Automakers and their partners in the consumer electronics and wireless communications industries used the occasion of the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas last week to roll out a slew of new or updated high–technology features, options and prototypes. Many centered on connecting cars in novel ways to the Internet and, through it, to other networks in homes, parking garages and elsewhere.
Some of the announcements were mundane, others enticing. Altogether, they demonstrated the growing importance of consumer electronics technology in autos, and reinforced CES’s stature in the auto industry. Nestled on the calendar between two of the largest automobile shows in the world — the Los Angeles Auto Show in November and the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January — CES is the largest technology trade show in the world. This year it attracted nine automakers to be exhibitors, the greatest number in its 47–year history. (They are Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes–Benz and Toyota.) But they were just the ones with their own booths. Other automakers used CES as a venue, as well — by sharing partners’ booths or making off–site announcements.
Here’s a synopsis.
A new coalition of companies called the Open Automotive Alliance (OAA) formally announced its formation at CES. It brings together Google, Audi, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai and graphics chip maker NVIDIA in an effort to build automotive infotainment systems around the Android mobile operating system. Essentially, the OAA’s goal is to create a common Android–based platform that an automaker can use to design an in–vehicle system capable of running the same variety of apps now offered for Android–based smartphones, in addition to new car–centric Android apps that may be developed in the future.
The OAA announcement said the alliance members are “committed to bringing the Android platform to cars starting in 2014.”
The OAA is seen as Google’s counterstrike at Apple’s “iOS in the Car” initiative, which was announced last year with nine allied automakers. Apple’s aim is to have automakers directly integrate iOS into their vehicles’ infotainment systems, which would show an iOS user interface on the vehicle’s in–dash display — for controlling functions running on an iOS device that is connected to the vehicle wirelessly or with a cable.
Apple also pledged these iOS–equipped vehicles would be available this year.
Unlike a smartphone, which runs on either Android or iOS, an automotive infotainment system can work with both operating systems. So, the alliances’ development efforts are not necessarily conflicting and GM, Honda and Hyundai have aligned with both Google and Apple.
“Android is a significant platform. We’re not planning on being exclusively Android, though,” said Barry Ratzlaff, executive director of customer service connect and service business development at Hyundai Motor America in Fountain Valley, Calif. “We certainly understand the importance of connecting to Apple devices. We have previously announced that we are absolutely doing digital iOS integration and you’ll see more about that coming in the next year. And those are not mutually exclusive. We can interface with both platforms.”
A Mix of Old and New in Automaker Announcements
Audi had already integrated NVIDIA and Google technologies in its infotainment systems prior to the OAA’s formation. NVIDIA chips help produce the current Audi navigation system’s 3D maps while Google search functionality helps the system find places to go. At CES, Audi gave a peek at its OAA–directed future by unveiling the Audi Smart Display, a tablet computer with a 10.2–inch full-HD screen. It wirelessly connects to the vehicle, displays instrument cluster gauges and information (such as the speedometer, tachometer, outside temperature and odometer readings), and accesses and controls the infotainment and navigation systems. It plays DVD video, streaming TV and radio, pumping audio through the vehicle’s sound system or headphones (connected by a cable or wirelessly with Bluetooth), and helps with route planning. Via a cellular data connection built into the vehicle, it connects to the Internet. With full Android functionality, it can access the Google Play app store’s full selection of more than 950,000 apps, games, movies, music, audio books and eBooks. The integrated QuickOffice app adds productivity to the mix. And a built–in camera can be used for Skype video calls.
NVIDIA’s Tegra 4 processor is the heart of the Smart Display, Audi noted.
No specific timeframe was given for the Smart Display’s commercial availability.
In 2012, Audi introduced the “phone box” option in the A3 subcompact car: a center armrest–mounted cellphone storage tray with a built–in flat planar antenna. It uses near field communications (NFC) technology to wirelessly connect with the cellphone and routes the phone’s signals through an amplifier to a rooftop antenna, thus improving the phone’s reception. At CES, Audi announced that the phone box has been updated with wireless charging capability, based on the Qi standard from the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC). Electricity flows from a coil in the floor of the Audi phone box via induction to a receiver coil in a Qi–compatible smartphone (integrated in the phone’s battery, in a cover, or in a retrofittable film); placing the phone on the phone box floor starts the charging process.
