January is typically a very busy time of the year for automobile manufacturers. Car makers from all over the world have put together concept designs featuring the latest in automotive technology that is designed to steer the future of vehicles all over the world. Usually this takes place at the North American International Auto Show which happens in Detroit during mid-January of each year. This year, however, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, BMW and a host of others have flooded the floors and stages of the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year with a bevy of futuristic technologies that will likely invade our roadways in the coming years.
Our past coverage of the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show introduced us to a number of tech trends that set fire to the imagination of those who love gadgetry and our focus on the rise of the Internet of Things ended up being a recurring theme that we noticed throughout the year in our Companies We Follow series. As we begin our coverage of this year’s industry event, we were taken aback by the sheer number of automobile technologies being put on display, as well as the wide scope of the services offered by those products. Today, we take an in-depth look at the vehicular innovations which were on display at this year’s event, which run the gamut from greater vehicle safety systems to self-driving cars that can turn a work commute into a period of relaxation for all passengers.
Autonomous, Self-Driving Vehicles Start to Become Reality
Self-driving cars have long been a myth of science fiction that many have pined to see taking effect on our own roads. Thanks to a great degree of development from some of the world’s most renowned auto manufacturers, we may be approaching the time when that myth becomes a reality. Importantly, it looks as if these self-driving vehicles may even improve upon the safety of conventional autos.
Well-known brands like BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz all used this year’s CES to highlight autonomous driving technologies for its next generation of vehicles. Many of these models are already featuring the safety technology that many riders will come to expect from self-driving cars. For example, the BMW i3, an electric car with ActiveAssist technology, flabbergasted at least one reporter who couldn’t get the vehicle to crash; even when flooring the gas and taking direct aim at an obstacle, the automatic braking system initiated in time to prevent catastrophe. The ActiveAssist system of the i3 is aided by four laser scanners which capture a 360° picture of the vehicle’s surrounding environment which is used by the ActiveAssist algorithms to prevent collisions. Currently, the system is effective at stopping collisions when a car travels at speeds of 15 miles per hour, but according to the account of the journalist in the above linked story, it could be capable of even more.
Audi actually had its self-driving car drive itself to the Las Vegas CES from the San Francisco Bay area, taking two days to travel a distance of about 550 miles. The Audi A7 has been outfitted with the company’s Piloted Driving technology, which utilizes a series of sensors, including laser scanners, enables the car to drive itself at speeds up to 70 mph on the highway. The company says the the system is ready for production and inclusion on upcoming vehicles but drivers are required to take the reins to the vehicle in urban environments, suggesting that the Piloted Driving system can’t handle the most challenging driving environments. Total autonomous driving doesn’t seem like it will be available through Audi products just yet.
Autonomous driving systems are also getting a boost from other tech developers than car manufacturers. Computer chip developer Nvidia unveiled the Tegra X1 chip, which offers teraflop computing speed with low power requirements. The Tegra X1 is used as part of Nvidia’s Drive PX computer, which is configured for deep neural learning to recognize vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and a long list of other obstacles. The Drive PX can even differentiate between trucks and police cars. Components supporting autonomous vehicles have also been developed by automotive suppliers Delphi, offering a system called Drive which can follow a pre-programmed route, and Valeo, whose Cruise4U system provides adaptive cruise control.
Consumers at the CES were also treated to a few vehicles which offer some intriguing self-parking technologies. The Volkswagen e-Golf vehicle demonstrated by that company includes some significant upgrades to its Trained Parking system. This system, which used to give drivers prompts to travel towards an open spot detected by sonar, is now completely autonomous. The system has to be “trained,” meaning that it’s not helpful for unknown parking lots and is best used for parking at home, but a smartphone app can be used to retrieve the car as well so that an owner doesn’t have to make a long walk down a driveway.
There are still major issues in the way of self-driving vehicles, including regulatory issues and data privacy; there are those who worry about the data collection required by these systems. Legal policy regarding transportation doesn’t account for self-driving cars at the moment, America included. Industry insiders are hopeful that increased development of these vehicles will help clear at least the regulatory hurdles in the coming years.
Mercedes-Benz Steals the Show With Autonomous Driving and Luxurious Glitz
Mercedes-Benz upstaged just about every other car maker in terms of luxury vehicles appearing at the CES. Like many other automobiles premiering at the event, the Mercedes-Benz F105 Luxury in Motion features self-driving technology, a zero carbon emissions propulsion system that utilizes both battery power and hydrogen fuel cells and smart LED technologies. The most eye-grabbing feature of this model, however, is its interior design.
