Each year global automakers, component manufacturers and tech companies flock to Las Vegas to promote their visions of future mobility at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
Consulting firm McKinsey & Company defines mobility as “the market that includes public and private passenger transport as well as the transportation of goods” It’s a huge and diverse arena, where AI and 5G are disrupting established industries and enterprises while engendering a growing number of plucky startups.
Synced visited CES 2019 this week to check out new products and chart trends in the mobility market.
Self-driving slows; Safety gains traction
In the January 9 CES panel “The New Mobility Revolution,” moderator Alexandria Sage of Reuters Automotive Technology was not upbeat regarding the self-driving industry: “I feel like we are in a bit of a holding pattern.”
Although last year’s CES saw a heated race between global automakers and their latest self-driving technologies, the same hype was not there this year. Said Audi Executive Alex Haag, “until recently it was a competition of ‘we are launching [autonomous vehicles] in 2020 or 2021’; and you had these articles trying to see who was winning the race. Now I think people are taking a step back and saying ‘hey, we are going to launch when it’s ready.”
The fatal accident caused by an Uber self-driving test car last March in Arizona hamstrung enthusiasm in the self-driving industry, and 2018 witnessed but a few small pilot programs for testing self-driving vehicles under highly controlled circumstances.
Companies are taking a step back and turning their message from tech talk to safety commitments. There are a couple of trends to watch for in 2019. One is the safety features of Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems, or ADAS. At CES 2019, US GPU giant NVIDIA introduced the world’s first commercially available Level 2+ automated driving system, NVIDIA DRIVE AutoPilot, which will be packed into production-level cars by next year. Like other such products these days, it features in-vehicle driver monitoring that can detect if a driver becomes distracted or drowsy.
Another trend we can expect to see is a broad push for public education regarding self-driving vehicles. Leading automakers including Audi, Toyota and self-driving companies Waymo and Nvidia have announced a large-scale campaign that aims to help consumers and policymakers make more informed decisions regarding the tech. A number of non-profit and academic institutions are also participating in the campaign.
Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) is an advanced communication technology that involves vehicles sharing information in real time with other vehicles and road infrastructure. Standardization of V2X on wireless Lan (WLAN) began back in 2012, and the development of cellular V2X, or C-V2X, was initiated in 2016.
The V2X concept was initially approached with caution — the auto-industry worried it might end up like Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC), a technique for short-to-medium-range wireless automotive communication introduced some 20 years ago that has not lived up to expectations.
The reliability, high-throughput and low latency of incoming 5G networks has however boosted confidence in C-V2X technology; and CES 2019 saw a boom in C-V2X news.
American automaker Ford announced that by 2022 all its cars and trucks sold in the US will feature C-V2X capabilities provided by Qualcomm. Senior Director of Engineering at Qualcomm Gautam Savarkar told Synced that typical C-V2X use cases can include for example a stalled vehicle alerting approaching cars to switch lanes or the urban infrastructure system sending traffic signal timing and other roadway information to vehicles.
Another big player in the V2X marketplace are Tier-1 automotive suppliers. At CES 2019 German auto manufacturer Continental unveiled a 5G hybrid platform which promises reliable mobile network communication and rapid data exchange. A selling point is that it not only supports 4G and 5G networks, but also DSRC and C-V2X capability for communication.
Uber drew crowds at CES 2019 with a gigantic futuristic flying car prototype developed by its partner, Texas-based tech and aerospace firm Bell (formerly Bell Helicopters). Uber expects commercialization of Bell Nexus — which can accommodate four passengers and one driver — to take off in the mid-2020s. A Bell staffer told Synced the flying car could reduce travel time from San Francisco to San Jose by more than 60 percent. The flying car prototype provided an intriguing glimpse into mobility’s not-so-distant future — one passerby commenting “of all the classic sci-fi movie stuff, this looks most likely to make it into the world.”
Uber’s investments in flying cars are a strategic development of the company’s vision of multimodal mobility — the flexible use of a combination of transport modes for a single trip. In the near future, ride-hailing giants like Uber and Lyft are expected to create a multimodal network that integrates different transport tools ranging from electric bikes to flying cars.
Uber acquired the bike-sharing startup Jump last April, and its urban aviation ride-sharing product Uber Air plans to enable air transportation between cities and suburbs in 2023. Lyft meanwhile has acquired bike-sharing company Motivate, which operates in New York City and San Francisco.
Tech giants redesign cockpits
The future mobility market is rich in potential, and tech giants naturally want to grab a piece of the cake. Some, like Google, Apple, and Baidu, have the capability to design and build their own self-driving solutions from scratch. Others have focused points of entry for the automotive market, in particular digital cockpit development.
Companies releasing new digital cockpit systems at CES 2019 included Samsung, Qualcomm, and Blackberry. Their products present similar features: personalization, connectivity and safety. Samsung’s digital cockpit for example contains an in-vehicle camera that can recognize passengers and adjust seats, display preferences, lighting, etc. to reflect their personal preferences. Qualcomm’s new cockpit system meanwhile employs a wide range of AI features such as natural voice control and language understanding.
Upcoming in-vehicle shopping
The scenario is as follows: Users shop for movie tickets while on the go; buy shoes from a screen in their car (and even have the shoes delivered to the car); set car-washing and refueling services to occur when they’re away from the car. This is the future of mobility that Denso depicts. The world’s second largest automotive component maker believes cloud computing, AI and C-V2X will reshape how we use vehicle interiors, and open up a whole new mobility ecosystem.
While Denso’s in-car shopping demo was built on an automated driving premise, OEMs are also actively pursuing mobility applications and services for their existing vehicles. Honda this year added in-car purchasing capabilities and features to its prototype “Dream Drive” platform. The automaker is working with MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal to develop a system that would enable vehicle passengers to easily make restaurant reservations, schedule and pay for refueling, etc.
Industry watchers believe the full potential for in-vehicle shopping and entertainment systems will emerge in parallel with the deployment of advanced autonomous driving technologies.
Physically immersive in-car entertainment
Audi’s CES 2019 demo meanwhile introduced a novel virtual reality (VR) in-car experience. Passengers wearing VR headsets can experience content which responds to the car’s movements in real time. For example a VR journey through outer space could pause beside Saturn when the car stops at a traffic light. If the car then turns right, the VR experience would veer off in that direction with corresponding perspective, speed, etc. The technique effectively incorporates inertia to intensify the immersive experience.
Audi’s VR gambit raises the stakes on in-vehicle experience enhancement. The German car-maker has spun out a new company, Holoride, with a mission to pack even more ambitions VR capabilities such as 4D effects into cars. TechCrunch called Holoride’s VR demo “the best thing at CES 2019”.
CES is ideally a place filled with bold and beautiful visions of the future. Unfortunately this was not exactly the case at CES 2019, as many of the underlying concepts have been around for a few years.
Today’s mobility market is still strongly centered around assisted driving, in particular how to improve the driving experience while lowering the risk of accidents. We are seeing VR and other in-car entertainment systems being put into practice, which will improve the experience for passengers, who will be able to enjoy longer road trips. It’s clear from CES 2019 that although self-driving remains a very promising technology, the market knows that a production-level L4/L5 autonomous vehicle remains years away, and is looking elsewhere.
Journalist: Tony Peng | Editor: Michael Sarazen