By Nagesh Gupta, VP of Engineering
Ah, everyone’s excitement about going to CES. I never could understand it, until now. With over 190,000 attendees this year, I don’t think any city could have run CES more smoothly, but it was still quite challenging even for Las Vegas. For starters, I wasn’t prepared for the Uber and Lyft prices to be five times the normal amount and for the gridlock traffic around the convention center. Nor was I prepared for the $500/nightly cost of a no-frills hotel room!
Still, I was thrilled to be at the event. Our engineering team arrived just a few days in advance of the event, which was a testament to the simplicity and speed of our Fingerprint Base Map™ (FBM) creation process; We were able to create a half a dozen different demo route options in a compressed amount of time. The FBM itself is the localization layer in our HD Semantic Map and we were debuting it at CES. Several companies developing autonomous vehicles had already been using our voxel-based fingerprint technology for their mapping and localization. It was time to showcase this on a bigger stage and with dozens of live demos. To prepare for our appointments, we set up headquarters in a large house near the convention center and got busy prepping our Atlas DevKits on a handful of demo cars. After a few days, we were ready to go and the team felt pretty good about the localization performance. Instead of starting with heavy compute and an expensive hardware setup, we were able to achieve centimeter-accurate, real-time localization with significantly reduced hardware, processing power, bandwidth usage, and storage requirements. This is an approach that I’ve admired from the day I started checking out Civil Maps. Now as a part of the team, it has been incredibly interesting to develop the product and put it to the test in front of industry experts from all over the world.
In Vegas, extreme weather was a new element that was unexpectedly added to the live demo challenge. Now, I understand the city gets no more than ~2.5 inches rain annually. So, of course, we got 75% of it the night before CES started! We were not planning for such heavy rains and for flash flooding. We later found out that other companies doing self-driving autotech demos were having some serious weather-related issues and many had to cancel their demos altogether. This seemed to drive more interest to our own demo and we had to quickly accommodate the demand by outfitting more of our cars with Atlas DevKits. We even ended up upgrading from a regular car to a stretch limo for transporting our in-car demo guests. With the wet weather, this was a logistically challenging operation, but it was still fun and productive. In our case, being able to do 12 hours of demos each day in the rain and in the darkness of night was helpful to prove the robustness of what we’ve built. Our demo audiences were in awe and they could appreciate this as a significant differentiator with other systems.
Over the remaining two (dry and sunny) days, my CES experience was pretty limited to our booth and back-to-back demos. I hardly saw the much of the show! I spent most of my time meeting with dozens of executives and developers — all of whom were interested in learning how our system could perform against competing systems in terms of scalability and performance.
By the third day, I finally got a couple of breaks to check out a few other booths. Wow! I soon found why CES is THE place to be for gadget freaks, car freaks, technology freaks — really, any kind of freaks. In my opinion, some of the best booths were from consumer electronics giants such as Sony, LG, Samsung, and Panasonic. Of course, that’s a quick observation, as I was only able to spend 30-45 minutes outside of our own booth.
The conference officially closed by 4 pm on the last day, but when it was time for us to shut down, I was surprised to see a lot of people still around who wanted to talk! I actually had to cut short a meeting to rush to the airport and catch my evening flight. In looking back, one of my key takeaways from CES is pretty simple: Expect the unexpected! With a week or so now back in the office now, I’m excited for the rest of the year and will soon start missing the thrill of CES. It was a phenomenal team experience — to perform well under intense pressure, even with many self-imposed technical constraints.
If you want to work on the frontlines of building a driverless future, please visit https://careers.jobscore.com/careers/civilmaps or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. We are hiring in engineering, sales/business development, and marketing.