Joshua Dowling covers the growing prescence of the car industry at the consumer electronics show in Vegas
THE car industry has elbowed its way into the world’s biggest tech expo — the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas — and is becoming part of the furniture.
When they first arrived a decade ago, they were simply a sideshow, hoping some of the hi-tech glow would rub off on their dowdy image.
But their presence is increasingly justified. With some of the most advanced technology on the planet, cars truly are becoming computers on wheels.
Ford is so confident in its autonomous technology, it claims it will have a car without a steering wheel and pedals on sale in 2021.
Other brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volvo also forecast fully autonomous vehicles in the 2020 to 2025 timeframe — but theirs will continue to have regular controls in case the driver wants or needs to take over.
Volkswagen is experimenting with a steering wheel that automatically retracts into the dashboard when not required.
Sceptical? You should be, because the partially autonomous technology we’ve experienced so far has proven fallible too many times — and has already claimed at least one fatality, the driver of a Tesla in the US in May last year.
While today’s partially autonomous cars (that enable a driver to take their hands off the wheel for up to 60 seconds while they follow the lane markings on a freeway) have two or three cameras, one radar or laser sensor — fully autonomous cars of the future will be a science lab on wheels.
Ford’s driverless car has six radar sensors, seven cameras, two laser scanners, high-grade inertia sensors, and built-in 3D maps to cross-check its surroundings in milliseconds. These provide the car’s “brain” with a 360-degree “view” the length of two football fields in all directions.
You’ll be able to spot autonomous cars from a distance — their roofs and windscreen pillars will be dotted with beacons.
Some are not as bullish about autonomous driving, though. Toyota, the world’s biggest car maker (and arguably most conservative), predicts fully autonomous cars are more than a decade away.
In the meantime they are trying to better understand driver behaviour by adding more sensors and eliminating buttons inside the cabin, such as the interior of the oddball (and button-less) Toyota Concept-i.
Panasonic, which supplies most of the world’s car makers with touchscreens and audio technology — including Toyota, Ford, Mercedes, Peugeot, Nissan and others — also had a cockpit on display which transformed four large tablet computers into a work desk for front and back seat passengers.
BMW is experimenting with ways to eliminate buttons by using ultrasonic sensors that give drivers and passengers haptic feedback on their fingertips — when they “push” a button projected as a hologram.
It means you’ll be able to tap imaginary “buttons” or “tiles” that would otherwise have been out of arm’s reach, and you’ll know you’ve been successful because your fingertip will feel a pulse in thin air, created by ultrasonic sensors. The BMW iInside also could measure the driver’s heart rate via sensors in the seat.
Toyota and Hyundai had concepts each claim were able to detect — and then enhance — the driver’s mood via face recognition.
But some of the most impressive technology is just around the corner. MercedesBenz is developing headlights that will each have 1 million tiny mirrors — or “pixels”. They will shine a beam so bright and accurate that they can pinpoint pedestrians on the footpath and dim the section of lights aimed only at their eyes — but still illuminate the rest of their body.
The same technology can also project the lines of a pedestrian crossing on an empty street at night, to alert others it is safe to cross.
The headlights are so sharp they could be used to project a movie on a garage wall, although Mercedes admits this is not the intended use of the technology. Also just around the corner from Mercedes are “thumb” sensors in the steering wheel and a FitBit-style “wearable” rubber wristband to measure the heart rate and health of drivers. Head of research and development at Mercedes-Benz, Ola Kallenius, said sensors in the steering wheel will sense a driver’s heart rate “like when you hold you your hands on a treadmill in a fitness studio”.
“In the most serious case, if you’re about to have a heart attack, the (technology) will know before you know — and it will send off an emergency call, stop the car, or stop the bus, before an accident happens and save lives,” said Mr Kallenius.
Mercedes will roll out a hitech heart-rate monitor vest for truck and bus drivers by 2020.
Toyota’s Concept-i, a self-driving vehicle.
To navigate snowy roads, Ford autonomous vehicles are equipped with highresolution 3D maps complete with information about the road and what’s above it, including road markings, signs, geography, landmarks and topography.
Mercedes-Benz Fit & Healthy