It’s not difficult to understand why Toyota had reservations about bringing them onboard. And these concerns soon surfaced among automakers that second-guessed the wisdom of giving up valuable dashboard branding and—more importantly—driver data to the two tech giants.
This week, Toyota announced a comprehensive connectivity plan called the Mobility Service Platform that covers everything from car sharing to cloud-based analytics, and it’s being developed in-house by a creatively named subsidiary called Connected Car Company. “To guarantee the safety of the customer, the manufacturer must be the platform provider,” said Connected Car Company president Shigeki Tomoyama.
Instead of being tied to one or two dominant tech providers, Toyota is partnering with several different companies. It’s working with long-term partner KDDI, the Japanese telecom that has for years provided connectivity for the automaker’s G-Book telematics system. Its cloud services are provided by Microsoft, with which Toyota recently deepened its relationship, while the platform will run on the Automotive Grade Linux open-source software.
Toyota has already even joined with a rival automaker Ford to develop apps. And it’s clear that the automaker plans to leaves Apple and Google out in the cold and out of the car.
So what can we expect Toyota’s in-house connected car efforts to yield, and how will it differ or be better than CarPlay or Android Auto? While Toyota’s Entune infotainment system is one of the best available based on our tests, it still relies on third-party apps such as Pandora, iHeartRadio, and Yelp, which are common in many cars.
Last year, Toyota announced it would work with the Ford-developed SmartDeviceLink and the US automaker to develop in-house as well as third-party apps for its cars via a Toyota-supplied API. This not only would allow Toyota to supply apps similar to those used by CarPlay and Android Auto, such as for music and mapping, but also tap a car’s data, systems, and sensors to create features and functions that the Apple and Google smartphone-based platforms can’t.
For example, by tying into a car’s engine diagnostics, Toyota or a third party could develop an app that explains what a “Check Engine” light or other warning means and even set up service if required. And by tying into a car’s traction control system, an app could detect when a car hydroplanes on standing water or skids on a patch of black ice and send the info to other vehicles approaching the area.
Toyota isn’t alone in building up a tech bulwark against a potential incursion by Apple and Google. Renault/Nissan recently announced a similar connected car platform with Microsoft Azure, and this week Ford partnered with BlackBerry to develop software for the automaker’s connected vehicles. And last year, the three German luxury car rivals Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz circled the wagons to purchase the digital mapping company Here for $3.1 billion, in part to bring the mapping capability in-house, but also keep it out of the hands of Apple and others.
So while Toyota was the odd man out when CarPlay and Android Auto were first announced, its wait-and-see attitude and keeping its dashboards Apple- and Google-free could pay off.
Originally published by PCMag.com
From cars to computers, you generally get what you pay for, right? Not exactly.
As a new J.D. Power study reveals (and I’ve been saying for years), in-dash technology from mainstream automakers is as good as—if not better than—the tech from luxury car companies. “Overall owner satisfaction with new-vehicle technology averages 730,” the report says, which is not much lower than satisfaction among premium vehicle owners at 734.
I would venture to guess that most of these luxury vehicle owners only compared the in-dash tech in their car to that of other premium brands. If they evaluated it against non-luxury cars, they would probably be very disappointed. It’s also not just the technology itself, such as connectivity and number of apps. Tech in some luxury vehicles can be overly complex and more frustrating than systems in many mainstream cars.
“It’s not just how much technology you have in the vehicle, but how well it’s delivered,” said Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction & HMI research at J.D. Power. “That has to be done right.”
In too many luxury vehicles, it’s not.
BMW’s iDrive and the Mercedes-Benz Comand interface are notably problematic (one recent and egregious example being the Remote Touch system in the 2016 Lexus RX 350). While the vehicle has a large 12.3-inch screen that’s logically laid out, the mouse-like Remote Touch controller makes getting around within it and selecting items, especially smaller ones, very challenging.
Lexus’s UX is also disappointing, particularly because that company has inluded “touch” controllers since 2010, and has yet to make them user-friendly. The luxury brand would be better off just ditching Remote Touch in favor of the practical and more user-friendly touch-screen interface used in several Toyota vehicles.