Qi wireless charging has been adopted by BMW, Jeep, Mercedes–Benz, Toyota, Volkswagen and Porsche, too, for current and future models. It’s newly available in the 2014 Jeep Cherokee as well as in Toyota’s Avalon and Prius, the WPC noted.
Audi also announced a new partnership with AT&T to bring fully integrated 4G LTE connectivity to its “Audi connect” Internet services, providing high–speed Internet access to its vehicles’ internal systems, beginning with the 2015 A3. Presently, this means faster operating speeds for Audi connect functions including Google Earth maps loading. In the future, Audi said, fully integrated 4G LTE will enable a host of new features and capabilities, including car–to–car and car–to–infrastructure (together called “car–to–X”) communications. One example of this is communication with traffic signals; Audi is now testing a service it developed to network a vehicle with a municipality’s central traffic control computer, alert the driver to when a red traffic light will turn green (with a countdown timer), and display the driving speed necessary to reach the next traffic light while it’s still green. “A market launch is currently the subject of intense analysis in the United States,” Audi said.
Notably, the new deal also makes Audi the first automaker to offer a Mobile Share data plan option, which allows an AT&T wireless customer to add the car to an existing smartphone or tablet data plan.
Another noteworthy debut was the Audi Sport quattro laserlight concept car. Its high–beam headlights are lasers, just a few microns in diameter, that light up the road about twice as far (1,640 feet) with about three times the luminosity of LED high–beam headlights. “Because the light beam is tightly bundled, laser diodes are not currently suitable for wide, low–beam light,” Audi said.
Audi said these laser headlights will be used in its new Le Mans race car, the R18 e-tron quattro, which launches in June.
The laser headlights aren’t the only compelling aspect of this concept car. For instance, its plug–in hybrid gasoline–electric powertrain generates 700 horsepower (hp) and 590 pound-foot (lb-ft) of torque, — from the combination of a four–liter V8 biturbo engine that produces 560 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque, and a 110 kilowatt (kW) electric motor that produces 295 lb-ft of torque. There’s an eight speed transmission and quattro all–wheel–drive. And the car still manages to deliver fuel economy of 94 miles per gallon, including up to 31 miles of all–electric driving.
Audi also used CES for the world premiere of the forthcoming 2015 TT sports car’s interior, which features a “virtual cockpit” instrument cluster behind the steering wheel. That’s a high–resolution (1,440 x 540 pixels) 12.3–inch LCD screen that offers two operating modes: “Classic” mode displays a tachometer and a speedometer that resemble traditional gauges, separated by a small window showing either a navigation map or phone, radio and audio menus; “Infotainment” mode visually emphasizes a giant navigation map or the phone, radio and audio menus, downsizing the tachometer and speedometer and relocating them to the lower left and right corners respectively — and converting the speedometer to a digital format.
The virtual cockpit is powered by an NVIDIA Tegra 30 chip that is so powerful it is capable of moving the virtual gauge needles with “absolute precision,” Audi says. Audi is the first automaker in the world to use this chip.
The TT interior display also provided a preview of Audi’s next–generation MMI infotainment system, which includes multi–finger gesture controls similar to those used on smartphones.
And in the realm of self–driving cars — a subject the automaker addressed with a demonstration vehicle at the 2013 CES — Audi announced its work on “zFAS,” a central control unit that runs all of a vehicle’s automated driving functions. Currently, control of these functions is divided among physically separate control units. But zFAS consolidates all of them into one, a laptop–sized board filled with advanced multi–core processors that together equal the total computing power of all the electronics in today’s A4 sedan. “It’s space requirements will continue to shrink rapidly,” Audi said, adding the company “will introduce it in production models in conjunction with piloted driving before the end of the decade.”
BMW showcased its new i3 electric vehicle (EV) and associated innovations, as well as a research prototype vehicle filled with advanced automated driving technologies.