Many automakers brought self-driving cars to CES but Mercedes-Benz brought a stirring concept of how the cabin can be reconfigured to take advantage of the fact that no one needs to mind the road. Inside the F105 Luxury in Motion, the front seats are capable of swinging around and face backwards so that all passengers are able to engage in conversation while the autonomous vehicle handles the road. Interior space is maximized by moving the wheels further out towards the edges of the vehicle. A number of displays are available throughout the interior, which allows users to control some car functions through gestural input. The sleek body and wood veneers within the vehicle also create a luxury feel to this vehicle.
The zero carbon emission system also features a great driving range. On the battery power alone, this Mercedes-Benz vehicle can travel 125 miles. However, once the fuel cell system kicks in, this car is able to travel up to an additional 550 miles for a total range approaching 700 miles. The powertrain of this vehicle is no slouch either, offering a maximum 272 horsepower and a sustained output of 163 horsepower, and the car can reach speeds of 125 mph.
The LED lighting arrays utilized throughout the construction of this automobile are themselves entirely innovative. Groups of LEDs arranged on the front and back of the vehicle actually aid the laser sensors used for the autonomous driving system. Those LED arrays can also be lit so that pedestrians and other drivers can read that the car is braking (at least one picture shows the Mercedes-Benz model displaying “STOP” on the rear display).
Vehicle Computing Technologies Graduate to a New Level of Intelligence
Consumer gadgetry has been becoming smarter and more intuitive in recent years. The mere characterization of electronics as smart imbues them with a human quality that they don’t actually have, but it’s hard to remember that when we’re lucky enough to use products with a computing power and network connectivity that were both unthinkable to most consumers just a few years ago. This year’s CES showed us a number of developers working on bringing smarter computing systems to vehicle platforms.
Audi’s A7 was not the only attention-grabbing vehicle that the auto manufacturer brought to Las Vegas this year. The touch-based interactivity of the Audi Q7 provides a new interface for onboard information and entertainment, or infotainment, systems that won’t leave users fumbling for buttons. The touchpad also provides haptic vibration feedback so that an operator knows that he or she has made a selection. The rear entertainment system of the Q7 has been replaced by the Audi Tablet, a device which allows user to surf the web or download games and other apps from the Google Play store.
This kind of compatibility with Google’s Android system, specifically the Android Auto system, was another new feature touted by a couple of manufacturers. Hyundai announced that a majority of its new vehicle models would feature Android Auto, a version of Android developed specifically for auto infotainment systems. At least in Hyundai’s case, use of the Google system is less expensive than developing its own proprietary operating software for its infotainment systems. Android Auto features voice command recognition, navigational features and connectivity with other Android devices.
Android Auto is only going to part of the infotainment system that will be offered by Ford in its new Sync 3 infotainment system. The Sync 3 utilizes a platform supported by QNX software developed by Blackberry; unlike it’s Microsoft based MyFord Touch predecessor, the QNX system supports touch interactivity, larger fonts and a simpler layout. The system offers a smartphone linking system called AppLink and has support for about 70 apps currently, including Spotify and AccuWeather. In the future, Ford plans for the system to incorporate both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
Other Automobile Advancements: LCD Dashboards and Wireless Charging Systems
No one could have been blamed for assuming that the Consumer Electronics Show was an auto show if they had never seen the industry event before, so wide was the scope of automotive technologies featured there. While self-driving vehicles may have taken the crown for the most attention-grabbing innovation brought by a large number of manufacturers, the advancements listed above were by no means the only areas of vehicle development for the cars of our future.
Sharp, a Japanese electronics developer, made a pretty big splash with its various display technologies, and its Free Form Display has the capacity to revolutionize dashboard displays. Instead of keeping the electronic circuitry for this liquid crystal display (LCD) hidden within the bezel, circuitry is included within each pixel so that the display can be formed into shapes other than rectangular. Rounded LCD displays for speedometers, fuel gauges and more could become commonplace by 2017.
The tethering of electric vehicles to battery charging stations to recharge may also become a thing of the past in coming years. Wireless inductive charging systems could take the battery plug out of the equation altogether as a car can gather an electrical charge simply by being parked over a wireless charging unit. BMW’s i8 hybrid sports car uses inductive charging techniques implemented by a base pad that transmits electricity through a magnetic field to a coil located on the vehicle’s underside. All a driver has to do is park the car in the proper position over the base pad for contactless charging.
The new wave of automobile technologies was truly a sight to behold at this year’s CES. Make sure to pay attention here on IPWatchdog for more coverage of this industry event and other big trends that will likely make an impact on consumer gadgets over the next few years.