merged it with IoT. In Bosch’s AIoT program, they concentrate on explaining the world to objects and machines, and teaching them how to interact with it.
By explaining the physical world to machines instead of trying to make them think like humans, it makes for a much more functional AI that can be employed in a variety of situations that might really drive smart cities and other practical applications into overdrive in 2021 and beyond.
Self-Driving Cars Pulling into Your Neighborhood
Another huge technology that will benefit from 5G is self-driving vehicles. We saw a few pilot programs in different states over the past few years, as well as some Congressional approval to explore this new technology. And at CES last year, you almost couldn’t wander the show floor without bumping into a self-driving car or even a self-flying airplane.
Without a physical presence, there was much less emphasis on cars this year. However, one company was taking pilot programs and moving them into the real world, with big plans for major rollouts by 2025.
That company is called Mobileye, and is a subsidiary of Intel. They took a unique approach to developing their self-driving vehicles, namely doing a lot of the most difficult tasks, like mapping hundreds of miles of potential streets, roads and routes before trying to then interface that data with their vehicles. At CES, they announced that they had mapped almost a billion kilometers of roads for their vehicles, and add about eight million more every day. When the mapping is combined with its safe-driving AI, it makes for a safe and efficient ride for passengers.
Last year the company tested its cars in Germany and logged thousands of driverless trips with passengers. It plans to quickly scale to other countries and cities, so you might see a Mobileye vehicle in your neck of the woods very soon. Beyond just that success, their method of getting self-driving cars deployed quickly and safely could become a roadmap for other private or government projects in this area.
“From the beginning, every part of our plan aims for rapid geographic and economic scalability – and today’s news shows how our innovations are enabling us to execute on that strategy,” said Mobileye CEO Amnon Shashua.
Virtual CES runs through January 14th this year, so there is lots more to see. The good news about a virtual show is that even if you miss a keynote or a presentation, it’s still going to be available online anytime. So sit back and enjoy seeing what technology the future may hold.
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