The Top 10 Autonomous Tech Announcements at CES 2022
Now that we all live in the metaverse, the idea that CES 2022 would be a hybrid event delivered online and in person was met with something of a shrug, which helped those exhibitors who made a late decision not to physically attend this year’s iteration of the long-running annual technology conference in Las Vegas. Yet despite the Omicron variant wreaking havoc with travel plans, there was a raft of exciting new products and innovations at CES 2022.
It might have been unusually quiet in the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center, but the metaverse was omnipresent. Phones and wearables made less noise than usual, but invisible headphones and chameleon car paint delighted—and answered questions that hadn’t been asked. Compared to two years ago, there was relatively little talk this year of urban air mobility (air taxis and freight drones), but while efforts to rethink underground travel turned out to be quite boring, CES 2022 looked up, way beyond the clouds and into space. Once the final frontier, space is apparently now opening up to everyone, and not just billionaires. And with health shaping our lives now more than ever, a healthcare keynote was both a CES first, and perhaps the most 2022 thing about the event.
Here are the top ten trends in autonomous technology from the Las Vegas show.
1. The John Deere Autonomous Tractor leads a pack of self-driving vehicles for heavy industries
Even though the farming sector is ripe for autonomous technology, it was still surprising to see agricultural machinery among the headliners at CES. Perhaps the biggest newsmaker was John Deere’s 8R “fully autonomous” full-size tractor. As the company explains in a news release, the new 8R offers farmers the capability to pilot the tractor manually or use their mobile devices to remotely assign the tractor to autonomously till soil over a certain area, and the tractor will go about the task all on its own—with nobody in the cab. “While the machine is working the farmer can leave the field to focus on other tasks, while monitoring the machine’s status from their mobile device.”
Prototypes of the Autonomous 8R have been testing out in the field (literally) since late 2019. John Deere used CES 2022 to announce that its 8R autonomous tractor will be available to farmers later this year. It’s equipped with a variety of technology systems, including six pairs of stereo cameras and remote monitoring via the John Deere Operations Center Mobile app—and the tractor can remotely contact the Operations Center for help if it encounters obstacles it has trouble identifying.
Another autonomous farming solution unveiled at CES was a tractor at the opposite end of the scale from the full-size Deere 8R; compact tractors play a major role in the farm equipment market, and Monarch Tractor aims to tap into this lucrative segment with its autonomous fully electric MK-V compact tractor. The Monarch offering can be driven by someone in the cab, or autonomously, using the company’s “driver optional” technology that includes RTK GPS and camera-based computer vision. The use of battery swap technology means the vehicle doesn’t need to return to base to recharge, and—depending on the nature of the task—users can expect batteries to deliver up to ten hours of operation time.
Away from agriculture, there’s another industry that can benefit from new autonomous technology: construction. Construction companies see major potential in electrified, autonomous technology to reduce emissions and noise, increase worker safety, and improve efficiency.
At CES 2022, Hyundai Heavy Industries unveiled Concept-X, a portfolio of solutions that combine manned and autonomous technologies for the safe and efficient construction site of the future. Concept-X incorporates cloud-based remote construction site management tools, autonomous topographical measurement and scanning, and the unmanned operation and management of construction equipment including cab-less excavators and dump trucks.
2. Assistive robotics gets a boost from Labrador Systems and others
With its Caddie and Retriever assistive robots, Labrador Systems has taken a back-to-basics approach to home robot design, focusing less on adding new features and complexity and more on making them simpler, easier and more accessible for people to use. These two robots move items around the home to help those with mobility challenges maintain independent living.
Controlled via an app, or by voice command, the entry level Caddie and the larger Retriever, which also has adjustable height controls and a retrieval platform to move items to and from its surface, look like small cabinets on wheels; the robots move between what Labrador calls “bus stops”—predetermined pick-up and drop-off locations within the home, such as a work surface or a dresser. Navigation is done via 3D vision, with downward and forward-facing facing sensors scanning for obstacles.
Robot-as-a-Service (RaaS) company Ottonomy’s Ottobot fleet robot was unveiled at CES in the wake of deals struck by the company with CVG Airport in Cincinnati, OH, restaurant company Presto, and last-mile food delivery company Crave. Airport users can order food via an app, and the robots deliver their order, navigating their way through the airport concourse using lidar and what the company calls “Behavior based contextual navigation with accurate mapping and localization.” Customers retrieve their order from the robot’s cargo bay by unlocking it with a QR code.