But at least Lexus and Toyota both have smartphone-based connectivity for streaming music and other content that doesn’t require a subscription. The mbrace2 system I tested in a 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 included Google and Yelp for local search, Facebook feeds, and other cloud-based content. But if you don’t pay Mercedes-Benz for connectivity, the cloud content goes away.
One example of this occurred several years ago. Just as Mercedes-Benz was proclaiming it would be the first automaker to use a stereo-vision camera on its flagship S-Class to spot potential accidents ahead, Subaru introduced its EyeSight system with almost identical technology on the not-so-luxurious Legacy and Outback.
Don’t get me wrong: There are huge differences overall between luxury and non-luxury cars when it comes to performance, comfort, and convenience features (massaging seats, anyone?). But the technology gap is very narrow. And it’s closing even faster now that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available in vehicles ranging from Volkswagen and Volvo, further leveling the playing field.
Originally published by PCMag.com
While news of the buyout of Uber by rival Didi in China dominated the ride-sharing conversation last week, in keeping with its long-standing strategy and diversification in mobility services, Daimler made its biggest bet yet in Blacklane. The Berlin-based ride-sharing service and Uber competitor that connects professional drivers in high-end vehicles with travelers via a smartphone app and travel websites, received funding of more than 10 million euros ($11 million), Blacklane CEO Jens Wohltorf told Bloomberg.
On its website announcing the investment, Daimler said “the parties agreed to keep the details of the transaction confidential. Wohltorf declined to add details but noted that the company will use the new influx of funds to expand its service in the Middle East and Asia and develop new partnerships. Existing Blacklane investors RI Digital Ventures, b-to-v and Alstin also joined the recent funding round.
“Given that we want to serve global travelers wherever they arrive, we want to close white spaces in the Asia Pacific and Middle East regions,” Wohltorf said. He added that Blacklane is in talks with airlines and online travel agencies in these regions. Blacklane is currently available in more than 200 cities and 400 airports in 50 countries and has partnerships with popular reservations websites such as Expedia and Booking.com and various travel companies.
Blacklane enlists a network of private drivers but unlike Uber and Lyft they’re required to be licensed chauffeurs. Travelers can reserve a trip for a set price from one hour to months in advance and choose between various levels of service and vehicles, including Business Class, Business Van and First Class.
Blacklane recently introduced a lower-priced “economy class” in cities such as London, New York, and Paris. Wohltorf said the new budget services has been “very promising” and the company may expand it. According to Bloomberg, a Blacklane trip from LaGuardia to the midtown Manhattan costs around $60, which makes the service competitive with regular taxis, Uber and other ride-sharing services.
I tried the service on recent trip to Berlin and was impressed with the cleanliness and comfort of the vehicles, a typical Euro-cab-style Mercedes E-Class. (My host set up my roundtrip so I wasn’t aware of the cost.) For the return to the airport, I was sent frequent messages about the driver’s ETA.
The only hitch was I didn’t receive messages and had no contact with my driver when I arrived at the airport and waited about 15 minutes. But the appeal is to have a professional driver waiting instead of standing in line for a cab or getting a random ride in an Uber or Lyft.
With the shift in mobility brought on by Uber, automaker have recently made big bets on car-sharing and ride-sharing services. Earlier this year GM made a hefty one-half-billion-dollar investment in Lyft, Volkswagen put $300 million into Israel-based Gett and Toyota has backed Uber for an undisclosed amount. Ford has several car- and ride-share partnerships as part of its Smart Mobility initiative, and BMW expanded into its ReachNow car-sharing service into it second U.S. city this week.
But Daimler was in early and quick to diversify its mobility investments. The parent company of Mercedes-Benz launched the free-floating car-sharing service Car2Go back in 2008, purchased cab-hailing Mytaxi app in September 2014, and in the same year bought U.S. multimodal service RideScout, which recently merged with former competitor Global Sherpa earlier this year to become Daimler’s moovel.
“We want to offer flexible and innovative mobility services to our customers,” Klaus Entenmann, CEO of Daimler Financial Services AG, said in a statementregarding the Blacklane announcement. “Our investment in Blacklane as a global professional driver service is an important part of this strategy.”
