Mercedes-Benz R 015 Luxury in Motion concept
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which is approaching its 50th anniversary, has historically been the place to debut ground-breaking entertainment technology. Items that became household names, such as the VCR, high-definition television and personal video recorders, all saw their first showings at CES. More recently, have become a key part of CES, using the venue to showcase their own advanced technologies in every area from connectivity to fully autonomous cars – even including concept vehicles designed specifically for the show.
Here are some of the car-focused technologies from this year’s CES that caught our attention.
Most of the automakers at CES either had examples on-hand (BMW i3, Volkswagen e-Golf) or at least referred to their progress (Ford Fusion Hybrid). One of Volkswagen’s ideas is for e-Golf to drop you at some point up your driveway, and then if requested it can park itself in its ‘normal’ spot in the garage.
Volvo Autonomous Drive Schematic
Virtually every manufacturer is working on some form of self-driving vehicles, and while the exact combination varies, most use cameras, radar or LIDAR sensors, GPS coordinates and tonnes of computing power. And while current vehicles have tech that’s semi-autonomous -- not only avoiding obstacles and crashes, but getting into and out of parking spots by themselves – there still needs to be a human involved.
However, Audi trumped nearly everyone by having an A7 Sportback research vehicle drive itself the 800 kilometres from near San Francisco, CA to CES in Las Vegas, NV. While there was at least one human backup driver behind the steering wheel, the whole time, it was an impressive accomplishment nonetheless.
Touches and gestures
One of the major themes adopted this year is opening up how vehicles are controlled by the owners themselves. Volkswagen previewed its new technology with the Golf R Touch concept and will offer equal access to both Apple Car Play and Google Android Auto on its future vehicles, with a layout and language that’s universal to both.
Ford gave greater push towards its upcoming SYNC 3, which should be much easier and more responsive to use than the current Microsoft-designed version. While Audi showed off its new MMI design that includes a 12.3-inch monitor replacing the traditional gauge pod, which is coming first to the redesigned TT sports car and Q7 SUV.
The words smart-phone-like get thrown around plenty when it comes to some future car systems, and automakers are making the best they can. But users being able to learn and control their car when they’re not behind the wheel is becoming increasingly popular. Chrysler’s update Uconnect Access smartphone app will offer things like vehicle maintenance or current location – much like GM’s OnStar – but also being able to send a preferred destination to the vehicle ahead of time.
BMW, Audi and Volkswagen are taking similar steps with everything from in-car Wi-Fi to battery charge status on electric vehicles, and more. At least a couple are even considering either allowing a phone or smart-watch to act as a backup entry key – although perhaps not ignition yet – or adding screens into the keys themselves, which can display all kinds of pertinent information.
Hyundai also announced its Blue Link smartwatch app, which allows features like remote start and service information to be quickly accessed through devices like smartwatches and smartphones. The wearer simply taps an icon or uses voice commands to execute remote functions. The Blue Link smartwatch app allows owners to remote start, lock and unlock doors as well as find their car in a crowded parking lot. Pushing the microphone icon on the watch activates the voice function, where the driver can execute commands such as “Start my car,” “Lock my car” or “Find my car.”
Last year, reflecting the Silicon Valley ‘open-source’philosophy of its CEO Elon Musk, Tesla made the bold decision to stop enforcing its many patents surrounding the company’s electric cars, batteries, charging stations and more. At CES this January, Toyota announced it was following a similar strategy with its patents surrounding the development of its new Mirai hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. A total of 5,650 patents cover the fuel-cell stack, high-pressure hydrogen tank, control software and hydrogen production and supply. Toyota is hoping that by making the cost to enter the fuel-cell market lower for others, it will increase interest from other companies and help build momentum.
Mercedes-Benz R 015 Luxury in Motion
Although shaped more like a transport trailer than a luxury car, Mercedes-Benz's awkwardly named R 015 Luxury in Motion concept offers several neat ideas. The shell is made of a combination of carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP), aluminum and high-strength steel, which allows for the Rolls-Royce-inspired rear-hinged rear doors to open independently of the fronts. Both sets of doors can open to 90 degrees, making entry and exit pretty easy.
General Motors released some details of the new 2016 Chevrolet Volt's powertrain in October. It used the CES event to quietly preview the look of the second-generation, extended-range plug-in hybrid Volt. Well, the front of it, anyway. Details about the rest of its shape or cabin changes will be made public at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit on January 12.
Intelligent laser Headlights
Both Audi and BMW used last year’s CES to introduce the next generation of exterior car lighting, which uses lasers in place of LEDs. The systems are smarter, faster to react and use much less electricity to ‘fire’ than even the most efficient existing setup. BMW says the range of its laser light system is more than twice that of conventional headlights. At CES 2015, BMW Laserlight adds an intelligence capability through links to cameras, sensors and driver assistance systems, opening up the prospect of numerous new functions in the future.
While laser lighting has made it into production form in the Audi R8 LMX and the BMW i8 sold in Europe, it's not avaiable here. Why? The American (and parallel Canadian) standards in place for headlights don’t allow for much innovation, which means we can only appreciate them from afar, at least for now. Both the R8 LMX and BMW i8 at the 2015 CES do feature the revolutionary headlight technology, and both companies must be hoping the added exposure will affect some change in regulations.
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