CES 2018: Disruptive Technologies and Fun PC Stuff
Two disruptive technologies that we have been covering for the last few years are 3D printing—especially as it pertains to PCB fab—and autonomous driving.
3D printing has been around for a few years, but it seems like 3D printers were introduced to CES very recently. I saw one of the first units shown in 2012 which was by MakerBot (2012 is the middle ages when you realize how fast technology has progressed in the last six years). This year there were almost 50 exhibitors showing their latest offerings. Most of them were in the LVCC in the north hall at the 3D Printing Marketplace. Many of them were “me too” versions of what we have seen for the last few years with about 30% of them being from China. (Note: At CES this year, 482 exhibitors had the word Shenzhen as part of their name.) However, the sample objects being printed were more professional and realistic than in past years. But the reaction from those walking the area was a lot more ho-hum.
The applications for 3D printing that seem to garner the most interest, especially in our industry, are 3D printed circuits (conductors and insulation) and 3D printed metal parts. Still, most of what was being shown was an attempt to get the "Oh, wow" reaction.
This year, the company that we feel is one of the leaders in 3D additive PCB fab, Nano Dimension, was not exhibiting. When I asked whether they were going to be there, I was informed that this show was not focused on their market, and they are correct. They focus on 3D circuit production and, after all, a printed circuit does not have the wow effect that many go to CES to see. It does seem that their DragonFly PCB printer is gaining ground, and we will be covering them as well as others in the PCB 3D manufacturing arena in more detail as the year progresses.
It seems that 3D printing at CES has run its course, very much as 3D TV had a few years ago, and although there were some great showings, it is no longer a prime target for major 3D printer vendors. Still, let’s look at a few notable exhibitors.
One company that I find impressive is Markforged, which specializes in composite 3D printing. Their focus seems to be on carbon fiber as well as metal printed parts. They claim to be able to print parts “from aluminum to titanium to carbon fiber as well as composites.”
A familiar name, but not one usually associated with advanced manufacturing, is Polaroid. Declaring bankruptcy some time ago, it re-emerged as a new corporation using the same name. They entered the 3D printing arena at CES 2016 with the launch of their first 3D printer. They showed some new units last year and again in 2018 showing another new range of 3D printers. Their easy-to-use models offer many 3D printing options. They are all compact, with sleek designs, and bear the unmistakable Polaroid classic border logo. These new units make 3D printing accessible to anyone who wants to easily 3D-print artwork, models, and parts at home, in the classroom, or at the office—just as they did half a century ago for home photographers. It is good to see them back.
There is no doubt that 3D printing is now becoming more mainstream and that the real applications will not be printed toys but real items and parts. Will it really be a disruptive technology as we have all be predicting for years, or just an alternative but growing process segment that will be incorporated into the PCB fab industry for specific needs such as fast turn-around prototypes and short runs? I predict the latter.
Let’s move on to one of the most disruptive technologies that we may see in our lifetimes. Something that may be almost as disruptive as the first manned flights over a century ago, that being autonomous driving. This is a topic we have been watching for the last five years with truly driverless vehicles becoming not only viable but now expected. As we will be covering this topic in great depth in a separate article soon, I will highlight the more interesting announcements and show some of the amazing advancements and cars at CES.
By definition, “An autonomous car (driverless car, self-driving car, robotic car) is a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input.”
Are you looking forward to having a driverless car in the next five years or so, or using a driverless Uber-type of transportation service? Do you hate the thought of the entire concept?
Well, like it or not, it is coming, so let’s look at just a few of the announcements on this topic at CES as well as some of the first planned actual uses of this technology, as demonstrated at the show. Following is just a partial list of announcements from companies such as Intel, Nvidia, Amazon, Volkswagen, Cisco, Alphabet, Microsoft, various traditional car manufacturers, and others made at CES (a full list will be in the upcoming detailed article) regarding this topic:
- Nvidia introduced powerful new chip technology (Xavier) focused on autonomous cars
- Nvidia announced that the Xavier chipset is now in production and will ship to select automotive partners and customers within the next few months (Xavier can do 20 trillion deep learning operations per second)
- Nvidia announced that its Drive IX and Drive AR software kits are in use by Volkswagen for their electric buses and they are also partnering with Uber, Baidu and the Aurora startup for their upcoming driverless cars
- Alphabet’s (Google’s holding company) self-driving car now called Waymo announces it now has over four million miles of real driving experience performed in cities such as Mountain View, California; Austin, Texas; and Phoenix, Arizona
- Intel has acquired Mobileye (an Israeli company) that makes systems for collision avoidance in self-driving vehicles and has also announced a partnership with Waymo
- Microsoft has announced partnerships with automakers developing autonomous Internet-connected vehicles including BMW, Ford, Volvo, Renault-Nissan, and Toyota as well as Chinese company Baidu
- Amazon is focused on getting purchases to customers as quickly and as cheaply as possible, therefore they are part of a Toyota announcement revealing a self-driving food delivery vehicle called the e-Palette
- IBM received a patent in March for a "machine learning system that can dynamically shift control of an autonomous vehicle between a human driver and a vehicle control processor in the event of a potential emergency.” IBM has multiple patents that tie together machine learning and driving. Whatever road technology we see from IBM will likely be connected to its AI engine, Watson
The following are just some of the new self-driving vehicles that were shown and seem to be just about ready for prime time. Of course, there are significant reliability and testing programs ongoing, but these seem to be at final prototype stage.
