CES 2024: 5 top products for drone pilots (that aren’t just more drones)

CES 2024 has been a bit of a conundrum for drone pilots. It’s happening right now, having kicked off on Jan. 9 and running through Jan. 12 in Las Vegas. Yet despite 4,000 exhibitors showcasing to roughly 130,000 attendees, none of the biggest names in drones exhibited this year. That’s made for a bizarre narrative for the drone industry.

At CES 2023, I had a great time at the massive Autel boot. There, Autel used the massive tech event to launch its EVO Max 4T drone. This year, there are no booths from the biggest names. There’s no Autel, and there’s no Skydio, despite having both exhibited last year. There’s also no booth from the biggest name in consumer drones, DJI.

Perhaps that’s unsurprising. As we’ve been hammering away on this very website, the consumer drone market is shrinking. That’s all despite the fact that the  drone market as a whole is set to grow to $54.6 billion by 2030, according to predictions from Drone Industry Insights (DII). DII has estimated a compound average growth rate (CAGR) of 7.1% for the entire drone market, yet the consumer-specific arm is actually set to slightly shrink in size by an estimated CAGR of -0.3%.

With CES 2024, which is a celebration and exhibition of consumer products (CES is short for the Consumer Electronics Show), drones just weren’t as big as in past years.

CES 2024 drone setup

This year’s CES 2024 instead has put hot tech topics like artificial intelligence at its focus. But that’s not to say CES 2024 was a dud for the drone industry. In fact, it very much was not. Drones and AI go together like peanut butter and jelly. Given that, developments in other aspects of tech only mean good things for drones.

And we did still see some compelling products that were actual drones. So with that, here’s the ultimate guide to CES 2024 for drone pilots. Here, we’re highlighting the five top product launches, news and more:

The 5 best CES 2024 products, news and more for drone pilots

PABLO AIR’s drone traffic management program

Simulation screen of PABLO AIR s UAM traffic management system
Simulation screen of PABLO AIR’s UAM traffic management system ‘UrbanLinkX,’ which was a winner of the CES 2024 Innovation Award.

Drone traffic management is shaping up to be one of the biggest drone news stories of 2024. After all, drone air traffic control is critical in enabling more drones to fly in increasingly crowded skies — and beyond the operator’s sight lines.

PABLO AIR is shaping up to be a leader in that space, if CES 2024 is any indication. The South Korean company won a 2024 CES Innovation Award in the Smart City category for its Urban Air Mobility (UAM) traffic management platform, ‘UrbanLinkX’.

Urban Air Mobility is at its core. Its functions include reducing traffic management workload, improving economic viability, and mitigating operational risks. But if that sounds pretty boring, PABLO AIR’s presentation at CES 2024 was hardly that. To showcase just how powerful its platform is, the company put on a drone show.

In fact, PABLO AIR separately is building tools designed specifically to help companies put on drone light shows.

Sheco Ark-M: an underwater cleanup drone

CES 2024 Sheco Ark-M underwater cleanup drone
An illustration of the Sheco Ark

We’ll start off the list with an actual drone. But, this drone, which comes from a company in Korea, doesn’t fly. Sheco Ark-M calls itself a water clean-up drone, and it’s really more like a water-based robot vacuum cleaner.

Place it on the water, and a specialized blade and filter system can collect pollutants from the water, store them, and release purified water. It is very much a drone though, in the sense that it is controlled via a touch-based screen. It can operate as far as 1 km wirelessly (or 50 meters with a wire).

So nifty is this product, that it even won a CES 2024 Innovation Award.

Walmart’s keynote that puts drone delivery front and center

Walmart drone deliveries Wing
Photo courtesy of Wing

Walmart delivered the opening day CES 2024 keynote on Jan. 9, and its delivery drones were front and center. The keynote was about its entire system of what it calls “disruptive retail tech.” Sure, that encompasses electric vehicle deliveries and AI, but drones were also at the forefront.

And on Jan. 9, Walmart made some major announcements around its expansion plans.

Now Walmart first invested in drone delivery in 2021 through DroneUp, which is a smaller drone delivery company. At the time, it was mostly operating small deliveries mostly in Arkansas. But in the past year, Walmart has really picked up investment in drones. Later that year, Walmart tapped Zipline, which is largely considered the largest drone delivery provider out there, to help. And last year, it tapped what’s one of the biggest names in tech to take it even further. That’s because, in August 2023, Walmart partnered with Wing, a drone-delivery provider powered by Google’s parent.

Things are about to get even bigger.

While Walmart has already been able to reach more than 60,000 homes in the Dallas – Fort Worth area by drone delivery, it is set to expand service to millions of customers in 2024. It intends to launch more drone delivery locations in the region over the coming months using both Wing and Zipline with a goal to serve 75% of the region’s population.

Walmart’s drone delivery expansion includes stores across more than 30 towns and municipalities in the DFW metroplex. That’s the most number of potential customers able to be served by any U.S. retailer in a single market thus far.

“Customers will have access to a broad assortment of items from Walmart available for delivery to their home in just minutes,” said Prathibha Rajashekhar, senior vice president, Innovation & Automation, Walmart U.S. “Drone delivery is not just a concept of the future, it’s happening now and will soon be a reality for millions of additional Texans.”   

Canon MS-500: a tiny, nighttime camera

Screenshot 2023 10 27 at 12.43.08 PM

If the name Canon MS-500 sounds familiar, that’s because we highlighted this unique camera in late 2023 when it earned a spot on the Time Best Inventions of 2023 list. It’s back at CES with another award to its name — that’s a CES 2024 Innovation Award.

This tiny camera should be of interest to drone pilots given its ability to capture long-range images in low lights. Notably, it’s the world’s first ultra-high-sensitivity camera equipped with a SPAD sensor. Also, it features the world’s highest pixel count on its 1” Single Photon Avalanche Diode (SPAD) sensor of 3.2 megapixels. 

The Canon MS-500 targets applications like security and remote infrastructure monitoring, particularl in situations where identifying far-off targets accurately is critical. Mounting it on a drone could be a logical next step, considering other successful drones like the Teal 2 have already been targeting nighttime operations. Teal relies on another similar type of sensor, the Teledyne FLIR Hadron 640R.

RuggON’s Ground Control System (GCS)

CES 2024 RuggON Luna

The actual flying drones tend to get all the love. But, a reliable Ground Control System is just as critical to flight — even if it’s not as sexy. Enter the new Ground Control System from Taiwanese tech company RuggON.

Built around the RuggON LUNA 3 8-inch rugged tablet (which features a big and bright screen), this new system is compatible with most types of drones. The name signifies the standout of this product: design for rugged environments. For people flying drones in more extreme conditions, they’ll take solace in knowing it is MIL-grade drop, shock, and vibration certified. It also is resistant to dust, shock and water.

The UAV-controlling system is certified to provide Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) positioning and tracking services. And, its low-latency video software decoder allows real-time, high-resolution video viewing and data collection.

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