January 7, 2022

By Keith Shaw

CESTakeaways400x275CES is always one of the biggest trade shows of the year, where companies from all different sectors come to Las Vegas to show off their latest innovations. Companies that make robots, drones and self-driving cars are among those that have attended in recent years, and this year was no different. While several big companies pulled out of the show due to COVID-related concerns, there were still enough announcements in the space to make people talk about what’s coming next in technology.

I attended the show for many years covering technology for other publications, and was always curious about the types of robots that were being showcased. Early on were the robotic vacuums and dancing humanoid robots, which still make appearances at the event. More recently, industrial robot companies and commercial robots debuted at the show (such as those from OMRON and Doosan Robotics, to name a few). Drones and self-driving vehicles always draw big crowds, as people want to see “what’s next” or explore the state of the industry.

Here are my thoughts about what impressed me during this year’s show, based on press announcements from the show (we did not attend this year due to similar travel concerns):

#1: Mobile robots for eldercare a reality: I was fortunate to be able to meet with Labrador Systems in 2020 (pre-COVID) when they were first developing their Labrador Retriever robot – they were hoping to make a big announcement later in 2020 but COVID delayed that news. Now, in 2022, the company announced its system that aims to help individuals (older adults and those with health/mobility issues) live more independently. What I like about this company is that they took the best parts of materials-handling robots seen in warehouse environments and applied it to in-home tasks. The Retriever is larger than a Roomba vacuum, but that’s because it can carry things like a load of laundry, medication and other larger items. The company aims to build a platform ecosystem of different task features, including a small refrigerator that would have the robot retrieve a bottle of water or can of soda to deliver it to the user.

#2: Cleaning all types of floors: One of the downsides of in-home robot vacuums is that if you live in a house with different flooring types, you have to get multiple systems to do the cleaning. One for carpets, one for kitchen floors, etc. While Pudu Robotics’ new Afra C1 is not necessarily meant for home systems, it does have the ability to clean different floor types and perform different tasks, such as sweeping, mopping and vacuuming. The robot is designed for commercial environments such as offices, so I would expect to see commercial cleaning services initially adopt the device. But it would be interesting if the company could get the price down to something that could be used inside the home as well.

#3: Integrating lidar into vehicle headlights: Most of the concept vehicles I’ve seen with self-driving vehicles always have a giant bump at the top where the main lidar unit sits, which makes the vehicle look a lot less like the normal cars we normally drive. Having a system that can be integrated into a system that is already on the car – like headlights – could make these systems more attractive to car makers down the road. So it was interesting to see a demonstration of this concept with Lumotive and ZKW. Public acceptance of self-driving cars will be improved if the vehicles look more normal than some of the clunkier models we’ve seen in years past. Hiding the technology is sometimes the best idea.

#4: Automated agriculture is here: While John Deere has certainly made autonomous farm equipment news before, the announcement of the new 8R Tractor will continue to drive the idea of autonomous farming for other companies and, more importantly, farming operations. With a combination of Deere’s GPS technology and mobile operations center, the tractor can collect a lot of data for farmers, which is likely more important than just being able to turn autonomously in the middle of a field. I’m always impressed by what Deere comes to CES with, and this year was no different.

#5: Humanoid robots are cool: While it's much cooler to see these in person, I always enjoy videos of what developers are doing to make humanoid-style robots. While others in the space believe robots should be more like appliances and/or tools, I'm still a science-fiction geek at heart and wouldn't mind living in a world where a humanoid-like robot can speak to me or help me with my tasks. Companies like Engineered Arts and Beyond Imagination are working on robots that will look and act more like humans than we may have thought possible. It will be interesting to track their progress over the next few years.

Keith Shaw is the managing editor of Robotics-World. Photo credit: Consumer Technology Association.