Originally published by Forbes.com
The growth and intentions of a business or industry can often be gauged by how much real estate is being gobbled up for expansion. As further evidence of the importance of self-driving technology and Silicon Valley’s role in it – as well as Apple’s rumored automotive ambitions – the important players in the space are snatching up large parcels of property in the area for autonomous vehicle testing, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.
“We’re seeing the Toyotas of the world, the Teslas of the world, BMWs, Mercedes … Ford now is out in the marketplace looking for space,” Victor Coleman, chief executive of Hudson Pacific Properties Inc., told analysts this week on a quarterly investor call. “I haven’t even mentioned the 400,000 square feet that Google’s looking to take down and the 800,000 square feet that Apple’s looking to take down for their autonomous cars as well.”
The buildings owned and managed by Hudson Pacific, one of the largest commercial real estate firms on the West Coast, are home to a who’s-who of Silicon Valley’s hottest brands, including Square and Uber. Coleman said Hudson Pacific is “seeing a definitive movement” in facilities related to the development and testing of autonomous cars and that such properties are in “hot demand” by companies involved in the space.
“We have tenants that are looking at expanding – they are not named tenants that you would [recognize],” Coleman added. “We’re looking at right now two of those companies that are name related.”
One of these could be Baidu, which isn’t a household name in the U.S., but in its native China is the dominant web search engine for over 80 percent of the country’s 1.35 billion citizens. The first Chinese company to be listed on the NASDAQ-100 index, Baidu announced last month that it’s expanding its autonomous car program to the U.S. by bringing a 100-person team to Silicon Valley, putting it in close proximity to its American equivalent Google.
Many car and tech companies have been relatively open about their development of autonomous car technology. Google, for example, has regularly invited media and policymakers for rides and has recently pushed for federal regulation on self-driving cars, even forming a coalition with Ford, Volvo, Uber and Lyft last week.
Apple has been characteristically secretive about its alleged entry into automotive. But actions such as snapping up automotive talent, inquiring about the use of a Northern Californiaautonomous vehicle testing facility and talks with the California DMV have made the media watch Apple’s every auto-related move – and Tesla’s Elon Musk to call Apple’s car plans an “open secret” in Silicon Valley.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple declined to comment and Alphabet representatives did not respond to requests for comment of its autonomous test track scouting.
Originally published by Forbes.com
Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a panel at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles, where luminaries such as Al Gore, Tom Hanks, Kobe Bryant and others spoke on the theme of “The Future of Human Kind.” My panel was titled “Driverless Cars and Beyond: Where’s Transportation Headed?” and included the following participants:
- Sue Callaway, Senior Editor, Automotive, Time Inc.; Founder and CEO, the Auto 100
- Chris Ballinger, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Toyota Financial Services
- Brian Kelly, Secretary, California State Transportation Agency
- Raj Rajkumar, George Westinghouse Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University
- Juraj Vaculik, CEO and Co-Founder, AeroMobil
The panel covered the latest in driverless technology, and also innovations available now aimed at eliminating costly and often deadly collisions. The conversation also delved into how self-driving cars will affect car ownership, public policy implications, the technology’s impact on privacy and how our current infrastructure will accommodate autonomous cars of the future.
You can watch the panel in its entirety in the video above.
What do rubber ducks and self-driving cars have to do with one another? At MIT, the combination could one day lead to low-cost autonomous vehicles by aiding in their development. The two seemingly disparate elements are being combined for a course at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) that includes a diminutive test track on which self-driving “Duckiebot” learn the rules of the road using just a single camera and without the help of preprogrammed mapping.
The goal of the MIT course is to not just to develop a fleet of 50 tiny rubber-duck ornamented self-driving vehicles to navigate the roads of a “Duckietown” with minimal technology, but to also create open-source teaching materials and a $100 “Duckiebot” design that universities around the world can incorporate into their own robotics programs. “We believe a tool like this will help create a common platform and language for researchers to build on,” CSAIL postdoctoral student Liam Paull, who co-leads the new course with research scientist Andrea Censi from the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS), told MIT News.