The BMW i Remote App for Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch was presented. A concept, similar to an app with the same name already available for smartphones, it shows the i3 battery’s remaining charge and available range; facilitates sending a destination to the car’s navigation system; lets the user remotely adjust the car’s cabin temperature; and shows whether the windows, doors and sunroof are open or closed.
A fleet of i3 demonstration vehicles was used to show off BMW’s new Parking Assistant system, which now has both longitudinal (forward and reverse acceleration and braking) and lateral (steering) guidance capabilities. Previously, BMW’s automated parking assistant — and comparable systems from other automakers — required the driver to switch the transmission between forward and reverse gears and to control the accelerator and brake pedals. Now, the car takes over those tasks. “All the driver needs to do is press and hold the parking button on the center console,” and of course stay alert, BMW said.
Parking Assistant is an example of partial automation in a vehicle. At CES, BMW also reviewed its ongoing research into highly automated, self–driving vehicles. It spotlighted a prototype car that navigates a race track with the help of systems that, BMW said, “actively intervene in the direction–changing decision–making process and ensure the electronically controlled steering works in perfect harmony with the brakes and accelerator.”
BMW uses the ActiveAssist moniker for its collection of partly and highly automated driving technologies. In 2015, it is planning to deploy a fleet of highly automated test vehicles, the company said, adding that the technical foundations for selling mass–produced highly automated vehicles should be in place by 2020.
Chrysler demonstrated its current Uconnect infotainment and telematics services at its CES booth; it did not announce any new technologies.
Ford announced a new generation of SYNC AppLink, an infotainment system that enables the car to control compatible iOS and Android smartphone apps resident on a brought–in device, with voice commands and on–screen menus. It will launch with the 2015 Ford Mustang as a standard feature, and then be rolled out other Ford models.
Improvements include: simpler voice commands; app access to real–time vehicle data including speed and location (from the vehicle’s GPS signal); notifications received by apps read aloud as they arrive on a connected smartphone, without a driver command, even if a notifying app is not currently active and the sound system is playing; and voice pass–through capability, which allows the user to speak an app’s unique voice commands — different than the SYNC voice commands — and have the car seamlessly forward them to the app.
In addition, five more apps were added to the SYNC AppLink roster at CES:
- Parkopedia — A parking spot finder, it provides real–time space availability information covering 28 million parking spaces in 90,000 parking facilities in 6,000 cities in 40 countries. Parkopedia is available for iPhone and Android, Nokia and Windows Phone devices.
- Parkmobile — A mobile payments app tailored to parking, it lets users pay for on– and off–street parking with an on–file credit or debit card. It is usable at more than 500 locations in the U.S. The Parkmobile app is available for Android devices now. An iOS version is expected to be available soon.
- HABU Music — From the music information provider Gracenote, HABU Music automatically generates playlists and streams music based on the listener’s mood. The app groups songs into 25 moods and it’s controlled with voice commands, such as “Play rowdy,” or “Play relaxing.”
- ADT Pulse — This app from security provider ADT allows users to arm and disarm an alarm system, check the system status, unlock a secured door, and remote adjust automated lighting and heating systems.
- Domino’s — The Domino’s Pizza app allows Domino’s customers who have set up a “Pizza Profile” to remotely place an “Easy Order” for a favorite pizza and menu item combination and pay for it in advance. The order can be delivered to a saved address or prepared for pick–up.
Lastly, Ford also rolled out a solar–charged plug–in hybrid EV, the C–MAX Solar Energi Concept.
General Motors announced several innovations for its Chevrolet brand.
Beginning this Summer, Chevy vehicles will be outfitted with OnStar 4G LTE connectivity by AT&T, along with a built–in Wi–Fi router to connect brought–in devices to the Internet via the vehicle. The 2015 Corvette, Impala, Malibu and Volt will be equipped first, followed by the Chevy Equinox, Silverado, Silverado HD, Spark and Spark EV. And Chevy’s 4G LTE service, like Audi’s, will offer an AT&T Mobile Share data plan option.
