I’ve had the opportunity to attend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas the last few years, and I’m always interested to see what gadgets may be applicable to the aerospace industry, or technologies that started in the aerospace industry and have trickled down to the consumer arena. Usually the aerospace tech is only found in small displays off the main floors that are filled with giant TVs, stereos and cell phone accessories. But this year CES 2015 had an entire area devoted to the hottest thing in aerospace: UAV’s. Just last year there were only 3 or 4 small displays showing UAV’s, but this year the dedicated “Unmanned Systems” zone at CES 2015 had at least a dozen different UAV and UAV accessory manufacturers.
Everything from tiny drones that fit into the palm of your hand, to large ones capable of carrying high def video cameras with gyro-stabilized camera gimbals.
Numerous manufacturers also were conducting flying demos in netted areas, just in case an errant UAV decided to go rogue and fly into the spectators. While all this UAV tech was prominently displayed at CES, it does concern me that these impressive little flying quadcopters are being mass-marketed to the general public. I can see why the FAA is concerned and attempting to get some workable regulations in place. I once had a close encounter of the uncomfortable kind while flying my Citabria, when a Radio Control (RC) plane flew underneath me as I approached my local airport. It appeared to be a full-size airplane climbing towards me as I caught a glimpse of it in my peripheral vision. Only after I banked steeply to avoid it did I realize it was an RC plane several hundred feet below me and flying out of the local RC field. All it will take is some yahoo who doesn’t understand the airspace regulations to collide his quadcopter with a small plane, or even worse, a commercial airliner, to send the public into a panic. The next few years are going to be very interesting to see how the U.S. safely integrates the thousands of expected UAVs into the national airspace system.
The other cool tech I saw at CES 2015 was a technology that flowed down from the aerospace industry to the consumer level, in this case Forward Looking InfraRed (FLIR) products. FLIR Systems was showing their FLIR One (second generation), a personal thermal imager that simply plugs into your iPhone or Android phone, and displays in real time on your phone the temperature differences of surrounding objects. During a demo of the FLIR One at the booth, I was able to clearly see the temperature of a heating duct 50 feet away on the ceiling. Company reps at the booth estimated this next generation compact FLIR for your phone would sell for under $400 sometime later this year. Quite a bit less than the first FLIR systems I saw on military aircraft back in the early 1990s, used for weapons targeting and flying in bad weather. If I remember, those systems sold for tens of thousands of dollars. Now you can carry one in your pocket for less than 400 bucks – amazing.