From the VCR in 1970 to the Oculus Rift in 2013, the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas has been at the forefront of tech trends.
Every year, around 170,000 people flock to see the new gadgets and concepts that have been dreamed up by over 4,000 exhibiting companies. Although CES originally focused on home appliances and computers, recent years have seen the increasing emergence of vehicles and vehicle tech in the show.
CES 2018, which was held from January 9 – 12, is being widely touted as the year that cars really started to dominate. This year, hundreds of exhibitions and a majority of the show’s North Hall was devoted to the auto industry. Autonomous (AV) and electric vehicles (EV) or combinations of both (A-EV) were in abundance, along with a host of other peripherals based on the concept of the connected car and smart city. Here are our three favourite innovations from the floor.
1. Nissan’s Brain-to-Vehicle technology
Nissan made a huge splash this year with the unveiling of what it calls Brain-to-Vehicle (B2V) technology. Nissan released a video and had a booth at CES which featured a driving simulator to demonstrate how the B2V technology works.
Using brain-reading technology called electroencephalography (EEG) to measure electrical patterns in a driver’s brain, Nissan claims that B2V will predict when the driver is about to move, allowing driver-assist technologies to kick into action more quickly, and enhance the driving experience. The other main feature is the ability to detect and evaluate driver discomfort. Once this is achieved, artificial intelligence (AI) can adjust the driving configuration accordingly. Further down the track, Nissan says that B2V will be able to integrate with Augmented Reality (AR) to adjust what the driver sees and create a more relaxing environment.
“The potential applications of the technology are incredible”, said Dr Lucian Gheorghe, senior innovation researcher at Nissan Research Center in Japan. “This research will be a catalyst for more Nissan innovation inside our vehicles in the years to come”.
2. Toyota’s e-Palette
Toyota didn’t just unveil a new vehicle or piece of car tech at CES; it pulled the covers off a whole new ‘mobility ecosystem’. It describes its new e-Palette Concept Vehicle as ‘a suite of connected mobility solutions and a flexible, purpose-built vehicle’. The e-Palette is essentially an A-EV that can be used as a mobile store, form of transportation, office, or even accommodation. In order to do this, it features an open interior design layout which is outfitted with a bespoke interior for the user’s needs.
Toyota says that its launch partners include Amazon, Chinese ride-sharing service Didi, Mazda, Pizza Hut and Uber, and that they will collaborate with these companies on vehicle planning, concepts and other activities.
“The automobile industry is clearly amidst its most dramatic period of change as technologies like electrification, connected and automated driving are making significant progress”, said Akio Toyoda, President of Toyota Motor Corporation. “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”.
3. Byton’s Concept SUV
Byton debuted its first drivable concept car at CES 2018, describing it as a premium EV SUV which functions as a ‘new generation smart device’ through ‘unique digital design and innovative human-vehicle interaction’.
Byton, a portmanteau of Bytes on Wheels, is a new car company with quite a pedigree. Backed by Chinese capital, the Byton team features alumni from companies such as Apple and BMW.
The Byton Concept’s exterior features an LED front grille, and cameras embedded on both sides of the car, but the inside is where the real innovations are happening. With a flat floor, and no centre console, the adjustable seats can be turned inwards when the vehicle enters self-driving mode. The traditional dash has also been replaced with a giant 49-inch screen, and the steering wheel has a touchscreen in its centre.
The “human-vehicle interaction” component is provided by facial recognition cameras which allow face unlock and access to driver profiles and an “air touch” system which allows control of dash using hand gestures. As part of trend seen all across CES this year, the Byton is fully integrated with Alexa Voice as part of its in-car voice control system.
Having a flashy concept is one thing but reaching full production is another thing – just ask doomed concept carmaker Faraday Future. However, Byton CEO Carsten Breitfeld said that he is confident his company’s car will see the road.
“I spent 20 years at BMW, responsible for the i8 programme”, he told BBC News. “I built this company right from the first day in a way that we have the people on board who know how to industrialise a car, which is a huge job. We've started the construction of our plant in Nanjing, China. We are well underway”.
What lies ahead?
Aside from A-EV and connected cars, other trends at CES 2018 included smart city initiatives, and a rise in infotainment systems inside the vehicle. Bosch revealed its ‘community-based parking’ system, which uses Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and cloud computing to notify drivers of spaces, and Nvidia announced two new software platforms that function as AI co-pilots.
These innovations highlight the scale of the transformation that the auto industry is currently undergoing, and if CES 2018 is any indication, the future will be one in which a range of A-EVs populate increasingly smart cities.
Photo credit: Ryan Boyles