Hyundai Motor Company unveiled its “Metamobility” suite of solutions for mobility in the metaverse, including the Individualized Mobility Cabin single-seat pod, based on Hyundai’s autonomous PnD (Plug & Drive) Module. The pods can travel independently, and if required, merge with other Individualized Mobility Cabins in the autonomous Mother Shuttle for an efficient, longer-distance mobility solution. Hyundai also showed the L7 concept, an electric micromobility concept with independently-steering wheels, which can be configured as a single-seat or autonomous delivery platform, and the Drive & Lift (DnL), which has four independent wheels that enable offerings such as the Mobile Eccentric Droid, or “MobED”, a screen-equipped guide bot which can ensure a level load bay, whether on level or uneven terrain.
3. The Indy Autonomous Challenge makes racing history
Five teams representing seven universities took part in the first ever autonomous vehicle head-to-head passing race at CES 2022, in the second stage of the Indy Autonomous Challenge. The race was won by PoliMOVE from Politecnico di Milano and the University of Alabama, taking the $150,000 grand prize, ahead of first stage winner TUM Autonomous Motorsport from Technische Universität München. After all teams raced against the clock in a time trial qualification round to determine the head-to-head race rankings, PoliMOVE faced TUM in the final, not only winning but also recording a breathtaking top speed of 173 mph. To put that into perspective, IndyCar sees top speeds on an oval circuit of up to 240 mph, and F1 has seen 223.5 mph.
4. Perrone Robotics wants to retrofit existing vehicles for autonomy
If you’re a fleet manager, and want to convert your existing fleet for autonomy, call TONY. That’s not a mechanic, but the name of an autonomy retrofit kit from Virginia-headquartered Perrone Robotics. Perrone claims TONY can be embedded into any vehicle type for any application, and the kit includes commercial off the shelf lidar, radar, camera, GPS, and ultrasonic sensors.
Perone Robotics showcased the TONY-AV Star, a TONY-equipped fully-electric, 19-seater transit van with a 120-150-mile range and autonomous capability; this was the only official autonomous ride and demo track experience at the show, with the TONY-AV Star taking riders on a short route at speeds of up to 20 mph.
5. Seoul Robotics develops smart infrastructure to tell connected vehicles where to go
One company offered a different take on autonomy at CES 2022: Instead of creating vehicles that can drive themselves, Seoul Robotics wants to deploy sensors into surrounding infrastructure, and control vehicles remotely through 5G wireless signals.
The company describes its Level 5 Control Tower (LV5 CTRL TWR) as “a mesh network of sensors and computers on infrastructure that guides vehicles autonomously without requiring that sensors be placed on individual vehicles.”
Using deep learning AI and 3D perception software, the LV5 CTRL TWR communicates with vehicles in its vicinity, enabling, say, an automaker to automate last-mile fleet logistics within a manufacturing facility without those vehicles themselves being autonomous vehicles. Seoul Robotics is working on exactly this with BMW in Munich, where a network of hundreds of connected lidar and 3D sensors on infrastructure automates vehicles fresh off the production line, with no human involvement.
6. Autonomy comes for trucking and other rugged sectors
As you admire your new smart fridge, TV, or drone, take a moment to remember how challenging life can be out on the road for truck drivers; and consider also how challenging it is for fleet managers to find enough people to drive their trucks. As the saying goes, “it got here by truck”—but “it” won’t be going anywhere without a driver. That’s why self-driving technology has such potential in goods delivery, and why commercial vehicles are now regulars at CES.
It’s the first/last mile business that Udelv is targeting with its Transporter, a versatile self-driving shuttle with a configurable cargo space, and a suite of sensors including radar, lidar, and cameras.
And Robotics Research (RR.AI), a Clarksburg, MD-headquartered supplier of autonomous technology for the defense industry, showed a Mack Anthem tractor equipped with its autonomous driving system as part of RR.AI’s development of a vehicle-agnostic, full-stack autonomy kit for autonomous vehicles including all on-road applications, complex yard settings, off-highway, and rugged terrain.
7. Pass the time in a self-driving car with new infotainment ideas from LG and Cadillac
As autonomous rides become more accessible to the public over the next several years, one question naturally arises for passengers: what will you do in a car when you don’t need to drive?
