CES (Consumer Electronics Show) is exactly what it sounds like — a show for consumer electronics. So being that it’s a glorified iPod showcase, you wouldn’t expect to see a ton of cars. A few, sure, but not too many as most car innovations are usually displayed at auto shows.
However, recently, CES has been an incredible platform for automakers to show off their latest tech. This year, the automobile show floor at CES was 20% larger than last year and should be even bigger next year. Gary Shapiro, the CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association said “The continued growth of automotive at CES parallels the rapid evolution of in-vehicle technologies.”
See, cars nowadays are just as much computers as they are machines. So much new safety and luxury technology has been implemented into cars that they must have enough sensors and computers to be capable of landing a NASA Rover on the moon. Cars can see everything now. It started with blind spot monitors and skyrocketed from there to things like backup and night vision cameras and now they even have cameras inside to watch you.
Lately, though, all the craze has been with autonomous cars. This year three car companies had their autonomous vehicle systems on display.
BMW led the show with a live demonstration on the roof and in the parking garage of the building. Showing off an i3 that could not only find a parking spot, but could also be beckoned at the press of a button. The i3, fitted with sensors and uploaded with a map of the garage, was able to search for an empty parking spot at park itself without any human assistance whatsoever. Then, the press of a button on a smartphone (or smartwatch in the future) can beckon the i3 to deliver itself to the driver so he/she doesn’t have to go searching for where it parked itself. They also showed off their new gesture control system for iDrive, but that took a backseat to the ghost i3. While both Audi and Mercedes had their own autonomous tech on display, none was as impressive as BMW’s.
Mercedes did show something quite interesting though.
They displayed the F 015 concept, which is essentially a car whose main goal is to be less of a car. The F 015 is supposed to be capable of driving anywhere, anytime without the inputs of a human driver. So much so, that the passenger seats rotate, on a swivel, around to face the rear passengers so they can all have a lovely chat while they hope the car decides not to go all SkyNet on them. All jokes aside, this is rather impressive. I’m the kind of guy that likes to actually drive, so this is of no use to be but even I can admit that this would be welcome for someone who has a long daily commute.
After BMW and Mercedes displayed their mega-tech, autonomous cars, Audi must have hung their heads in shame. Not that what they did isn’t impressive, of course it is. Just in comparison, it seems a bit overshadowed by the brilliance of BMW and Mercedes.
Audi displayed some fancy gauge clusters in the new TT which, while very cool (I actually really like it), pales in comparison to autonomous cars. Basically, instead of analog instruments for a speedometer and tachometer, a giant screen fills the gauge cluster. This HD screen can display those aforementioned instruments or full navigation or even the settings for the car. All very fancy stuff, but not as cool as a swivel-chaired, auto-driving pod.
Audi did have a Q7 drive journalists five hundred miles from Silicon Valley to CES in Las Vegas mostly autonomously, but it wasn’t actually displayed at the show and the Q7 still needed to be piloted by the driver. Basically, it was just extreme cruise control.
Autonomous cars are coming. I don’t want them and most enthusiasts don’t want them, but they’re coming. No matter how good the technology may be, I still would never feel comfortable enough to let go of control and swivel my chair around, turning my back to the road. Maybe that’s the curmudgeon in me, but I can’t help it.
Admittedly, it is fascinating, though. BMW’s display seemed to be the one I’m most okay with. That’s actually a useful feature to help save a late executive time parking when late for a meeting or help you find your car in a parking garage. It doesn’t take control away from the driver, simply handles a mundane task on its own if the driver wishes.
So, while Mercedes’ F 015 concept is an incredible technological achievement, and Audi’s fancy gauge cluster is very helpful indeed, it’s BMW’s self parking feature that was, for me at least, the star of the show.