“We hope this will make it easier for computer scientists to continue to work together to bring autonomous vehicles into the real world,” Paull added. But it’s not all student-project research: Paull is also leveraging Duckietown to prototype algorithms as part of his work for CSAIL’s recently announced $25 million collaboration with Toyota on artificial intelligence and self-driving cars.
The self-driving engineering challenges the MIT researchers are trying to overcome – including perception, object detection and tracking – are similar to those larger real-world vehicles face. For example, to allow the Duckiebot to navigate Duckietown, the students have to develop algorithms to interpret traffic signs and detect pedestrian ducks.
Students also have to combine various disciplines into the self-driving systems, such as machine learning and computer vision. And to stay within cost constraints and at the same time create a dependably accurate system, the students have to make assorted compromises in regard to sensor resolution, processing power and speed. For example, they have to weigh whether it’s “better to have sophisticated algorithms with cheaper hardware, or simpler algorithms with more reliable hardware,” MIT News noted.
“We thought about key problems like integration and co-design,” Censi said. “How do we make sure that systems that developed separately will work together? How do we design systems that maximize performance while sharing resources? It’s a delicate balancing act in weighing the relative importance of different infrastructure elements,” he added.
While Google, Tesla and others automakers get a lot of attention for their self-driving developments, universities such as MIT, Stanford, the University of Michigan and Carnegie Mellon are all doing groundbreaking work on autonomous vehicles. And although MIT is known for its rigorous academics and its research into self-driving cars is serious work, the students also found ways to make it fun.
The meticulously executed Duckietown doubles as a headquarters for the Duckietown Engineering Company, which has its own website, human resources department, board of trustees and team with titles such as Master of Traffic Lights. Paull serves as COO and Censi as CTO and developed an elaborate company origin story that involves “Canadian karaoke bars and sake” and they also bought the team duck ties.
The current crop of smartphone apps for cars can remotely lock or unlock doors, check fuel levels, and locate vehicles on a digital map. And you can do most of this from halfway around the world—as long as you have a signal or maintain a subscription to a telematics system.
While these features and others have become fairly ubiquitous, some automakers have added novel twists. Audi Connect’s Picture Navigation, for example, will use the geographic info embedded in digital photos sent from contacts (via text, email, etc.) to plot a destination in the car’s nav system. And you may have seen the being-chased-by-bears TV commercial for Hyundai’s Blue Link system that works with a smartwatch. But these innovations have become few and far between.
For years we’ve been hearing that more (and better) apps are on the way while automakers have attempted to engage with third-party developers to spur innovation. Ford and GM, for example, announced app development programs in early 2013, but so far nothing significant has come of it. Ford, however, is gaining some traction with its SecureDeviceLink that made available its proprietary AppLink platform to other car companies, especially since Toyota signed on to support the platform last year.
It’s high time for automotive smartphone apps to provide features that drivers can use on a daily basis, and a recent spate of patent filings indicates that they could be on their way.
Few things are more frustrating than searching for errant car keys, and it always seems to happen when you’re in a hurry. Soon there could be an official carmaker-sponsored app for that: Toyota recently filed a patent for a Smart Key Locator app to “enable a user of a vehicle to locate a missing or lost key for the vehicle.” (There are already Bluetooth-powered trackers like the Simple Matters Ditto or TrackR Bravo, which attach a small dongle to whatever small, loseable object you like.)
You can read all the nitty-gritty tech details in the patent app, but the key basically sends out a signal that a smartphone app can detect and use to determine the distance away from the key in feet. My hope is that they also add a “getting warmer” or “getting colder” directional capability.
While smartphones allow drivers to bring their music and contacts into the car (and many luxury vehicles often have individual driver preferences such as seat position and even radio presets tied to separate key fobs), Ford’s Cooperative Occupant Sensing app goes much further.
The patent application shows that an app would reside on a driver or even a passenger’s mobile device and make adjustments, for example, to the seats and even to the airbags based on their height, weight, and other factors.
According to the patent, it could even “present instructions for wearing a seatbelt in a particular manner” if the car occupant is pregnant. I’d just like it to automatically readjust my seat after a parking valet or car wash attendant has gotten it out of whack for the few seconds they’re behind the wheel.