Sleeping is of course one good option, but if you’re craving in-vehicle entertainment, check out the LG Omnipod, a new and highly configurable in-vehicle infotainment concept from LG Electronics designed to extend your personal living space into autonomous vehicles.
And for those who want a more exclusive, luxury in-vehicle experience, GM showed off the Cadillac InnerSpace, a two-seater autonomous electric vehicle concept based on the company’s Ultium EV platform.
8. Volvo’s Ride Pilot and more promises of personal autonomous vehicles
We’ve seen autonomy for commercial vehicles and agricultural applications, but you’re probably wondering why we’ve reached number 8 in the list and not mentioned private autonomous vehicles. Self-driving technology companies such as Argo AI, Aurora, and Waymo have focused to-date more on developing autonomous cars-as-a-service for ride-hailing or goods delivery, not as something you can buy and keep in your garage
But according to GM Chief Executive Mary Barra, you’ll be able to own a private autonomous vehicle in the coming years: “We aim to deliver our first personal autonomous vehicles as soon as the middle of this decade.”
Meanwhile, Volvo announced plans to launch a subscription-based “unsupervised autonomous driving,” or “hands free” feature for individual car owners, called Ride Pilot. However, it comes with some important constraints: it will be available initially only in California and on certain segments of highways, on an as-yet unnamed fully-electric successor to the US-built XC90, to be revealed later in 2022.
In addition to established automakers, TOGG, the all-new Turkish automaker made its debut at CES 2022 with a highly autonomous small SUV concept, designed by Pininfarina. The automaker unveiled plans for five models, the first of which it plans to launch by the end of 2022.
9. Qualcomm, Foxconn and others offer autonomous-specific computers
It wasn’t just vehicle manufacturers that sought to get in on the autonomous announcement action at CES 2022: computer hardware and microchip makers showed off new autonomous-specific products targeted at the auto and tech industries.
Foxconn’s MIH Consortium, an open platform for electric and autonomous vehicle technology, used its appearance at CES 2022 to announce a new collaboration with the Autoware Foundation to develop electrified autonomous vehicle technology.
Intel’s Mobileye division announced the seventh generation of its EyeQ automotive system-on-a-chip (SoC), the EyeQ Ultra. Reportedly equivalent in performance to ten of its earlier EyeQ5 chips in a single package, but with “extreme power efficiency,” EyeQ Ultra is built for Level 4-capable self-driving. Mobileye also confirmed an expansion of its partnerships with Ford and VW.
Meanwhile Qualcomm unveiled its Digital Chassis, a customizable suite of continually upgradeable Snapdragon cloud connected platforms made up of the Ride Platform, for L2+/L3 driving; Cockpit Platform, for tailoring the in-car experience; Auto Connectivity Platform, for a wide range of connectivity technologies; and Car-to-Cloud Services, for feature flexibility and performance upgrades.
Additionally, Nvidia unveiled its latest Drive Hyperion platform, powered by the Drive Orin system-on-a-chip (SoC). Drive Hyperion 8, which enables self-driving capability in cars and trucks, features a forward-facing lidar, 12 surround cameras, nine radar, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and three interior-sensing cameras.
10. Autonomous tech sets sail
Autonomous technology isn’t only for landlubbers, as astute readers of Ground Truth know well. Recreational boating company Brunswick, which has partnered with Carnegie Robotics, sailed into CES with a portfolio of automated functions and Advanced Driver Assistance Systems technology, including vessel tracking, 360-degree vessel perception system, path guidance, blind spot monitoring, and autonomous docking.
Chung Ki-sun, the CEO of shipping giant Hyundai Heavy Industries Holdings, believes “Autonomous navigation technology will be the future of maritime mobility.” He used CES 2022 to unveil plans to launch the world’s first self-driving vessel equipped with autonomous navigation technology during the first quarter of 2022. In June 2021, the group’s Avikus autonomous navigation systems division successfully demonstrated fully autonomous navigation of a 12-passenger cruise ship, and plans to become “the world’s first company to conduct an autonomous navigation of a large-scale commercial vessel in the ocean” in early 2022.
Overall, the announcements from CES 2022 showed how autonomous technology is maturing and spreading through a wide range of sectors, from personal mobility, to agriculture, shipping, logistics, motorsports, and more. While it’s important to remember that not all iterations of autonomous technology will succeed in their intended ways, CES 2022 gave us plenty to talk about for the next 12 months. A year is a long time in tech—who knows what CES 2023 will bring?