CES 2019: which consumer technologies will affect defence and security? Part three

In part three of our series reporting from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, we continue to highlight emerging technologies relevant to defence and security, and also consider some of the cultural factors affecting the sector.

Advances in augmented and virtual reality

Korean start-up LetinAR presented their novel augmented reality (AR) glasses, which use a different optical processor to other AR displays. The patented ‘pin mirror’ technique has enabled them to achieve a field of view (FOV) of 120 degrees (or 80 for each eye) on their prototype. Existing products have a typical FOV of around 40 degrees, which shows the impact of this technology.

Boarding VAR has developed an add-on device for virtual reality (VR) headsets, which they claim is the world’s first solution to avoid VR sickness. This novel solution won a CES Innovation award this year. It brings inertial references into the user’s peripheral vision, using a signal that matches the inner ear’s perception such that motion sickness cannot occur. The key thing about this tech is that it is headset agnostic, so it can be used no matter what your headset choice.

Boarding VAR

These advances are very relevant to high-risk professions because of their potential applications in virtual training programmes. It is essential to maintain a level of realism that enables the trainee to become immersed in the simulation, as distractions such as motion sickness or narrow field of vision affect the user response, limiting the trainer’s ability to assess how the individual would react in the real world.

Every company is a tech company

I was taken by the quote from Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of CES, that: “Every company is a tech company”. It’s clear now that technology is so pervasive that you no longer have to employ a technology company to implement your technology for you. We are now in an era where every company needs to be technology savvy in order to remain relevant, irrespective of the sector in which you operate. 

With that being the case, there is no better time to be a software developer, analyst, architect or data scientist. The skills these people possess are in high demand, with pretty much every company fighting for the best talent as the implementation of technology and the manipulation of data are becoming the key factors in delivering competitive advantage.

CES 2019 Gary Shapiro

The ethics debate 

Another important theme here is the tech sector’s ethical concerns about defence. Many tech companies don’t wish their technology software and solutions to be licensed into the defence sector. It is clear that technology now being developed across the world has the potential to transform for social good, but for every positive use case there is a darker one around how the software can be ‘weaponised’. This is clearly making the tech sector think about where they wish their software to be relevant.  

What does all this mean for defence?

I have worked across many sectors and it seems to me that defence is falling behind those that can move and adopt technology much faster. Constraining factors around security paralyse the defence sectors’ ability to leverage cutting-edge technology. Culture and behaviours also constrain progress as defence customers often wish to prioritise capability budget on physically large platforms and systems as opposed to less tangible software enabled solutions.

In terms of UK defence however, it’s clear to me that QinetiQ’s approach to ‘Prototype Warfare’ has been validated by everything I have seen at CES. Consumer tech thrives on pilots, prototyping and experimentation using a ‘fail fast’ philosophy. The defence sector must follow this example if it is to remain competitive and relevant. 

Lastly, and most crucially of all, the change must be enacted in an ethical way. 

All of this is achievable – our detailed report, ‘Deploying Prototype Warfare’, spells out how. Download the report by clicking the image below:

Prototype Warfare