The Fuse

Autonomous, Electric, and Innovative: Automakers Show Style and Substance at CES 2016

by Leslie Hayward | January 08, 2016

“I have no doubt that the automotive industry will change more in the next 5 to 10 years than it has in the last 50,” said Marry Barra, CEO of GM as she introduced the company’s Bolt electric vehicle. The transformation that Barra is referencing has already begun–car companies are working in earnest to reinvent themselves as tech-automotive hybrids that create innovative and thrilling products, and there’s no shortage of buzzwords. Across the board, companies are promoting their particular vision for the future transportation, which inevitably includes artificial intelligence, big data, smart safety, and seamless mobility through the internet of things.

“The presence of autonomous vehicles, drones, computer visualizations, and artificial intelligence had a much increased presence this year,” said Peter Shannon, Managing Director of Firelake Capital Management and member of SAFE’s Autonomous Vehicles Task Force. “In particular, autonomy is being portrayed as being not just safe but also sexy–as all things future automotive must be.”

“In particular, autonomy is being portrayed as being not just safe but also sexy–as all things future automotive must be.”

Shannon argues that, like the tech industry, automakers must create a compelling vision of the future. “Contrary to most automakers who describe an incremental path to autonomous driving, their marketing must ignite the public’s imagination with images of the fully autonomous future, while showing they have the technology to deliver on those goals.” Here’s a look at some of the companies who combined style and substance at this year’s conference.

Electric vehicles Bolt forward

Thankfully, the 100 mile range electric vehicle is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. In her keynote address, GM CEO Mary Barra announced the production version of the Chevy Bolt, which this year will be the first commercially available electric vehicle that offers over 200 miles of range and retails for about $30,000 after federal tax incentives. “The Bolt EV is truly the first electric vehicle that cracks the code of long range and affordable price,” Barra said. “It’s for anyone who wants to save time, money and the environment in a car that’s truly fun to drive.” Barra added that the Bolt is not only a car, but also a technology platform. When drivers approach the vehicle, it connects with their smartphone to access their preferences and settings. The Bolt is also designed for carsharing, incorporating software that allows other drivers to unlock the vehicle with their phones.

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Also on the showroom floor, Volkswagen and Audi introduced concept EVs that advance the industry, offering early stage smart home integration and autonomous features, along with impressive ranges in large vehicles. Audi presented the e-tron quattro concept, which includes “piloted driving functions” for both traffic jams and parking. The car also boasts a 95 kWh battery that enables over 300 miles of range, and Audi announced it is hoping to have a production model ready in 2018.

Meanwhile, Volkswagen’s new Budd-e concept electric van will supposedly boast over 200 miles of electric range, and the capability to communicate directly with your smartphone and house to streamline personal travel. VW claims that the car can remind you if you are forgetting personal items like sunglasses when leaving on a trip. Budd-e also prepares your home for your departure and arrival, locking the doors when you leave, and activating the thermostat and turning on the lights when you return.

However, not all of the electric vehicles on the showroom floor were a step forward. Following a haphazard presentation on Monday night, secretive electric vehicle startup Faraday Future has underwhelmed, with its offering of a one-seater electric vehicle concept, the FFZERO1. The car’s design, while unique, fell short of the hype and bluster the company has been building over the past year. Faraday Future is also light on technical details. When asked about the proposed electric range and price of the vehicle, a company spokesperson declined to comment.

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Nvidia and Mobileye steal the show

Two providers of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), Nvidia and Mobileye, both announced compelling new software products, and growing rosters of automaker partnerships.

Mobileye is an Israel-based company which has emerged as an early leader in the visual data analysis that underpins autonomous driving and ADAS. The company announced their new Road Experience Management (REM) system this week, a crowd-sourced mapping system which enables precise localization in real time. According to the company, the REM system extracts landmark and roadway information at low bandwidths and feeds information from cars on the road to the company’s EyeQ processing platform, which is fed into a cloud-based global map.

“We leveraged advanced artificial intelligence, used for creating environmental models from camera input, in order to create maps based on local coordinate systems while requiring very low bandwidth,” stated Prof. Amnon Shashua, co-founder, chairman and Chief Technology Officer of Mobileye. “The low bandwidth of the model, and the fact that it requires only a camera, which is already available in most new car models as part of the trend towards growing driver assistance deployment, enables the map creation and update to be managed by a cooperative crowd sourcing mechanism.”

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The Smart City Challenge is a $50 million project supported by the Department of Transportation and Vulcan Philanthropy, which is currently inviting cities to submit proposals for their future vision of urban mobility as the first stage of the selection process.

Mobileye’s products are already being integrated into the products of many automakers, including Volkswagen, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Nissan, Volvo, Audi and Hyundai. But the company’s newest partner is the U.S. Department of Transportation, which announced today that Mobileye’s Shield+ collision avoidance technology will be integrated into every bus of the future home city of the Smart City Challenge. The Smart City Challenge is a $50 million project supported by the Department of Transportation and Vulcan Philanthropy, which is currently inviting cities to submit proposals for their future vision of urban mobility as the first stage of the selection process.

“The Smart City Challenge is an exciting opportunity for cities that want to improve their transportation networks through innovation,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “This driver assistance safety technology helps bus drivers avoid and mitigate imminent collisions and protect road users including bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorcyclists.”

Hot on the heels of Mobileye’s success is Nvidia, another software company pushing to establish itself as a provider of highly advanced navigation and sensing systems. While previously focused on infotainment, Nvidia debuted its DRIVE PX 2, which the company is describing as the world’s first in-car artificial intelligence supercomputer.

According to Danny Shapiro, Nvidia’s Senior Director of Automotive, “Nvidia’s AI platform basically enables automakers to train a deep neural network in the cloud, and bring that rapidly accelerated process of learning into the vehicle. So now as we drive we can sense everything that’s going on around the car.”

Nvidia has also announced that it is working with automakers including Volvo, Daimler, Audi, BMW, Fiat, Tesla, and Bentley, among others, and that DRIVE PX 2 will be incorporated into a new vehicle from Volvo next year.

Toyota demonstrates cars that lean

In another demonstration on the showroom floor, Toyota showed how its cars can “learn,” in a matter of minutes or hours, how to navigate an increasingly complex course while avoiding one another. Toyota has invested over $1 billion in vehicle artificial intelligence, but as the CEO of the Toyota Research Institute made clear earlier in the week, the company believes that the toughest challenges of autonomous vehicles have yet to be addressed, and the only way to solve them is through trillions of miles driven. However, what the company is attempting to communicate with its demonstration is that cars can learn from one another, and do so with incredible speed.

The overwhelming number of companies and technologies offering new transportation technologies at this year’s CES bodes well for the car of the future.

 

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