Defense Innovation Unit Seeks Latest Commercial Technology at CES2019
January 24, 2019
Mike Chahinian

Three Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) team members traveled to CES2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada this year to meet with leading entrepreneurs and venture investors. The Consumer Electronics Show is the world’s largest and one of the most influential tech events, featuring 4,500 exhibitors, including 1,200+ startups. It’s also a great opportunity for the Department of Defense (DoD) to scout new technology.  

This year, CES featured more than 1,000 companies showcasing technologies that match DIU’s core interests. Across CES’s 11 event locations, 579 of these firms focused on wearables, 417 on AI, 312 on robotics, and 153 on drones. The distribution of exhibitors mirrors the commercial market overall, with wearables and drones expected to earn $6.4bn and $1bn in retail sales in 2018, respectively.  

CES2019 provided a unique opportunity for outreach by DIU, the DoD entity focused purely on accelerating commercial innovation to the warfighter. Some of the breakthrough technologies examined by the DIU team included hardware for sending and receiving information to and from smartphones without looking at the screen, smart clothing, and quantum-resistant encryption. The chance to connect with new non-traditional suppliers and gather first-hand market intelligence benefitted DIU’s mission to grow the national security innovation base and increase adoption of commercial technology throughout the military.  

Moreover, the benefit is mutual: DIU offers commercial companies and startups new to working with DoD—like many presenting at CES—the option to contract with the Department at the speed of business. In its over 2.5-year history, DIU has provided about $200mm in non-dilutive capital to commercial tech companies to build prototypes that adapt their existing technologies or services for military applications. Companies that have executed successful prototypes have the opportunity to earn hundreds of millions of dollars in follow-on contracts with multiple DoD customers.   

CES also provides an excellent forum to hear about the latest trends in technology from the most renowned experts in the field. Of particular relevance to DIU were the events surrounding artificial intelligence, a DIU core area and, according to the 2018 National Defense Strategy, one of the technologies needed to “ensure we will be able to fight and win the wars of the future.”  Several key artificial intelligence events were held just before CES kicked off, including AI Outlook, How AI is Advancing Biometrics, AI Enabling the Human, AI Workforce Integration, AI Use Cases: Health, Mobility, and Cybersecurity, Ethics of AI, and Bias in AI. Issues discussed in those sessions included how to make AI explainable, transparent, and programmed to know and choose ethical decisions like people. Explainable AI—especially explainable machine learning—will be essential if future warfighters are to understand, appropriately trust, and effectively manage an emerging generation of artificially intelligent machine partners.  

By working with DIU, startups have the opportunity to gain millions of dollars in contracts to refine their tech, and DoD can access affordable technology that is often already in widespread use around the world. Events like CES provide the opportunity for DoD to find the best possible, already available technology to rapidly equip warfighters. To learn how to work with DIU, please visit our website at https://www.diu.mil/work-with-us/companies.