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Category: Drones

AI is the heartbeat of CES 2019

This year’s CES features a familiar cast of characters: gigantic, super-thin 8K screens; plenty of signage promising the arrival of 5G; robots of all shapes, sizes, and levels of competency; and acres of personal grooming products that you can pair with your phone. In all seriousness, however, one main question keeps coming to mind as I walk the floor: Are we approaching the tipping point where AI truly starts to affect most people in meaningful ways on a daily basis? I think we’re still a couple of years away from ubiquitous AI, but it’s the heartbeat of this year’s show, and it’s going play a part in almost everything we do in the very near future. AI applications at this year’s show include manufacturing, transportation, energy, medicine, education, photography, communications, farming, grocery shopping, fitness, sports, defense, and entertainment, just to name a few. The AI revolution is just starting, but once it gets going, AI will continually reshape society for decades to come. This year’s show reinforces our decision to explore the roles that the XPRTs, beginning with AIXPRT, can play in the AI revolution.

Now for the fun stuff. Here’s a peek at a couple of my favorite displays so far. As is often the case, the most awe-inducing displays at CES are those that overwhelm attendees with light and sound. LG’s enormous curved OLED wall, dubbed the Massive Curve of Nature, was truly something to behold.

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Another big draw has been Bell’s Nexus prototype, a hybrid-electric VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) air taxi. Some journalists can’t resist calling it a flying car, but I refuse to do so, because it has nothing in common with cars apart from the fact that people sit in it and use it to travel from place to place. As Elon Musk once said of an earlier, but similar, concept, “it’s just a helicopter in helicopter’s clothing.” Semantics aside, it’s intriguing to imagine urban environments full of nimble aircraft that are quieter, easier to fly, and more energy efficient than traditional helicopters, especially if they’re paired with autonomous driving technologies.

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Finally, quite a few companies are displaying props that put some of the “reality” back into “virtual reality.” Driving and flight simulators with full range of motion that are small enough to fit in someone’s basement or game room, full-body VR suits that control your temperature and deliver electrical stimulus based on game play (yikes!), and portable roller-coaster-like VR rides were just a few of the attractions.

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It’s been a fascinating show so far!


CES 2017

I’ve attended many tech shows over the years, but this year’s CES has more energy than any I’ve attended in a long time. Part of the energy is the breadth of products. There are amazingly slim TVs that make my TV at home, which I thought was slim, look fat. And, there are beautiful 8K TVs that make my new 4K one feel old.

I’m seeing all manner of smartphones. I’m seeing mobile remote presence devices such as the one from Beam, and after seeing the latest Fenix 5 from Garmin, I think I’ve found my next smartwatch.

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There are many differing devices and approaches to VR and AR. There are drones everywhere. And, lots of massage chairs.

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There are also plenty of products, let’s call them longshots, that contribute to the Wild West feel of the show. Maybe you’d like the Hydreon FakeTV, a small device to make it seem like a TV is on in your house to keep away burglars? Or Dr. Fuji’s Body Shaper, a vibrating platform to “accelerate your workout”?

Another part of the dynamic feeling is the breadth of vendors. Almost all the big tech vendors are here, except for Apple, of course. The excitement for me, however, is the small vendors displaying things that may well never see the light of day, but give glimpses of the future. For example, while I doubt most of the drone vendors at CES will be around in a few years, I think the trend toward small, inexpensive selfie drones will be.

The main reason for the energy at this year’s CES could be the convergence of multiple big industries. The most obvious example of this phenomenon is the large auto presence. Cars have been at CES before—the first time I drove my current car, a BMW i3, was at CES 2014—but this time around they seem to really want to make a statement. Faraday Future is making a splash by trying to be the next Tesla with its FF91.

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Multiple vendors, including VW, Nissan, Toyota, and Mercedes, have concept cars on display—most of them are electric and all of them are heavy on technology. The biggest tech they’re touting is autonomous driving. The auto companies are showing their products while companies like NVIDIA, Intel, and Magic Eye are displaying the tech they have as well.

Regardless of the source of the energy at this CES, I see many opportunities for the existing XPRTs to continue to be important resources. I also see how important emerging technologies like machine learning and VR/AR are going to be and how the XPRTs can be of help there as well.

Exciting times!


Machine learning

A couple months ago I wrote about doing an inventory of our XPRT tools. Part of that is taking a close look at the six existing XPRTs. The first result of that effort was what I recently wrote about HDXPRT. We’re also looking at emerging technology areas where the BenchmarkXPRT Community has expertise that can guide us.

One of the most exciting of these areas is machine learning. It has rapidly gone from interesting theoretical research (they called them “neural nets” back when I was getting my computer science degree) to something we all use whether we realize it or not. Machine learning (or deep learning) is in everything from intelligent home assistants to autonomous automobiles to industrial device monitoring to personalized shopping in retail environments.

The challenge with developing a benchmark for machine learning is that these are still the early days of the technology. In the past, XPRTs have targeted technologies later in the product cycle. We’re wondering how the XPRT model and the members of its community can play a role here.

One possible use of a machine-learning XPRT is with drones, a market that includes many vendors. Consumers, hobbyists, builders, and the companies creating off-the-shelf models could all benefit from tools and techniques that fairly compare drone performance.

The best approach we’ve come up with to define a machine-learning XPRT starts with identifying common areas such as computer vision, natural language processing, and data analytics, and then, within each of those areas, identifying common algorithms such as AlexNet, GoogLeNet, and VGG. We would also look at the commonly used frameworks such as Caffe, Theano, TensorFlow, and CNTK.

The result might differ from an existing XPRT where you simply run a tool and get a result. Instead, it might take the form of sample code and workloads. Or, maybe even one or two executables that could be used in the most common environments.

At this point, our biggest question is, What do you think? Is this an area you’re interested in? If so, what would you like to see a machine-learning XPRT do?

We’re actively engaging with people in these emerging markets to gauge their interest as well. Regardless of the feedback, we’re excited about the possibilities!



I’m old enough that I’ve never really understood the whole selfie thing. However, it’s clearly never going away, and I’m fascinated–although a little creeped out–by the development of selfie drones. It’s amazing that we have so quickly reached the point where you can buy a drone that will literally fit in your pocket.

As an example of how sophisticated these devices can be, consider Zero Robotics Hover Camera Passport.  It’s capable of capturing 4K UHD video and 13-megapixel images, it can track faces or bodies, and it includes sensors, including sonar, to measure the distance from air to ground. All in a package that’s about the size of an old VHS tape.

A while back we talked about the new ways people are finding to use technology, and how the XPRTs need to adapt.  While I don’t think we’re going to be seeing DroneXPRT any time soon, we’ve been talking about including the technologies that make these devices possible in the XPRTs. These technologies include machine learning, computer vision, and 4K video.

What new devices fascinate you? Which technologies are going to be most useful in the near future? Let us know!


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