The Consumer Electronics Show brings the best and the boldest from the world of technology to Las Vegas every January. With peers present and around-the-clock coverage, it’s usually a hub for product announcements, unveilings and futuristic prototypes.
This year was no different, and there were plenty of drone-related releases that will be of interest to professional pilots and enthusiasts.
Here’s our roundup of the biggest drone news from CES 2019.
DJI’s Latest Product Announcement
Unsurprisingly we start with industry leader DJI. The Chinese manufacturer doesn’t often make major reveals at CES - those are usually saved for AirWorks and fancy New York launch events.
But this year there was a product release at CES from DJI: The Smart Controller.
Developed to be used with DJI’s newest drones - the Mavic 2 Zoom and Mavic 2 Pro - the Smart Controller looks like what you get if you merge a traditional DJI controller with a CrystalSky monitor: High-definition image clarity while flying, a screen bright enough to work well in sunny conditions, and an all-in-one device that means you don’t have to fly with a smartphone or tablet.
What’s not to like about that?
In terms of specs, DJI’s new controller has a 5.5-inch screen and a brightness output of 1000 cd/m2. In English that’s about twice as bright as your standard smartphone, so a big step up that’s bound to give pilots a better sense of what they’re shooting in the moment.
The Smart Controller’s battery lasts for two and a half hours and comes pre-loaded with the DJI Go 4 and DJI Pilot applications. The former has been updated to include a new feature, SkyTalk, which allows you to fly and livestream directly to your social media channels.
The Smart Controller’s $649 price tag will make it an expensive accessory for many enthusiast pilots. But for professional drone pilots who want and require improved situational awareness, it’s going to be a hit. Particularly with compatibility for the new Mavic 2 Enterprise series to be supported with future updates.
Drones have been a mainstay at CES for a few years now. There were more than 170 exhibitors in the drone category this time around.
But CES 2019 may be looked back upon as the year of the rise (or should we say the descent) of underwater unmanned vehicles. A number of companies specializing in underwater drones took the plunge with products that are either ready for market or still under development.
These mainly included consumer models like RoboSea’s BIKI, a robot fish with a 4K camera.
But some companies exhibiting promised much more than just grainy underwater footage from your vacation.
For example, PowerVision’s PowerRay drone has been designed to be much more than an underwater photography device. It has four hours of battery life and a 4K camera, which is great. But here’s the thing: on top of that you can purchase it with a FishFinder add-on, a sonar system capable of reading the underwater landscape, spotting temperature hotspots and alerting the pilot when fish are detected. You can also program it to drop bait remotely.
Personal transport drones have made headlines at CES for the past few years, going back to EHang’s unveiling of the 184 in 2016 and Intel-backed Volocopter literally taking off on stage at last year’s show.
This time around the attention was firmly on Bell, the aviation company that’s partnered with Uber to deliver an ambitious air taxi service.
Bell unveiled the Nexus, an impressive-looking VTOL aircraft concept that will be capable of carrying four people at a time. The Nexus design has six ducted fans for vertical take-off and landing, which then rotate by ninety degrees to offer rapid transport and a range of 170 miles.
Bell’s bold prediction is that the Nexus will fly for the first time in 2025 or 2026. As with many projects of this nature, testing will start with a human pilot rather than a fully autonomous system.
You’d hope that whoever is behind the controls of your future air taxi knows what they are doing. You can read more about the benefits of hiring professional drone pilots here.