Though the Detroit Auto Show is about a week later, carmakers often unveil exciting prototypes for new car technology at CES each year—and 2014 was no different.
Here are examples of some of the coolest car technology from this year’s CES, which you can expect to be see more prevalently in the future:
Driverless/Autonomous Car Technology
While they’re not quite at the level of the cars in Minority Report, driverless cars—also known as autonomous cars—are bridging the gap between actual and automated driving. Starting out small, Audi introduced its A7 vehicle and its compact zFAS computer, which could be used for key-automated driving tasks such as recognizing traffic signs, lane departure warnings and locating pedestrians.
BMW showcased the more highly active assist technology it added to a modified 2 Series Coupe. According to CNN, this technology allows the vehicle to “[use] steering, breaking and throttle to control acceleration, deceleration and direction in small, exact amounts.” While not included in the test vehicle, BMW is also working on sensors, environment modeling and decision and driving strategy technologies.
Other companies, such as Valeo and Bosch, are working on technologies that enable automated parking and traffic assistance that will take over during certain situations when the car is traveling under 40 mph. For example, the Valeo demo featured a car that could drive itself down a row of cars, find a parking space and back into it. Even with these technologies, drivers will still have to drive at times, so they cannot yet completely devoid themselves of all driving responsibilities just yet.
Nvidia announced its Tegra K1 processor, which contains a spell-bounding 192 cores, which could eventually enable the future driverless vehicle. Audi announced that it would use this chip to produce its cars in the near future.
One of the chief issues standing in the way of mass production of autonomous vehicles will be regulations and laws that make it legal for these cars to be driven on the road. Another is insurance and liability: if a driverless car is in an accident, who is to blame—the driver or the automated system? And finally, there needs to actually be consumer demand for this type of vehicle for them to take off, and that cannot yet be determined. It is unlikely that we will see autonomous cars on the road for at least another seven to 10 years, but the technology in development is still exciting to see.
Cars are becoming more and more connected with time, and at CES that included announcements from car companies who will be building 4G/LTE connections into their models, including both GM and Audi, likely followed by other carmakers. One reason for this speedy data connection is that drivers could download and install apps directly from their cars’ dashboards, provided they are approved by the manufacturer.
Another impressive feature was the integration of wearable technology with cars. According to CNET, BMW and Mercedes-Benz both introduced the concept that drivers could use a smartwatch to remotely perform such tasks as unlocking doors, checking the fuel level, honking the horn and sending map destinations to the car. Hooked to Pebble smartwatches, this concept is called Digital Drive Style App for Mercedes. BMW connected its i Remote app to Samsung Galaxy Gear, which will be used on the upcoming 2014 BMW i3 electric vehicle. The i Remote can also adjust climate controls, recognize voice commands for navigation directions and tell whether the doors and windows are closed
Finally, Google is integrating its Android platform and Google Now into several automakers’ cars, including Audi, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai and chipmaker Nvidia, collectively known as the Open Automotive Alliance. The power of Google Now’s integration with cars means everything from being reminded of and directed to planned appointments to dictating emails and sending texts.
The Ford C-max Energi Hybrid came equipped with solar panels affixed to the roof and a Fresnel lens that concentrates sunlight up to eight times. After eight hours of charging in the fun, the vehicle can drive without using gas or carbon for 20 minutes.
Tesla boasted an eye-catching display for Lotus, a series of solar panels developed by Monarch Power, which resembled a giant satellite or umbrella fastened to a car. The solar array is fully functional, though it cannot charge the car while it’s in motion. In fact, the owner drove the vehicle from his home in Scottsdale, AZ, to CES in Las Vegas.
Fuel Cell, Hydrogen Power
Toyota introduced its FCV concept, which is a four-door fuel-cell vehicle that uses hydrogen to power the car. The company says that the car can currently drive in a range of 300 miles and can speed up from 0 to 60 mph in about 10 seconds. The car will be available to consumers in 2015.
The all-electric Lit C1 looks like a combination of a car and a motorcycle that uses a high-speed gyroscope to maintain its balance. The C1 can drive as fast as 100 mph, and the base model is available for pre-order for $23,000.
BMW also unveiled its i3 electric vehicle, and Toyota unleashed its own i-Road electric three-wheeler concept.
On its Quattro model, Audi introduced the concept of headlights with laser diodes, which can light up the road for up to 500 meters. The laser diodes are only a few microns in diameter, making them much smaller than conventional LEDs.
Car technology was a huge hit at CES 2014, and these technologies showcase just the brink of where auto tech is heading through the rest of the decade.