Future is all about driverless cars as manufacturers step up a gear
The Consumer Electronics Show once resembled a futuristic Dixons showroom full of high-tech televisions, washing machines and mobile phones.
This year big carmakers dominated the world’s premier consumer technology get-together, showing off flashy concept cars and making bullish forecasts about driverless vehicles.
Mark Fields, the boss of Ford, predicted that self-driving cars would be on the roads within the next four years, even if his company’s were not the first to arrive. Driving with a steering wheel was, he said, “as antiquated as wanting to ride a horse”.
He said that Ford would triple the size of its driverless testing fleet from 10 to 30 cars this year to gather more data about real-world driving conditions. Driverless Ford Fusion cars are already being tested on public roads in the US.
Speculation is rife that Ford will announce a tie-up with Google to develop driverless cars. Google, which last year unveiled a fully autonomous bubble car — without a steering wheel — is the world leader in driverless technology. Mr Fields refused to be drawn on the matter, preferring to talk about a new deal with Amazon to enable Ford cars to connect to the “cloud”. This will enable them to “talk” to each other, to their owners and to any other device connected to the internet.
BMW, Volkswagen, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler and General Motors showed off concept vehicles, as did lesser known manufacturers such as Faraday Future, the company behind the head-turning FFZero1 electric supercar. Most proffered fully autonomous driving capabilities and nifty new features.
BMW’s i8 eschews wing and rear-view mirrors for an array of cameras. The video from the cameras is displayed on a screen where the rear-view mirror used to be. The i8’s interior allows the driver to control various functions, such as the cabin temperature, by making hand gestures. The car is, of course, connected to the internet.
With few exceptions, the concept vehicles on display were fully electric, despite the fact that under 0.1 per cent of cars on the road today are powered by batteries.
Artificial intelligence that powers self-driving cars was also a feature of this year’s show. Nvidia, the microchip maker, unveiled a new driving AI that promises “360-degree situational awareness” around a vehicle, promising more safety and greater comfort for passengers. The system is to be tested by BMW, Audi and Ford this year. BlackBerry unveiled AI that allows cars to communicate with traffic lights and each other to improve traffic flow.
Gadgets to watch
EHang 184 The world’s first passenger-carrying drone promises to make commuting as easy as tapping a button. The single-seater octocopter automatically flies from A to B at up to 63mph. It will cost between $200,000 (£137,260) and $300,000 when it goes on sale this year.
Faraday Future FFZero1 The 1,000 horsepower electric supercar can predict what its driver wants via their smartphone. The single-seater concept car would accelerate from 0 to 60mph in less than three seconds and have a top speed of more than 200mph. It would also be able to drive itself.
Mcor ARKe The first desktop 3D printer capable of creating models in full colour. The device colours paper, chops it up into layers with its cutting wheel and sticks these layers together with glue. The ARKe will go on sale in the summer for $5,995.
Digitsole Smartshoe 01 These trainers automatically tighten around your ankles with the tap of a button on an app. They also heat your toes up to 32C (90F), monitor the amount of exercise you are doing and warn you when you are likely to develop blisters. Fashionistas may want to steer clear, however.
Quell The device is strapped around the calf to stimulate nerves in the muscle, a process that ultimately helps to alleviate chronic discomfort by releasing pain-reducing chemicals, according to its maker. Quell, which is approved by the US medicines regulator, costs $250, plus $29.95 for a month’s worth of electrodes.