We have been attending the Consumer Electronics Show for decades, watching for technological innovation and not just year-over-year incremental improvement. At this year’s show, we didn’t find true innovation in the smart-home area, where we witnessed over a dozen platforms being introduced this year alone, thus guaranteeing another year of automation and security gadgets in your house that don’t talk to each other. We didn’t find it in the wearable tech area, where many products still don’t connect to the cloud and the only thing being seriously discussed is the Apple Watch, which was not even on display at CES. And we didn’t find it in video, where 4K Ultra HD is still looking for relevance two years after being introduced. Smart TVs are in market paralysis due to format wars, and really, are curved TV’s “innovative?”
Automotive technologies were the only source of honest innovation at this year’s CES. The introduction of the Mercedes Benz F-015 Luxury in Motion concept car was a major example of how the autonomous vehicle can change human behavior and clearly add productivity while behind the wheel. BMW’s self-parking i3 also showed how autonomy can also save time and effort by people who would otherwise be tasked with finding a parking space and having to manually retrieve their vehicle. And Ford’s vision of car-sharing partnerships brings the idea of future mobility into a practical new focus.
At CES, Audi unveiled its TTS concept vehicle equipped with a new digital cockpit powered by NVIDIA’s Tegra X1 processor. The in-car supercomputer allows for visual processing and machine learning of a vehicle’s surroundings as well as a person’s driving behaviors, enabling a safer and less distracting driving experience that is a precursor of fully autonomous vehicle operation. Audi even made the 550-mile journey from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas using their autonomous Piloted Driving technology. We think that is more innovative than a WiFi-enabled cooker or a 105-inch curved television.
Toyota used CES – and not a major auto show – to announce their development of hydrogen fuel cells as well as its willingness to share patented technologies for implementation, royalty-free. Reminiscent of last year when Tesla gave away all its patents for the electric car, Toyota appears to be aiming for broad auto industry adoption of its technology.
At CES, Audi, Hyundai and Volkswagen all announced that they will offer Android Auto/CarPlay ready infotainment systems for the 2015 model year. Additionally Audi and Hyundai announced vehicle integration with smartwatches, further broadening their connected ecosystems. While today’s wearables have limited in-vehicle functionality, this signals collaboration between automakers and technology companies that could deliver some mind-blowing connected solutions by next year’s CES.
Has the Consumer Electronics Show become a “must-attend” event for automakers similar to that of the New York, Detroit or Los Angeles auto shows? Given that a record 10 car companies exhibited at 2015 CES (occupying over 165,000 square feet of exhibit space), the trend is pointing toward making CES the auto industry’s premier technology showcase.