by Tony Donaldson
Carmakers have traditionally reserved the big auto shows, like Detroit, Tokyo and sometimes L.A. for big announcements with their vehicles and technologies. Now that computers and electronics are so heavily integrated in vehicles, and since that is where most of the innovation in modern cars is, it stands to reason that electronics should come to the fore.
CES, the International Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas every January, is where the tech companies congregate to show off where we are going with electronics. More and more connected devices are being shown off at the show, and there is a lot of it being integrated into cars.
Last summer, I saw the heart of one driverless project vehicle, the Autonomous Nissan Leaf. The back end of the vehicle was full of computers, inverters, telemetry, etc. Picture a vehicle with the back end filled fender-to-fender with computer desktop workstations (a FEW of them) and other electronics. Audi just showed off how they’ve shrunk a trunkload of computers into something the size of a hardcover book. Think about that for a second. That’s in the past year! This paves the way for existing cars and trucks to maintain their exact same form factor and lose virtually zero interior room or cargo space to the electronics needed to provide any level of autonomy.
At the Audi keynote speech, an A7 drove itself onto the stage. Audi Chairman Rupert Stadler talked about what he calls “Piloted Driving” and a new era of mobility. Stadler says people “want to be connected. So if mobility used to be about connecting places and people, it is now about connecting the driver with the car, the car’s surroundings, the traffic infrastructure, and all of the other connected elements of their life.” His full keynote speech can be read here.
Audi also revealed their new Audi Sport Quattro laser light concept car. It’s a plug-in hybrid that has brand new headlight technology, integrating matrix LED with laser lights. The laser lights will be like your brights on steroids, illuminating over 1600 feet ahead of you. They didn’t say if you could shoot stuff to get it out of your way, video game-style.
Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicle
Toyota debuted their new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle at CES. Fuel cell vehicles may not be ready for mainstream use yet, but they’re getting close. Fuel Cell vehicles are awesome. They use the most abundant element in the universe, Hydrogen. It’s pressurized and you can fill the tank in your vehicle in roughly the same amount of time it takes to put gasoline in a traditional car. That’s the Achilles heel of full electric cars, when they die it takes HOURS to charge them.
The problem there is infrastructure. California, specifically Southern California at first, will be adding more hydrogen fueling stations. There are plans for 20 by 2015, and 20 more by 2016. That’s a start. And it will likely grow exponentially from there. There are about two million gas stations in the U.S. now. Retrofitting them and making hydrogen fuel easier to refine will take time. Hydrogen is plentiful, but scraping off the stuff that attaches to it (the oxygen molecule, in water, for example) takes some effort.
Honda Clarity. Photo by Tony Donaldson/tdphoto.com
I’ve seen the Honda Clarity, Honda’s fuel cell vehicle, in the wild on the streets of Santa Monica, CA. There are plenty of places for plug-in electric cars to fuel up in the area, still only a couple of places to get hydrogen so far.
Hyundai is massively increasing their connectivity. The 2015 Hyundai Genesis Sedan has apps that work with your Android or iPhone, directly linking to its BlueLink Telematics Integration System. They even have compatibility with Google Glass. The apps allow you to remote start your car, tell you when maintenance is needed, help you with navigation, check if your doors are locked, etc.
Honda announced a month prior that they had Siri “Eyes-Free” integration and much more.
All of this stuff is exciting. We’re getting more and more connected to our cars. They will work with our smartphones, be more efficient, safer, more upgradeable as the rapidly-changing technology improves. With all the electronics in modern vehicles, expect CES to become even more important in the automotive world. Carmakers are embracing all this technology, and we are at the precipice of a new era in transportation.