Roundup of Driverless News from CES 2016
With nearly 200,000 delegates and more than two million square feet of new exhibits, it’s easy to see why the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is seen as the essential place for brands to showcase their new technology and products. The gadgets and gizmos revealed here often appear on our wish list at Christmas later in the year.
What was noticeable this year were the announcements and presentations of the traditional auto manufacturers. It’s not as though they haven’t been at CES before, but this year seems to have been something of a turning point for what they were doing there. Many chose this event, as opposed to the Detroit car show for example, to launch new driverless cars, software, partnerships and multi-billion dollar investments.
Toyota, Audi, BMW, Ford, Mercedes and others all announced progress in their efforts to develop driverless cars or research vehicles. General Motors (GM), America’s largest car maker, took the chance to announce its plans to invest £350m in Lyft, a rival to on-demand taxi app Uber, in an effort to create a network of on-demand self-driving vehicles in the US. “We see the future of personal mobility as connected, seamless and autonomous,” said GM president Dan Ammann at the show. And if it works in the US, how long will it be before it makes it over to the UK?
French and Japanese car giants, Renault and Nissan, also made public their joint plans to launch 10 vehicles with autonomous tech in the next four years. Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault and chairman of the Renault-Nissan alliance, said vehicles with self-driving technology will actually debut this year. The cars will have a feature called “single-lane control” which allows them to drive autonomously on highways without switching lanes. They will also launch an app this year allowing drivers to interact remotely with their cars, such as by controlling music or the car’s temperature.
Some less high-profile brands made significant announcements too. Kia, the Korean manufacturer, launched their Drive Wise sub-brand as part of a £1.4 billion plan to release a partially autonomous vehicle by 2020 and a fully autonomous one a decade later. In their own words, “Drive Wise will enable Kia to introduce intelligent safety technologies to its future model range, helping to eliminate potential dangers — and, for many, the boredom — of driving, while changing the ways in which owners interact with their vehicles.”
Much of their driverless tech was showcased in their Autonomous Soul EV (electric vehicle). Capable of driving by itself using driving modes such as traffic jam assist and highway assist, the Soul can find parking spots and park itself – without anyone inside but with the driver controlling it by smart watch.By using sophisticated face recognition technology, the Soul can detect if something’s happened to the driver that might render them incapable of controlling the vehicle appropriately. It can then pull over and call the emergency services, following the emergency vehicle to the hospital if needs be. We can see this going one step further: the car could drive directly to the hospital instead of waiting and reduce the chances of not getting timely medical attention.
By using sophisticated face recognition technology, the Soul can detect if something’s happened to the driver that might render them incapable of controlling the vehicle appropriately. It can then pull over and call the emergency services, following the emergency vehicle to the hospital if needs be. We can see this going one step further: the car could drive directly to the hospital instead of waiting and reduce the chances of not getting timely medical attention.
Swiss brand Rinspeed, famed for challenging the status quo with its concept cars, revealed its driverless car at CES rather than waiting for the Geneva motor show. Based on BMW’s i8 hybrid supercar, the lemon zest coloured Etos features a helipad to land a drone on and a retractable steering wheel. Its twin screen display will then let you take that Skype call or watch a movie streamed from the cloud. It can put itself into autonomous mode while you’re on the call, and even reroute to ensure the best connection.
This might all sound great but why would anyone want these features in a sports car? Out of all the cars we own, drool over and want to drive ourselves, it is the sports car. Not to mention the questions it raises about liability. If the car is choosing to put itself into driverless mode, what criteria will be used to make that decision? And what happens if the driver disagrees and the car’s decision turns out to be impractical, undesired or immoral even?
At the End of the Show
So what have we really learned from CES this year? Well, one thing that didn’t happen among all the buzz and bright yellow concept cars, but was very much expected to, was Ford and Google announcing a love-in. Nothing was said either way so they might still end up working together. Watch this space! Partnering is clearly a good choice for tech brands and car companies wishing to make use of each other’s capabilities rather than starting from scratch.
That aside, the main tactic, for the traditional car manufacturers at least, seems to be about gradually introducing driverless features to existing cars. Features that assist the driver or in certain situations alleviate the need for them to always have their hands on the wheel. Even if many brands have autonomous cars ready to go, they seem cautious about releasing them into the wild. It’s not about sudden shifts or ditching the steering wheel completely.
One thing seems more certain: the state of driverless technology will change again by this time next year, perhaps dramatically, because – whatever the arguments for and against driverless cars may be – the amount of money being invested by traditional car companies and tech giants like Google, is a clear indication how valuable an opportunity they deem it to be.