I’m a car guy. So every Consumer Electronics Show (CES) I am happy to see the automotive sector taking more of a center stage. So much so that CES is now one of the top global motor shows, with most of the major car makers and automotive suppliers present. Every year, we are seeing increasing numbers of automotive industry executives on the keynote roster and on major panel discussions, and this year Jim Hackett, Ford CEO, had the headline spot on Tuesday morning.
What’s interesting is the way technology and automotive are starting to look like a single sector. Nvidia are cheek by jowl with Toyota, Kia, Continental, ZF and Valeo in the automotive sector. The Ford booth was all about the living street, with two autonomous vehicles, positioning them as a mobility and smart city pioneer. We’re seeing an evolution of our industry with automakers looking well beyond the vehicle itself to the full ecosystem.
Qi Lu, CEO of Baidu spoke eloquently in a 5G panel on the topic of mobility and intelligence. He started with the phrase “trees don’t need brains, but animals do,” going on to explain that mobility and intelligence are closely linked and one is essential to delivering the other. That’s why companies in the auto sector are pivoting into smart cities and working hard to be a key part of the infrastructure within them. This means new technologies for them and potentially new customers such as city governments or consumers that use alternative mobility options like ride or bike sharing, without ever intending to own a car.
Just about everyone agrees that data is the new fuel, some even call it the new currency. But the amount of data generated by a vehicle will be immense and the only way to manage that will be with the help of AI. Many, if not all, of the major tech companies have widely published AI programs and companies like Intel and Nvidia are showcasing the fast progress of this sector. The car makers are also investing in AI and see it as an essential element of their future offerings.
As we move from Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) through the various levels of autonomous driving, the driving experience is becoming one of greater mixed reality. Satellite navigation may be the simplest form of driver augmentation, but now we’re using head-up displays projecting data virtually in front of the car and we are using AI to assist the driver in many ways. Cars are now equipped with cameras and other environmental sensors all over and we even use them to detect the level of awareness of the driver, their readiness to take back control from the autonomous system, their tiredness and even the direction of their gaze.
The number of electric and hybrid cars on the roads is growing at a rapid rate. At CES, that trend is even faster. The industry is gradually overcoming range-anxiety issues that have slowed adoption, and now just about every car maker has a solid electric offering. What’s more, they don’t look like geek-mobiles anymore, they have the style, panache and the performance that has the potential to bring the most ardent petrol head into the eco-fold.
This remains the nirvana for most of the industry and it’s not just about passenger cars. Many companies are showing mobile retail solutions, self-driving taxis or buses that use AI to constantly update the route to optimize for current and additional passengers. We’ve even seen a drone that can carry people from Volocopter, a German start up that is working closely with Intel.
I’m excited to see the technologies that are enabling these trends, and to see the industry moving so fast, opening new markets and growing in existing ones. We spent last week at CES talking to our customers about these trends, sharing our vision, and demonstrating our enabling technology. The response was exceptional.
CES is truly a part of the car industry’s calendar now, and it feels like CES 2018 has kicked off a stellar year for automotive electronics. By the time we get back to Las Vegas in twelve months, we’ll have visibility on 5G and its impact, on legislation around fully autonomous driving, more AI applications, more smart city innovation, many more sensors and cameras in our cars and a whole lot more.