Another week down! This one featured the Consumer Electronic Show, which debuted virtually this year. Though an admittedly subdued version of the Las Vegas spectacle the event is known for, vendors still showed up to display 2021’s roster of new-in gadgets and the tech that powers them—from rollable smartphone screens to smart toilets that analyze your…”wellness.” Unsurprisingly, COVID-induced hygiene tech was also featured heavily.
Check out the Wired’s review of other notable innovations:
CES isn’t just all pageantry: showcases of aspirational (and sometimes dubiously practical) gizmos and gadgets are accompanied by exciting new developments from some of the biggest innovators in the industry.
One of such announcements came from Intel’s autonomous driving subsidiary Mobileye, which outlined it’s autonomous vehicle strategy and the new Lidar silicon chip behind it. Acquired by Intel for $15 billion in 2017, Mobileye is set to launch a fleet of robotaxis sometime in 2022—expanding to consumer markets by 2025. Their tech focuses on a “trinity” of crowdsourced high-def maps, driving policy rooted in Responsibility-Sensitive Safety (RSS) standards, and the company's camera-first mature sensing technology.
Competitor Tesla takes a radically different approach, considering lidar sensor-sourced data a “crutch,” the company instead relies on metrics from its consumer beta launch to improve its fleets’ functionality. But “deploying a crappy system [and] calling it beta,” as Mobileye CEO Amnon Shashua puts it, is a strategy that "sounds reasonable, but actually it's a brute-force way of going about things"—one that's likely to "get into a glass ceiling."
Though garnering considerably less headlines than competitors like Google’s Waymo, Mobileye is one to watch in the unfolding race to driverless.
Also unveiled during CES was Panasonic Automotive’s new AR heads-up display. A massive upgrade from commonplace HUD tech, the system uses AI to spot and highlight crosswalks, pedestrians, and potential collisions:
My first instinct after watching the promo video is that a red “X” over an obstacle like a trashcan in the street seems redundant—even distracting. But the system could be a valuable supplement to improve drivers’ awareness in low-light, or eliminate the need to divert gaze from the road while using navigation apps. The product is slated to arrive in cars by 2024, so we’ll see what the verdict is then.
The integration of AR in cars reflects their growing role as “computers on wheels”—something that will be cemented with the widespread availability of 5G. During CES, Samsung showed off its progress towards equipping cars with mmWave through “array antenna beamforming”—which focuses signals towards a specific receiving device at high strength, mitigating the typical pitfalls of interference and coverage usually faced by high frequency 5G.
“When it comes to providing large quantities of road information to the driver in real-time and implementing connected-car services, the ability of 5G mmWave to facilitate the transmission of large volumes of data at rapid speeds is crucial.” —Samsung statement
The company is also looking into using the technology to develop and enable in-car experiences such as HD video streaming, games, video conference calls, live concerts and events:
As driving technology continues to advance, so does the need for new regulations. Many of the assumptions serving as the foundation for current Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) are outdated—or quickly will be. On Thursday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a new version of the FMVSS to recognize that some cars don't have drivers—and some vehicles don't have anyone inside at all. This comes as a boon to companies like Nuro and Zoox, whose novel new autonomous taxis hardly resemble cars as we traditionally know them. But despite the acknowledgement, some auto safety advocates blast its “failure to advance commonsense rules detailing minimum performance standards for autonomous driving systems."
But that’ll be a torch the new administration will have to run with.
Drone delivery also commanded its fair share of the CES spotlight. Verizon, UPS, and Skyward announced their connected drone delivery partnership, enabled by Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network.
“The low latency of 5G and edge compute is ideal for monitoring air traffic in and out of a busy logistics hub, especially those using mixed fleets of autonomous vehicles like drones, trucks, and planes. This year, we’ll be taking the collaboration with UPS further by testing 5G Ultra Wideband integrations to connect the sky.” —Mariah Scott, President, Skyward
The pilot program will deliver retail items throughout their test site in The Villages in Florida.
The FAA’s updated regulations last month have set the stage for accelerated drone delivery adoption across the country—and we might not have to look farther than Manna’s pilot program in Oranmore, Ireland to see how the service will be received.
Partnering with local businesses (as well as grocery giant Tesco) to deliver goods and groceries to the suburban town of 10,000, Manna’s was one of the biggest commercial drone delivery tests to date. Oranmore residents place more than 100 orders every day, from things as simple as coffee and books to essential—like COVID-19 test kits. Though the influx of this new mode of delivery had the potential to cause friction, the program has been a hit with the community:
“Someone ordered a head of broccoli. Just a head of broccoli. Emergency broccoli! People are just absolutely loving the concept, but at the same time they’re engaging with it for utility.” —Bobby Healy, Founder, Manna
The company will launch in the United States this year, though the location has not yet been announced.
