CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW
Have pod, will camp, commute and flog fruit
Mark Smyth reports on some of the automotive tech that was revealed at CES in Las Vegas
Revealing new products used to be simple. Traditionally, car makers used motor shows and technology companies used tech or lifestyle shows.
Then cars became pieces of tech and everything started to overlap to such an extent that today the focus is less on the once huge Detroit Auto Show, taking place this week, and more on the massive Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that has just taken place in Las Vegas.
Spotlight on pods
That is not to say there weren’t some big reveals at Detroit, the new Mercedes G-Class being one of them (read our cover story for all the details). However, the future of motoring was being showcased in Vegas — that and a whole load of new tech, including one that caught our attention: an augmented reality toothbrush for children.
But back to motoring and, not surprisingly, much of the automotive tech was about autonomous vehicles — more specifically, pods.
Swiss automotive company Rinspeed, renowned for its futuristic projects, unveiled its Snap, a dual-purpose pod that has an autonomous mobility base, which Rinspeed calls a skateboard, on top of which sits a removable pod. The pod can be used as transportation for people or products and can be tailor-made to serve as anything from a moveable fruit and vegetable stand to a camping pod.
Toyota is also getting in on the pod future with the reveal of its e-Palete concept, based on its Mobility Services Platform.
Unlike the Snap, the e-Palette is one unit but is also flexible in that it can be used for everything from people transport to automated delivery.
Not surprisingly, Toyota has partnered with companies such as Amazon, Uber and Pizza Hut on the project that Toyota president Akio Toyoda says should begin testing in the US early in the next decade.
"The automobile industry is clearly amid its most dramatic period of change as technologies like electrification, connected and automated driving are making significant progress. Toyota remains committed to making ever better cars.
"Just as important, we are developing mobility solutions to help everyone enjoy their lives, and we are doing our part to create an ever-better society for the next 100 years and beyond," says Toyoda.
"This announcement marks a major step forward in our evolution towards sustainable mobility, demonstrating our continued expansion beyond traditional cars and trucks to the creation of new values, including services for customers."
There were also some cars revealed at the show, although they still had to be tech cars. These included Hyundai’s Nexo, a hydrogen fuel-cell car that has a level of autonomous driving through features such as highway driving assist and lane following assist. The Nexo is part of Hyundai’s plans to launch 18 green models by 2025.
Sister company Kia was also at CES with next-generation vehicles including its Niro electric vehicle concept and the announcement of its future mobility initiatives under the banner of "Boundless for All".
Toyota also revealed its next-generation automated driving research vehicle. Based on a Lexus LS600hL, it takes the company’s development of autonomous vehicles much further than when we experienced it in Tokyo in 2015. Unlike the early model, which had limited surround monitoring, the new vehicle has 360° monitoring to enable it to venture beyond just the highway.
Much of the news at CES was about the tech rather than the vehicles. Nissan revealed its B2V (Brain-to-Vehicle) platform — and, yes, the company really has developed technology that allows you to control a vehicle with your mind.
"When most people think about autonomous driving, they have an impersonal vision of the future, where humans relinquish control to the machines. Yet B2V technology does the opposite, by using signals from their own brain to make the drive more exciting and enjoyable," says Nissan executive vice-president Daniele Schillaci.
This was one piece of tech we wanted to experience even more than the augmented reality toothbrush.
Smartphones rule many people’s lives these days and many car makers are trying to make the touchscreen in their vehicles as similar as possible to the smartphones we use. Platforms such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto help with that, but at CES things went even further with smart dashboards.
One was revealed by Chinese manufacturer Byton in its new sport utility vehicle, which made its debut at the show.
The dashboard surface becomes one big infotainment screen that allows the driver and front passenger to interact with it. It rather eclipsed Mercedes-Benz’s unveiling of its new Mercedes-Benz User Experience infotainment system, which will debut in the new A-Class and features a screen that merges the cluster ahead of the driver and the screen on top of the centre console to create a seamless interactive interface.
There was also a great deal of integration innovation, with city and security solutions from the likes of Ford and Hyundai.
Finally there was Honda, which reminded us that computers can have a face, sort of, as it introduced its latest range of robotic devices.