Mercedes seems to be seriously planning to commercialize self-driving vehicles soon; they showed a few concept cars, some of which seem very close to being commercially ready.
NVIDIA exhibited their real self-driving race car. Not only is it autonomous but it is also powered by electric motors and is extremely fast. This vehicle has been shown previously but you have to see it in person to really get that “wow” feeling. I would love to see a race between 8−10 robo cars, imagining them all trying to outsmart each other and race to the finish. Well, it is a planned event.
Tesla is another company that has already invested in the self-driving arena. You may not know it, but for the last year, all new Teslas include the hardware required for the cars to drive autonomously. They want their current cars to be able to drive themselves when the software is ready which may be in the next 24 months. They now include the hardware in all their cars free of additional charge; great deal, right? But if you ever want to actually use it, it’ll cost you about $8,000—assuming you want to pay for it when you buy the car, with the cost rising if you decide to unlock it later.
Lyft has been doing demonstrations with a BMW 5 Series outfitted with self-driving tech designed by Aptiv. Great progress but they still have a person and a steering wheel ready to take over if necessary. Uber has stated that they can deploy driverless cars as early as next year. Ford, Volkswagen and others all have stated that they will be ready in the next few years.
There was so much to see, far more than I could get to in my three days at CES, but let me list some of the more interesting and fun items that may not be based on disruptive technology but are true advances and new offerings in their respective fields. So here we go, from the sublime to the ridiculous. You decide.
How about a very modern RV that comes with its own built-in helicopter?
Or a unit that allows you to remotely change the odor of your home to match the mood you want to create? Think perfume or flowers for romance, or burning gunpowder for playing Battlefield on your computer.
For those of us who hate golf but love building computers, there were many to visit. One of the ones I liked best, and I do like and use their products, is Corsair. In fact, I am typing this on a Corsair RGB gaming keyboard. They showed their new crystal cases, RGB special-effects fans, and their updated keyboards and mice. All of them are so versatile that they require their own dedicated software to allow you to use all their features. For example, I have my keyboard set to light up red when I turn on my computer; during the boot sequence it changes to brighter red; when boot is finished it changes to blue; and as the background operations come online it animates to a pulsing, breathing purple. There are also unlimited variations to fan appearance depending on what you want to show: Temperature in the case? Beat of the music you are playing? Getting killed in a game? The options are almost unlimited. Sublime or ridiculous? You decide.
NASA exhibited at CES for the third year in a row. Their booth was filled with young people who were seemingly excited about the U. S. space program getting out of neutral (or perhaps reverse for the last eight years). A model of the new NASA heavy lift SLS (Space Launch System) was on exhibit, along with a space suit that you could use for a photo op/selfie.
The SLS system is not designed to just ferry to the space station; NASA has industry partners such as Space X and Boeing for that. The SLS, being built by Boeing, will “take astronauts and science experiments farther into space than ever before.” Here are some comparisons: The Shuttle was 184 feet tall while the SLS is 322 feet tall, almost as tall as the moon-shot vehicle, the Saturn 5. As far as lift capacity, the Saturn 5 could lift 7.5 million pounds while the Shuttle could lift 7.8 million pounds; the SLS can lift 8.8 million pounds. But that is not the real story, what counts is payload into space. The shuttle could get 32 tons into space while the SLS can lift 70 tons into space. The SLS and the Orion will get us back to the moon, to asteroids and to Mars. Of all the things there were to see at CES I think this was the one that stood out in my mind and made me feel good.
Other general categories include a lot of IoT devices, many of them with absolutely no need to be web connected, such as RF radiation-shielding underwear to protect your critical parts when you carry your smartphone in your pocket or keep your laptop on your lap for hours. There was a $6,500 “Maybach Benz of Toilets” that not only is heated, has foot warmers, does all kinds of stuff and lets you stream music to it via Bluetooth. Robotic clothes folders and of course lots of robots, some potentially useful and some downright silly. And my choice for the most useless item, but one that will be loved by some of our youth who are married to their smartphones and take hundreds of selfies, the AirSelfie Drone.
Sublime or ridiculous? You decide.