For performance enthusiasts who lament how technology is taking over cars, a patent recently filed by Bosch could literally get their motors running. It works with a “controller installed in a vehicle” that’s “configured to receive a user-selected operating parameter obtained through a downloaded application.”
According to the patent application, using a smartphone app, a driver could “interact with a store to directly select and obtain new calibrations for the vehicle” and “software that’s used to modify vehicle performance (e.g. engine performance, brake performance, electronic stability control performance, etc.)” It added that the “changing of vehicle performance can include … activating or deactivating vehicle functionality” such as “turning off acceleration limits.” And a mockup of an app screen shows a “Drag Strip Mode” should appeal to most weekend-warrior track rats.
Of course, patents don’t also result in features we’ll see in production vehicles. But these and others I’ve recently noticed seem to indicate that the next wave of smartphone apps from the auto industry could bring features that drivers actually use.
Originally published by PCMag.com
Hardcore car enthusiasts have a difficult time letting go of certain old-school technology like manual transmissions, even though it’s been proven that a cutting-edge automatic gearbox can shift as smooth and fast as any human. But I doubt that most motorists miss, say, crank windows or manual steering.
The venerable side mirror could be the next vehicle feature to get relegated to the dust bin, and its demise may be overdue since new and better solutions now exist. In a story titled “End of the Road May Be Near for Side Mirrors,” New York Times writer John R. Quain gave a good overview of the technology ready to replace the “Mickey Mouse ears” on cars and its benefits beyond aesthetics.
“There’s significant noise reduction, and there’s potential for CO2 reduction because of reduced drag and improved fuel economy,” Dean McConnell, director of customer programs for advanced driver assistance systems at automotive supplier Continental, told Quain. More importantly, “there’s also the increased field of view” that camera-based systems provide, McConnell added.
Continental replaced the side mirrors on a Mercedes-Benz CLS with thumb-sized video cameras that are tied into screens on the left and right side of the dashboard near where a driver would typically glance to check a mirror. The camera view is much broader than a physical mirror provides and eliminates blind spots. And unlike mirrors, cameras and software can also automatically adjust what a driver sees to reduce glare in bright sunlight or increase brightness at night.
Audi plans to add a camera-based rearview mirror to its R8 e-tron coupe that provides drivers with a better view of what’s behind, in part because the aerodynamic design of the vehicle reduces rear visibility. And Cadillac will add video camera capability to the review mirror of the 2016 CT6 to eliminate traditional blind spots by seeing through obstructions like passengers, headrests and the vehicle’s rear pillars.
Automakers are already augmenting side and rearview mirrors with cameras. Honda’s LaneWatch feature, for example, uses a camera embedded in the passenger-side exterior mirror to show a wide-angle view on the dashboard display of the right lane whenever the right turn signal is activated. LaneWatch also shows when a driver has enough space to merge into the right lane after passing a vehicle by using virtual makers.
According to David Zuby, chief research officer at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), LaneWatch has led to a reduction in accident insurance claims. “But there aren’t any definitive studies of side cameras,” Zuby added.
And while side mirrors may be less expensive and complex than camera-based systems, now that they also often include turn signal markers, blind spot indicators and are heated, their replacement costs have increased. The New York Times reported that a mirror with these features can cost almost $1,000 to replace, according to IIHS.
In addition, related technology is becoming more widespread and available on lower-priced vehicles. For example, the entry-level Nissan Versa Note can be outfitted with an Around View Monitor system that uses multiple cameras to give the driver a 360-degree view around the entire car, and originally debuted on the automaker’s high-end Infiniti brand.
I also recently tested a 2016 Toyota RAV4 SE with a Bird’s Eye View Camera with Perimeter Scan that provides not only a rotating, wide-angle, overhead 360-degree view around the vehicle in Moving View mode, but has a See-Through View that gives a ground-level view as though the vehicle were transparent.
Besides cost, another major obstacle to camera-based systems replacing side mirrors is federal regulation. The U.S. DOT requires that all passenger vehicles have rearview and side-view mirrors. But that could change.
