CES 2021 Highlights: Top three drone stories from this year’s virtual conference

Few were expecting CES to be its usual bustling affair this year, for obvious reasons. But 2021’s entirely virtual conference did nonetheless manage to provide us with some intriguing glimpses of the future in connected drones. The cause for this year’s move online has in fact enhanced the need for drones, and the wide range of purposes they can serve – in particular the delivery of medical samples, and supplies to those at risk of complications from the illness, but more broadly any task they can achieve while helping to minimise the risk of transmission. We look briefly here at three of the most promising announcements made on drones. For more on the future of unmanned aviation, click through to our website.

Logistics are the focus of a new collaboration between Verizon’s aviation company Skyward and UPS Flight Forward, who announced plans to perform retail deliveries with drones connected to Verizon’s 4G network, as well testing 5G Ultra Wideband integrations for more sophisticated deployments. “We will need the ability to manage and support multiple drones, flying simultaneously, dispatched from a centralised location, operating in a secure and safe environment. To do this at scale, alongside Verizon and Skyward, we’ll need the power of 5G,” said Carol B. Tomé, CEO of UPS. With cellular reliability and performance at altitude now successfully tested, this announcement represents a significant step towards mainstream drone deliveries designed to draw on the low latency of 5G and edge computing – the progress of which we will of course monitor closely here.

Confirming a now clear trend of automotive companies moving into the drone space, General Motors made the surprise announcement that it intends to bring forward a line of battery-powered personal aircraft for use as air-taxis, to be launched under the Cadillac brand. GM’s first aviation vehicle will take off and land vertically, achieve speeds of up to 56 miles per hour via rotors powered by a 90kWh battery, and be equipped with air-to-air and air-to-ground communications capabilities. GM has not indicated the current stage of development – but, with the company joining other automotive giants including Mercedes, Porsche, Hyundai and Audi with this interest in unmanned aerial travel, the prospect of hopping into a drone to get to your next meeting sounds considerably less theoretical than it did this time last year.

Finally, for those who want to take quality footage and photographs at altitude, Sony’s new Airpeak drone was unveiled at CES this year – featuring a Sony A7 camera, FPV pilot camera, an obstacle avoidance system, and an impressive maximum payload. There’s also an option for dual control of the device so one user can focus on operating the camera while another flies the drone. Sony alluded to some onboard AI capabilities, though have not yet gone into detail about quite what these include. Connectivity options too remain uncertain for now, but the ambition on display in terms of video transmission capability seems a clear match for the reliability and power of advanced cellular networks; we may well see the Airpeak, which Sony refers to as project rather than a product, drawing increasingly on the ultra-low latency of 5G.

To learn more about connected drones, please visit our website at www.gsma.com/drones