Justin Timberlake played the MGM Hotel arena on New Year's Eve, and likely didn't have thousands lining up one hour ahead of schedule, as did Mercedes CEO Dieter Zetsche for his keynote speech at the Cosmopolitan Hotel on Monday night at the Consumer Electronics Show.
Hundreds upon hundreds snaked through a ballroom lobby, hallway and pedestrian walkway, waiting for the doors to open. Likewise, Toyota drew a standing-room only crowd for an announcement about the new hydrogen fuel cell Mirai on Monday when using popular physicist Michio Kaku as spokesman.
A record 10 auto makers are present at the CES this week, even with preparations being made for the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next week. Audi, BMW Mercedes and even VW are demonstrating technology that enables cars to park without a driver in the vehicle, to navigate roads autonomously, avoid collisions and connect via smartphones and lasers.
I was in the passenger seat; it felt like a ghost was alongside in the driver’s seat, behind the wheel. On the top of the SLS Hotel and Casino parking garage this past Monday – at the opposite end of the Strip from the Mandalay Bay, where preview press conferences were conducted – a few journalists experienced first-hand how an i3 can park itself without a driver, re-start and return when the driver issues a command via a Samsung-developed wrist watch.
It was surreal. The car picked a spot between two parked vehicles, backed in, determined the job wasn’t quite right, nudged out, straightened, and parked perfectly. Given the calibre of driving in mall lots these days, every car should come so-outfitted. The technology is designed to let the driver abandon the car altogether. One of the developers sees it being popular with women concerned about dark garages, with people wanting to avoid the hassle of finding a parking spot while a table beckons in a restaurant, with office workers happy to get on the elevator as the car goes on its merry way.
The company also dared us to try to crash the i3 into fake brick walls. Gasp. While I held the steering wheel and gunned the car, sensors and GPS mapping tools sent a message to the brakes when collisions seemed imminent about the hapless reactions of the human. Screech. The tech, which is related to the self-park gadgets, is designed to react to any object at least one foot in length or width. Think about underground garages, and those concrete posts that leave ugly wrinkles and yellow paint on a front fender. More importantly, the car will sense a small child or pet in the front, back and side blind spot.
The big news is the company releasing 5,680 hydrogen fuel cell patents that had been won over the past 20 years. The Mirai, a four-door sedan, will be sold in California and New England starting in October but for the success of the hybrid Prius to be emulated, filling stations are needed. Seventy of the patents are related directly to filling stations.
While tested in Yellowknife, the Mirai won’t be in Canadian showrooms this fall due to the dearth of stations. There’s no decision made yet on whether the car will come north the following year.
Citing the history of gasoline-powered engines, Bob Carter, senior vice-president, Toyota USA, predicted hydrogen will be the primary fuel for the next 100 years. The car can be refilled in three to five minutes, does zero-to-100 km/h in nine seconds, and produces zero emissions.
“The first generation of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, between 2015 and 2020, will be critical, requiring a concerted effort and unconventional collaboration,” Carter said.
Toyota is not alone in hydrogen fuel cell development. Honda has partnered with GM while Daimler, Nissan, Ford and Renault have a working agreement. Hyundai has a vehicle ready for market. The car companies will likely require provincial and/or federal co-operation in Canada to get filling stations installed. Toyota’s patent offer, which mirrors a move by Tesla with EV patents, ends in 2020.
At his keynote address, Zetsche introduced a sleek, flat, cocoon-like concept sedan to express the company’s idea of road travel 15 years down the line. Inside, four chairs pivot to let the passengers sit face-to-face – Xbox, anyone? – or they can move the chairs to use the side windows as monitors. The steering wheel folds deftly into the dash when not in use.
“Quality time in private space will be the true luxury goods in the future,” Zetsche said. “Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society. The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport, and will ultimately become a mobile living space.”
The driver may take control of the autonomous vehicle at will. When that happens, the LED lights change to white from blue. The chairs shift 30 degrees once the doors open to make for easy exit.
Made from carbon fibre, aluminum and high-strength steel and about as long as today’s extended pickups, the F 015’s battery can be boosted by parking on a charge pad, and the vehicle also has compressed hydrogen in fuel tanks.
Customers have groused aplenty about Ford’s infotainment systems. It’s adjusting. , The company is adapting the Life360 app, which, when put in Drive Mode, alerts a driver’s friends and family against texting while they are driving. The app sends the message as soon as the smartphone is connected via Bluetooth to Ford Sync, and sends a follow-up once the car is turned off. It’s an extension of the free distracted driving courses sponsored by the company in the United States and Canada for teens.
Audi’s piloted test drive of an autonomous RS 7 from Silicon Valley to the CES “is a true turning point ... it proved what is tantalizingly close,” Audi of America president Scott Keogh said. “It handled everything from big convoys to passing slower vehicles. This is innovation that can happen rather than something you might wish to happen.”
Rather than simply calling its vehicles cars, the term “world’s grandest digital device” was deployed at an energetic, glitzy, press conference on Tuesday. On stage, one executive turned a – okay, we’ll say it – car on and off with a smartwatch developed by LG.
The company boasted of a four-core processor capable of eight billion operations per second. It demonstrated a laser headlight capable of illuminating the road almost 100 metres ahead and that will automatically reduce high beams when the camera sees a car approaching. There’s an Audi tablet to operate as multimedia control panel, and a promise of simple wireless communication between mobile device and car. There’s a pledge of concert hall sound. Oh, and piloted parking too. Take that, BMW.
No fingerprints: A 3-D camera by the rear-view mirror lets passengers use hand gestures to control the infotainment system. With the Golf R Touch, the sun roof can be open and closed by signalling a push, for example. Also, new cars will use both Android Auto and Google Car Play apps by the end of 2015.
Imagine landing late at 2 a.m., walking to the airport rental car counter and being greeted with a sign that says, “Closed, open at 6 a.m.”
Keyfree Technologies, a Toronto-based startup, says its smartphone-enabled app will do away with that sort of dilemma. Fumbling to find keys in the morning? Frustrated the fat fob takes up the space for your coffee mug? Like to restrict the hours your teen is enabled to drive the family car?
Car keys, say the founders, will soon be obsolete.
A small device is installed in the car, and an app placed on as many smartphones as the car owner chooses. That includes the phones of your teens. The technology can control what time of day the car can be used, and also log where the car’s been taken. Sure you went to the library, son?
The device should be available in retail outlets with a MSRP of $199 by the second quarter of this year, though the company clearly sees car sharing and rental companies as primary targets.
Computer firms see the future of the automotive industry. The company’s Tegra X1 processor will be able to handle autonomous cars of the future, the company said at a press conference. Autonomous cars rely on a combination of data from sensors, scanners and images appearing on screens to control the driving and to entertain the passengers. Likewise, Qualcomm showed a concept car enabled by Android 5.0.
Confused about connectivity? Apple CarPlay or Google’s Android Auto? Does it matter? Nuance was the first company to enable auto makers the ability to integrate voice metrics as past of the infotainment offering. The Dragon Drive platform provides content based on driver preferences for music stations, navigation routes, traffic, fuel options and more.
Tuesday it announced the Dragon Drive Daily Update using a human-like (read: non-Siri) voice to deliver info ranging from commute times to hockey scores. The new mobile app bridges those gaps between the smartphone and the car. Auto makers will have the ability to build an app that integrates with their branded customized systems without interfering with the experience.
“Many auto makers are looking for ways to offer seamless integration,” said Jeffrey Hannah, director of research company SBD. “This has opened the door to offer a turnkey solution.”
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