Two years ago, the industry trade group Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Tesla petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to allow video camera systems to replace traditional side mirrors. The Auto Alliance said at the time that side mirrors make up 2 to 7 percent of a car’s aerodynamic drag and therefore affect fuel economy. And with automakers striving to meet federal CAFE standards, NHTSA should be open to employing technologies to help meet those goals.
NHTSA has already recognized that rearview cameras, when used with a traditional rearview mirror, can significantly improve safety and has made them mandatory in cars and light trucks starting in 2018. So maybe it’s time to ditch side mirrors in favor of camera-based technology.
And by doing so provide drivers with a better view and improved safety, and avoid tearing off a side mirror while backing out of a garage or parking space.
Originally published by Forbes.com
A common refrain heard within the last week was that CES is the new auto show. Not quite. Sure, the Las Vegas gadget extravaganza has become a popular platform for car companies to unveil new technology, but traditional auto shows are still the place they choose to show off their latest sheet metal marvels.
CES has been able to steal some of that thunder: In Las Vegas this year GM pulled the covers off of the production Chevy Bolt, while Mercedes-Benz bowed the new autonomous-ready E-Class ahead of its Detroit debut. But a week later, the North American International Auto Show—aka the Detroit Auto Show and the premier event of its type in the U.S.—per usual was the place to see the hottest concepts and newest models from a majority of automakers.
And while the Detroit show is usually a letdown after CES in terms of technology, this year NAIAS didn’t disappoint, and several significant innovations were introduced by Ford on its home turf as well as by Acura, Nissan, and Toyota.
As an extension of its wide-ranging Smart Mobility initiative announced at CES 2015, Ford introduced a new program called FordPass that its said “will reimagine the relationship between the automaker and consumer.” The program is app-based and membership is free for Ford owners and non-owners. FordPass consists of:
- Marketplace—A partnership with ParkWhiz and Parkopedia to find and pay for parking with FordPay, and another with FlightCar for borrowing and sharing vehicles while traveling.
- FordGuide—Allows drivers to learn about FordPass services from live experts 24/7.
- Appreciation—Rewards members with FordPerks from partners such as McDonald’s and 7-Eleven.
- FordHubs—Storefronts opening later this year in New York, San Francisco, London, and Shanghai that are staffed with FordGuides that “will help guests understand mobility options available in their cities … and experience special events, including new vehicle reveals.”
At the Detroit show, Ford also announced the testing of autonomous vehicles in winter weather including snow, the opening of an automotive wearables lab to study smartwatch applications and health data to monitor when a driver is stressed or sleepy, and a pilot program through Ford Credit that lets consumers lease a vehicle as a group. Finally, Ford and IBM announced a collaboration called the Smart Mobility Experimentation Platform in which researchers will analyze data “to spot patterns, correlations and trends, and write code to make more efficient transportation decisions, such as finding open parking spaces or faster modes of transportation to beat gridlock.”
Neither Nissan or Acura exhibited at CES, but both used NAIAS to show off new innovations. The futuristic interior of Acura’s Precision Concept uses facial recognition to identify drivers in order to tailor their experience while behind the wheel. Nissan showed its “vision of the future of autonomous driving and zero emission EVs,” the IDS Concept, that can switch between manual- and self-driving modes via a steering wheel and a display that disappear into the dash. And by flipping a large dashboard display while in autonomous mode so that it faces outside, it can be used to “convey to pedestrians and others the car’s awareness of its surroundings and signals its intentions” via messages such as “After you” and “Stopping” in English, Japanese, and Chinese
Like Ford, Toyota displayed at CES but saved at least one tech tidbit for Detroit by announcing a partnership with Kymeta to incorporate flat-panel satellite antennas into cars. Embedded in the roof of a hydrogen fuel-cell Mirai research at the Detroit show, Toyota said the technology can provide faster data downloads than a cellular connection as well as wider coverage and a more stable connection, although Kymeta said it could be several years before it comes to market.
While CES continues to steal the spotlight away from traditional auto show, you can’t forget the Motor City gathering that happens the following week and brings the entire car world together. And this year the Detroit Auto Show delivered in terms of global debuts and tech.
