In the wake of CES and the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, it’s clear that times are a-changing. Self-driving concept cars filled three football-field-sized areas to show off what lies ahead. Verizon and Ford did a cosmic switcheroo, with Verizon morphing into the auto space and Ford starting a transformation into a mobility company. Automated reality/augmented reality isn’t as big as would be expected, and is suffering from a lack of content. Wearables continue to do remarkable things, notably in the health and fitness sector, and smart watches will become more exciting with interaction to vehicles and home.
When Mark Field, current CEO of Ford, announced the Ford Sync from the CES stage in 2007, attendees found the presence of an auto company at CES to be out of place. The auto industry was considered Neanderthals of tech. Today, the most exciting mobile technology is vehicle related, and more exciting developments from the auto industry were seen in Las Vegas, rather than Detroit.
Field was back at CES with a visionary perspective that Ford isn’t going to be just about cars and trucks. He is broadening Ford’s focus to mobility in preparation of the changes in transportation that will occur in response to global megatrends of urbanization, growth of the middle class, air-quality issues and evolving consumer attitudes. To test out new ideas of flexible user-ship and collaborative transportation, Ford is operating 25 experiments around the world to test out solutions for specific mobility challenges. Ford is looking to be a leader and enabler of a market where people may be sharing or swapping vehicles or relying on crowd-based transportation. It is refreshing to see out-of-the-box thinking from Detroit.
Far from its beginnings in 2007, Ford announced SYNC 3, an updated version of its in-vehicle communication and information system. SYNC technology is already in 10 million vehicles on the road. SYNC 3 will be released in new car models this year and will include more conversational speech recognition, a more smartphone-like experience with a touch screen and easier-to-read graphics. In addition, AppLink 3.0 will roll out and give drivers the ability to access their navigation app — much as they do on a smartphone — on in-vehicle touch screens,
You may recall that GM had announced OnStar would be dropping Verizon for AT&T communications staring in 2015. The announcement of Verizon Vehicle, a new connected vehicle service that duplicates some of the features of OnStar, must be the impetus. The subscription-based service will be compatible with all vehicle models sold in the U.S. since 1996. The service will include GPS-directed roadside assistance, crash notification, emergency assistance with a live agent, a hotline to connect with mechanics on vehicle issues, maintenance alerts, and stolen vehicle location assistance. Notably, the offering doesn’t include navigation, a mainstay of OnStar, but readily available on smartphones. The service uses an OBD II dongle and a head unit that can attach to a visor and contains a Bluetooth speaker and call buttons.
Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW all showed advances in self-driving vehicles. Mercedes-Benz demoed the F015 Luxury in Motion concept car, which is fully autonomous and completely powered by a battery and fuel cell. Audi impressed by having its own concept vehicle drive itself from Palo Alto, California, to Las Vegas. BMW offered demonstrations of its i3 electric car, with ActiveAssist technology, able to prevent collisions at speeds up to 15 mph.
Delphi and Valeo technology suggest that current adaptive cruise-control systems may soon add self-steering. Drivers could allow the car to take over in stop-and-go traffic and on long highway segments. Although unlikely to see production in the short term, Delphi showed the full capabilities of its self-driving technology in an urban environment.
The next big feature to be commercialized during our wait for automated driving is self-parking. As demonstrated by BMW, the driver arrives at a parking garage entrance, gets out of the car, and sends it to find a parking place. When ready to depart, the driver summons the car, which drives itself to a special pickup zone in front of a parking garage. BMW says it will be offering self-parking cars in one to two years.
Unfortunately, augmented reality hasn’t quite lived up to the hype, but Hyundai is showcasing a production-ready augmented reality heads-up display concept. It’s an easy-to-understand system with animated information and warnings to describe road conditions ahead. For instance, it provides warnings when another car is about to unexpectedly enter the car’s lane, and shows arrows leading to exit ramps, highlighted street signs and one-way street markings. Hyundai has linked the augmented heads-up display to a wearable band that will vibrate with warnings. The band includes a heart-rate monitor that can notify 911 if a driver’s heart rate changes rapidly.
I don’t want to neglect the things in life that don’t change. It is comforting to know that Palm Pilots, record players and Walkmans are back at CES. The new Sony Walkman will set you back $1,100. So things do change.