With grocery store access limited during the pandemic, drone delivery offers a high-tech boost to business
Good news and bad news for T-Mo subscribers. For those who have bought 5G-enabled phones, you’re in luck! The company has plans to expand and advance their network after signing new five-year agreements with both Ericsson and Nokia. For those with older devices, watch out—you may be SOL:
“As a result of a network update going into place on 1/29/2021, we identified a small number of older devices that are not able to receive a manufacturer software update and as a result, these devices will be unable to establish a network connection. T-Mobile and Metro customers utilizing these older devices will lose all network connectivity if they do not replace their device.” —T-Mobile update
Though the company first sent word mid-December, no doubt some subscribers will be in for an unfortunate surprise come the end of the month.
Though the idea of some people holding on to phones so old that they no longer work with network infrastructure may seem ludicrous in a culture that normalizes yearly tech upgrades—many are without the means to entertain that luxury.
Attempting to address the economic barriers of internet access, Governor Cuomo has proposed a state mandate for internet providers to offer $15 per month internet subscriptions to low-income families in New York. The nation’s average rate for basic broadband plans runs at around $50 a month—a figure that an estimated 20% of families cannot afford.
“Access is one thing, but access if it’s not affordable is meaningless.” —New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Those in the country without Cuomo to back them up are turning to Elon Musk. According to PC Mag, nearly half of America is ready to switch to Starlink’s satellite internet service. Though, by “half of America” they actually mean that 55% of 500 people surveyed said they’d sign up for the beta program. Less flashy, but still relevant.
Another update on the SolarWinds front: the company revealed in an SEC finding that they have identified and reverse-engineered the source of the malicious code behind the cyber attack:
“By managing the intrusion through multiple servers based in the United States and mimicking legitimate network traffic, the attackers were able to circumvent threat detection techniques employed by both SolarWinds, other private companies and the federal government...the SUNBURST malicious code itself appears to have been designed to provide the perpetrators a way to enter a customer's IT environment. If exploited, the perpetrators then had to avoid firewalls and other security controls within the customer's environment." —SolarWinds SEC filing
Though no perpetrators could be identified, federal investigators have determined that the Russian government is likely responsible for the hack...due to its level of sophistication. Sort of a compliment to the Kremlin, no?
Details can be found in this blog post by CrowdStike, the firm supporting SolarWinds with the investigation.
We’ve yet to mention the Parler debacle on the Roundup, but we probably won’t be hearing the end of it anytime soon. In the latest development, the practically-defunct platform has sued Amazon in a bid to have its AWS account reinstated, appealing to the US District Court in Seattle that its suspension constitutes a violation of antitrust law and breach of contract. AWS had cut off Parler earlier last week on the grounds that it proliferated hate speech that eventually led to the deadly riot in the US Capitol. Amazon joins Google and Apple, who have also banned the social app due to terms of service violations and lack of content moderation.
"This death blow by AWS could not come at a worse time for Parler—a time when the company is surging with the potential of even more explosive growth in the next few days...worse than the timing is the result: Parler has tried to find alternative companies to host it and they have fallen through. It has no other options. Without AWS, Parler is finished as it has no way to get online." —Parler’s legal complaint, section 23
No way to get online? What a shame.
In a move that echoes the IBM division over the summer, BT has split into two entities: separating its core network technology business from a new digital and transformation division. The latter will operate independently, headed by former Bharti Airtel executive Harmeen Mehta. The mission of the new digital unit is to focus on the development of cloud services, artificial intelligence and machine learning while leaving the core technology business to focus on network development. As BT hit an 11-year low stock price in 2020, we’ll see if the move helps them bounce back.
Telefonica, which has been struggling through the pandemic, saw stocks rise after selling $9.4 billion in assets to American Towers. The deal will hand over 30,000 mobile phone masts across Europe and Latin America, which Telefonica will in turn lease back. Left with only their tower assets in Britain, the move reflects the company’s retreat from less profitable markets—like those in Latin America.
That concludes this week’s roundup! In case you missed it, be sure to check out the #EdgeRewind—a long-form recap of the year’s biggest developments in the telecommunications industry (as if living through 2020 once wasn’t enough).