American consumers bought a record 17.47 million new vehicles last year – the most technologically advanced vehicles ever. But the future technology on display at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES ’16, going on through today in Las Vegas) is even more awesome.
CES ‘16 is the world’s largest trade show and it’s also become one of the world’s largest auto shows since it’s a showcase for computerized automotive technology being developed for safety, infotainment and comfort. With more than 200,000 square feet of floor space devoted just to the 115 exhibiting automakers and technology companies, cars comprise a major part of the action at CES ’16.
This year’s biggest trends include electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles and the merger of cars with all other aspects of life.
Faraday Future’s FF ZERO1 super performance electric concept jolted the electric car segment here. It’s a single seat “hypercar” with 986 horsepower that zooms from zero-60 mph in under three seconds. The platform can be adapted to fit different models and its “battery string” allows stringing batteries together to accommodate vehicle size and power needs. Faraday Future, backed by a Chinese billionaire, recently bought land near Las Vegas to build a large factory.
The Bolt EV concept Chevy previewed last year in Detroit was unveiled Wednesday as a production model. It has a range of more than 200 miles on a single charge. After tax credits, the Chevy Bolt will cost less than $30,000 and will be available in late 2016. A sign of the times: Chevy live-streamed the unveiling on Facebook.
Volkswagen turned heads with the BUDD-e concept that will go 233 miles on a single charge. Outside it looks like a streamlined microbus, although without mirrors or door handles (cameras do the work of mirrors and voice or gesture controls open doors). Inside is a revolutionary “Active Information Display” that replaces the dashboard with a continuous sweeping screen that enables all functionality through touch or voice control.
Several manufacturers debuted their own much-larger screens and also are adopting voice and gesture controls. Mercedes-Benz previewed a new E-Class cockpit with two 12.3-inch screens, electronics supplier LG Display has a 25-inch “waterfall” curved LCD, and Volvo unveiled a large flip-up screen that will enable high-def streaming video. BMW is expanding on the gesture controls already available in its new 7 Series with AirTouch featuring sensors in the dash that respond to hand movements. Electronics supplier Bosch is showing a “haptic” touchscreen that is flat but gives the sensation that you’re touching a button.
What’s accessible through these screens is amazing. The buzzword being used is “The Internet of Things.” Using screens and apps vehicles soon will be totally interconnected with our homes – security, kitchen appliances, HVAC, lights, as well as with personal information such as calendars – becoming command centers and/or mobile offices.
BMW’s Open Mobility Cloud “networks the correct information and functions, and uses intelligent control to allow complex processes to be started automatically…” FCA vehicles (Fiat-Chrysler-Jeep) will be able to read drivers’ habits and “deliver personalized information at the time it’s needed.” Audi announced research on a system to monitor drivers’ vital signs and help them relax.
Most of this technology is aimed at facilitating autonomous driving, beginning as early as 2020. Toyota announced a huge artificial intelligence initiative here. Ford said it is tripling its test fleet of autonomous Ford Fusions. Audi said it’s racetrack-testing high-speed autonomous driving; and Kia announced a new DriveWise program targeting partial autonomy by 2020, and full autonomous mobility by 2030. Several manufacturers are working on real-time road mapping to provide information autonomous vehicles will need to get us where we want to go.
In the nearer term, though, we came across two pretty cool ideas. First, BMW’s Bumper Detect, which alerts your smartphone if you’ve been bumped and even sends a picture of the transgressor. And there’s a Smartwheel snap-on steering-wheel cover that monitors hands on the wheel, thereby discouraging distracted driving (texting, phoning, etc.). It goes on sale this year.