How soon is now?
Consumer Electronics Show an automotive event, too

Font Size

By Kap Maceda Aguila

THE doors to the 2019 edition of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) open on Jan. 8 across 11 venues in Las Vegas, Nevada. The annual event owned and staged by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) is fancied as the “world’s gathering place for all who thrive on the business of consumer technologies… [serving] as the proving ground for innovators and breakthrough technologies… [a] global stage where next-generation innovations are introduced to the marketplace.”

The spectacle has steadily grown through the years. When it started in 1967 (then in New York City), the CES attracted 17,500 visitors and featured over 100 exhibitors. Last year, it welcomed more than 182,000 attendees, 4,400 exhibitors, and 1,000 speakers.

To the uninitiated, the CES may not appear to be a venue to showcase automobiles, but it is actually an important stage; contemporary and near-future vehicles have also benefited from advancements in technology. We look at some car brands set to flex their muscles at CES 2019.

Audi promises “next-generation drive-in movie theater” for its cabins.

The German automaker known for innovation promises to “turn the inside of the car into an amusement park” at CES 2019 through a “completely new on-the-road entertainment format and a special movie theater experience inside a luxury sedan.” Audi envisions this as the in-car entertainment of the future — one serving up a digital entertainment experience. This comes, avers the brand, in concert with piloted driving — enabling occupants to enjoy the “free time” in the car of the future.

And the company is proffering an even greater experience through the Audi Immersive In-Car Entertainment. This feature (which functions only if the car is stationary) is fancied as a “next-generation drive-in movie theater” affording occupants the chance to enjoy Hollywood blockbusters or content provided by streaming services.

It’s the iNEXT for the Munich-headquartered automaker, which uses the term to represent its future of “driving pleasure and the potential of digital connectivity.” Visitors can take a virtual drive in the BMW Vision iNEXT, attended to by the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant.

On display are “innovative capabilities in the fields of design, automated driving, connectivity, electrification and services (or D+ACES), which are all defined as key areas of future activity in its corporate strategy “Number One > NEXT.” Expect a concept cockpit to be displayed in an immersive mixed-reality installation to give a sense of how it will be to drive “autonomously, emission-free, and fully connected in the BMW Vision iNEXT.”

This future drive starts with the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant suggesting the day’s agenda and subsequently lining up the activities for the trip. Through virtual reality goggles and a “spatial concept,” visitors will be able to initially “drive” BMW Vision iNEXT themselves, then get a sense of how the system takes over the function. “In autonomous Ease mode, the driver interacts with the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant, which makes suggestions and controls various digital services for the driver — from videoconferencing, to shopping, to smart home functions.”

Referred to as a “Favorite Space,” the brand claims to answer the question: “What will cars look like when they no longer have to be driven by a person, but still can be?”

More immediate use for the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant will be on display, too — specifically in the new X5 and to other models, from March 2019 onwards. The company highlights the ability to use “natural language for interaction with the vehicle and to access functions.”

Outdoor exhibits are also going to be staged. BMW Motorrad will showcase a self-riding BMW R 1200 GS. Though still a test bike, it is a tantalizing glimpse into the near future where motorcycle systems can help provide better assistance with difficult maneuvers. The wraps on the first-ever X7 SUV will be taken off, and visitors can get the privilege of being driven through an off-road course.

For this year’s CES staging, it seems Honda is ready to publicly declare the acceleration of its journey toward autonomous vehicles — at least in more practical applications. Honda will unveil its Autonomous Work Vehicle and PATH (for Predicting Action of The Human) Bot at the show. The former is, as its moniker suggests, a workhorse. Debuting at CES 2018 under the name 3E-D18, this year’s 350-kilogram iteration is the result of collaboration with Honda partners to “beta-test and evaluate use cases in a broad array of work environments, including a large-scale solar operations in North Carolina, a wildland firefighting division in Colorado, and an agricultural and environmental sciences college in California.”

The bigger deal about this robot is that it lends itself as a highly flexible, “autonomous mobility platform” that can be conscripted to duty in various settings by “selecting appropriate attachments.”

Honda says on its promotional video for the PATH that the company “envisions a future where people and robots co-exist.” That status quo needs to be precluded by what the automaker calls “3Es;” empower, experience and empathy. Robots, it continues, must “stay out of the way, blend in with people, and be accepted by people.”

To this end, the Honda PATH is “built to smoothly move around public spaces without making people uneasy.” Indeed, the PATH seems to be a perfect everyday frontliner — akin to a Star Wars droid used to making its way among a universe of citizens. Path-planning technology allows the PATH to get out of your way and map out a way through a sea of pedestrians. “The robot learns how people move and avoid each other in true situations,” shares Honda, and its engineers are currently testing the navigation and balance control tech in public spaces.

The Mercedes-Benz CLA Coupe marks its global debut at CES 2019. Now boasting an evolved MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) infotainment system, the vehicle is touted as “the most emotional vehicle of its class” and an intelligent one. Meanwhile, the MBUX Interior Assistant “identifies operation requests on the basis of movements… [and features] augmented reality for navigation and the ability to understand indirect voice commands as well as Energizing Coach featuring individual fitness recommendations.”

On the automation front, Daimler Trucks’ Vision Urbanetic makes its US premiere. This is a new mobility concept for demand-based, efficient and sustainable mobility — one pillared on “an autonomously driving, electrically driven chassis suitable for bodies intended to transport passengers or cargo.”

Logistics firms and local public transport companies are the main target for the “fully network-compatible” Vision Urbanetic which allows for the digital sending of transport requests across urban environments. A show car is meant to highlight how an effective UI/UX design can maintain the smooth functioning of mobility sans a driver.