A key area of this year’s CES show in Las Vegas was once again dedicated to the automotive sector, showcasing the latest in vehicle technology and autonomous driving, concept cars and connected vehicles. In fact, despite having many more strings to its bow, it has been named as one of the top ten automotive shows by newspaper USA Today.
The great and the good of the automotive sector once again descended on Las Vegas in force and we’ve selected just some of the standout technologies on show.
Hyundai showcased a new robotic walking car, capable of climbing obstacles up to five feet high. The Elevate is capable of walking over rough terrain, spanning gaps up to five-feet across and scaling obstacles up to five feet tall - all while maintaining a level passenger compartment.
Attached to each corner of the Elevate is a robotic leg, which can operate in five independent aspects of movement, allowing the Elevate to tackle almost any sort of terrain. It can walk in both a mammalian and reptilian fashion, and each leg can be independently locked, allowing for omnidirectional motion.
Hyundai has dubbed the Elevate an Ultimate Mobility Vehicle (UMV), and says it’s been made to help respond to emergencies and natural disasters during the first 72 hours – usually the most critical point.
“When a tsunami or earthquake hits, current rescue vehicles can only deliver first responders to the edge of the debris field. They have to go the rest of the way by foot,” said Hyundai Vice President John Suh. “Elevate can drive to the scene and climb right over flood debris or crumbled concrete.”
BMW R 1200 GS
We’ve heard an awful lot about autonomous driving in terms of cars. However, it was the turn of the motorcycle at CES as BMW unveiled its self-driving R 1200 GS which features technology that BMW Motorrad claim will allow the bike to start, stop and corner by itself, improve rider aids and help real-life riders improve their skills and ride more safely.
BMW also stated that the development of this test vehicle will provide valuable insights into riding dynamics, which can then be used to help the rider recognise dangerous situations and master difficult driving manoeuvres. The aim being to help reduce the causes of motorcycle accidents due to riding error.
These onboard safety systems would employ V2X (vehicle-to-everything) technology that would give the motorcycle digital ‘eyes’ on its surroundings.
CES is all about pushing boundaries and it just wouldn’t be the same show if at least one company weren’t showcasing a flying car. This year it was the turn of Bell Helicopter which announced the Bell Nexus, a hybrid-electric propulsion vehicle equipped with six rotary fans that make it fly.
The 6,500lb aircraft sports six, eight foot articulated ducted fans, which enable the platform to lift off the ground vertically like a traditional helicopter before rotating 90 degrees, allowing for faster air travel much like a plane. The Nexus fits on a standard 40x40ft landing pad, which means that cities won’t have to radically change existing infrastructure to accommodate them.
And since the Nexus utilises a hybrid electric power system, it should be able to fly more quietly and more efficiently than conventional ‘copters’. The prototype on show at CES was non-operational. However, the company claim that flight testing will begin by the mid-2020s and commercial operations will commence shortly after that.
Bell CEO Mitch Snyder said: “As space at the ground level becomes limited, we must solve transportation challenges in the vertical dimension, and that’s where Bell’s on-demand mobility vision takes hold.”
In addition, Bell’s latest iteration of its Nexus VTOL aircraft is being developed as the preferred platform for Uber’s Elevate air taxi programme.
Unveiled at the show the latest CLA class Merc is, as you might expect, packed to the gunnels with on-board gadgetry.
The CLA features driver assistance systems originally seen on the most recent S-class, allowing the car to drive semi-autonomously for the first time. The systems include active brake, lane keeping, and lane change assistance systems along with Pre-safe Plus, which can detect an imminent rear-end collision and prepare the car for it.
Other features include augmented reality for navigation, the next-generation MBUX Interior Assist, which has gesture control that works in sunlight and in darkness, and the ability to understand indirect voice commands which can handle quite complex questions.
Ola Källenius, Daimler AG board member responsible for group research and Mercedes-Benz Cars Development, demonstrated the voice assistant at CES. “Drivers can speak even more naturally,” he said, adding that the days of yelling at your voice assistant in the car are over, dubbing the new CLA as: “The ultimate wearable.”
Freightliner Cascadia - Daimler
It’s kind of understandable that the sexy new coupés and flying cars capture a lot of the headlines at CES. However, the new Cascadia truck from Freightliner (a division of Daimler), was certainly worth a mention, and considering the impact that trucks have on our roads in terms of congestion and pollution, they would benefit just as much as regular cars from the raft of technology being incorporated into the sector.
Freightliner and Daimler conducted hundreds of hours of testing in Daimler Trucks North America’s proprietary wind tunnel and millions of miles of real-world on-highway testing, to evaluate and design the new Cascadia.
The Cascadia features Level 2 driver assistance features (making it the first-ever semi-autonomous series production truck on North American roads), adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring and full automatic braking for walking pedestrians and cyclists.
Richard Howard, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Daimler Trucks North America, said: “When you take a look at the new Cascadia, you’ll first note its modern lines and refined styling. But take a closer look, and you’ll see the attention that was given to every detail of the truck to create an aerodynamic vehicle that will reap bottom line benefits for our customers.
There are of course many people out there who baulk at the idea of fully autonomous driving. Despite all the big players in the industry ploughing forward with the technology, it does have its detractors, and not without good reason, for there are numerous questions around security and safety that still need to be answered.
One solution however, may be Toyota Guardian. Unveiled at CES, Guardian is a new driver assistance suite that is aimed at helping the driver avoid potential crashes instead of taking complete control of the car.
Toyota claim that Guardian works on a similar premise to that of a jet fighter and the interaction between the aircraft and the pilot. The pilot doesn’t directly fly, instead, the pilot’s control inputs are read by a flight control system that makes corrections to ensure safety.
The system works on the premise of ‘blended envelope control’. It means that instead of a black and white scenario whereby the car is controlled by either the driver or the systems on board, the Guardian intends for the driver to be in control at all times, and assists whoever is behind the wheel with corrective steering, acceleration and braking responses to avoid accidents.
Toyota Safety Institute CEO Gill Pratt said: “Most of the time, the driver feels 100% in control of the car. However, as the driver begins to reach the edge of a dynamically changing safety envelope, the machine begins to collaborate together with the human, to help nudge the driver back into a safe corridor.”
Audi Holoride VR
In terms of in-car entertainment, German manufacturer Audi stood out with its new in-car VR system, designed to let backseat passengers watch movies, play video games and experience interactive content using a VR headset.
The VR content can respond to the movements of a vehicle in real time, meaning that the user could be experiencing flying a plane for example, and when the vehicle turned right, the user would experience the plane turning right in turn.
Audi demonstrated the system in Las Vegas last week with Marvel’s Avengers: Rocket’s Rescue Run, a prototype VR game developed by Disney Games and Interactive Experiences, using an Oculus Rift VR headset outfitted in its Audio e-tron electric vehicles.
Audi will be licensing this technology to Holoride, which in turn will create an open platform for developers and other car makers to build their own experiences. It will provide a software development kit (SDK) that serves as the interface to the vehicle data which can then be transferred into VR.
I’m sure that this particular CES highlight peaked the interest of many a parent who has experienced boredom induced backseat temper tantrums on long journeys.