In my 28 consecutive years of trekking to Las Vegas for CES each January, I can definitely say that this year’s show hit a high water mark in terms of the scale and significance of car technology unveiled at the show as well as the attention it received. I asserted last year that at CES 2015 car tech was the only source of true innovation at the show, and the case was made even stronger in 2016, as automakers and their tech suppliers doubled-down in Las Vegas and as a result stole the media spotlight.
Autonomous driving repeated its front and center position at CES, but trends such as personalization of the driver experience via cloud connectivity and a further expansion into smart mobility by some of the biggest players in the automotive tech space also stood out. After a week of canvassing the Las Vegas Convention Center and visiting numerous offsite suites and press conferences, here are my personal highlights of a CES that was one for the car tech record books.
While it would have been difficult for Mercedes-Benz to top the unveiling of its head-turning autonomous F 015 concept at CES 2015, this year the automaker debuted the 2017 E-Class, the first “standard-production” vehicle to receive an autonomous license from Nevada. Mercedes said that while other driverless cars licensed by the Silver State require extra sensors or other modifications, the production E-Class already has fully autonomous technology, and that engineers only need to tweak the control software before the vehicle is ready to hit road.
Other self-driving developments had more to do with the hardware and software enabling technology. For example, Nvidia released its second-generation Drive PX 2 self-driving computer which will control future self-driving vehicles with 12 CPU cores and 8 teraflops worth of processing power – the equivalent to 150 MacBook Pros – and can achieve 24 trillion operations a second.
Mobileye, the dominant camera supplier for most of the automotive industry, announced at CES that it struck deals with GM and VW to supply mapping data for the automakers’ self-driving car efforts. Here, the mapping provider that was recently purchased by Audi , BMW and Mercedes-Benz also showed its new HD Live Map platform for autonomous driving that it says is accurate down to 10-20 centimeters/4-7 inches.
QNX, the BlackBerry division that supplies infotainment software for millions of vehicles, introduced its Platform for ADAS. The company said that it’s designed to “enable automotive companies to build a full range of automated driving systems that provide a 360-degree surround view of the vehicle from “multiple sources such as cameras and radar, and high-performance processors that make control decisions in fully autonomous vehicles.”
After announcing a $1 billion investment in artificial intelligence (AI) research late last year and the formation of the Toyota Research Institute led by Gill Pratt, former head of robotics at DARPA, the Japanese automaker shored up its self-driving technology team at CES. Toyota revealed at CES that it has assembled a team of AI experts from DARPA, Stanford and MIT, and has brought onboard Google’s former head of robotics James Kuffner. Toyota also debuted its Mobility Teammate Concept to showcase its approach to automated driving by way of AI and deep learning, “so that connected vehicles learn from and share with each other in real time to create a safe driving environment.”
IoT and connecting cars to all things outside the cockpit to provide features and services was another trend at CES 2016. Automotive suppliers Delphi even trademarked the acronym V2E for “vehicle to everything” communication. V2E encompassed vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication as well as connecting vehicles to pedestrians via smartphones to prevent collisions and syncing drivers to family and friends to notify them of their location.
Ford CEO Mark Fields made public a new partnership with Amazon that will allow the automaker’s Sync 3 infotainment to connect with Amazon’s Echo hands-free speaker and voice command device. This in turn lets a Ford owner with Sync 3 ask Amazon’s Alexa cloud-based voice assistant to start the car, arm a home security system or open a garage door on approach.
Bosch showed technology that connects cars to homes so a house’s lights automatically turn on and the temperature inside is adjusted to a preferred temperature when a vehicle gets within a certain range. The company also showed how images of visitors to a connected home could be seen on a car’s dashboard display via a home security camera, and the driver could even open the front door for them from the car.
Mercedes-Benz debuted its me concept at CES that use predictive data to get to know a driver’s daily habits, while Toyota’s Agent+ leverages cloud-based computing to learn a car’s driving history and predict likely destinations for owners.
This is just part of the car tech jackpot that poured from Las Vegas last week, making CES the place to spot the hottest new products and trends in the space.
Originally published by Forbes.com