Additionally, the embedded 4G LTE connection will drive the new Chevy MyLink AppShop, launching this Summer. A component of the MyLink infotainment system, it will offer a selection of apps that can be downloaded and installed in the vehicle (and organized on the in–dash display, updated and deleted). One is the Vehicle Health app, which Chevy demonstrated at CES and expects to launch by the end of this year. It accesses the vehicle’s real–time data and provides on–demand diagnostic reports and maintenance notifications, as well as help with scheduling service appointments.
More apps planned for the MyLink AppShop include the streaming audio apps iHeartRadio, TuneIn Radio, Slacker Radio and NPR, plus The Weather Channel, Priceline, Cityseeker (location–based, personalized entertainment and attractions search), Eventseeker (location–based, personalized event search), Glympse (person–to–person location sharing) and Kaliki (spoken news, weather and sports reports and episodic content).
Finally, there’s the Corvette Performance Data Recorder (PDR), which GM said is an industry–first innovation. It comprises three parts: a high–definition (720p resolution) video recorder mounted within the windshield header trim to capture the driving excitement as it happens; a self–contained telemetry recorder with a dedicated GPS receiver that operates five times faster than the navigation system’s GPS unit for more precise positioning and corner traces; and a dedicated SD–card slot for saving and sharing the PDR’s recordings. Three recording modes overlay different degrees of telemetry data on the video.
- Track Mode shows the Corvette’s speedometer and tachometer readings, g-force, location, lap time and more.
- Sport Mode shows speed and g-force.
- Touring Mode records only video and audio of the drive without a data overlay
- Performance Mode records metrics such as 0–60 miles per hour (MPH) acceleration, 1/4–mile speed and elapsed time, and 0–100–0 MPH runs.
The video can be viewed on the Corvette’s in–dash eight–inch LCD screen when the car is parked. Accompanying “Cosworth Toolbox” software helps with analyzing the telemetry data and can overlay the recorded video on a Bing–enabled satellite map.
Kia showed how it envisions the future of infotainment and telematics.
Its User–Centered Driver (UCD) concept features both an 18–inch head–up display (HUD) that presents speed, navigation and traffic information, and a 12.3–inch LCD with eye tracking technology for the instrument cluster. The UCD concept also includes a hand–gesture controller for access to radio and navigation options. Wireless charging for mobile devices is part of the concept, too.
Its In–Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) concept mimics elements of Audi’s and Ford’s announcements, encompassing car–to–X communications and a “smart radio” service that streams music based on the user’s mood or based on a choice of five driving environment templates (such as summer driving on a coastal road). Any of up to three independent music or video streams can be sent to a front seat display or either of two rear seat entertainment units (connected to the car using WirelessHD (WiHD) wireless networking technology), and there’s a prominent 20–inch multi–touch center console display. The driver sees his own information feed, which can include navigation system notifications.
Kia’s infotainment and telematics system is named UVO. At CES, the automaker also exhibited the next–generation UVO that will arrive next year in some 2015 models. Like Chevy’s MyLink AppShop, it will have an “all–new multimedia suite” that will allow users to download and install apps — including iHeartRadio, SoundHound (music recognition) and Yelp — from a UVO app store. UVO VR voice recognition technology will enable message dictation, music selection and asking for directions, Kia said.
A preview of the UVO EV smartphone app was exhibited, too. The app was designed to complement Kia’s first electric car, the Soul EV, which is coming to showrooms later this year, and is a lot like EV–focused apps already available from other automakers. It provides real–time battery charge level status, remaining driving range, a function to search for nearby charging stations, the ability to precondition the interior cabin with remote control of HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) presets, and the options to preset a charging time and charging level ratios.
Other eye candy at Kia’s booth was the KND–7 concept car that made its North American debut at CES.
Mazda exhibited its newest infotainment and telematics system named Mazda Connect, which launched late last year in the 2014 Mazda3 subcompact car (also on display at Mazda’s CES booth). Like many competing systems, it features a seven–inch LCD screen centered on the dashboard, a rotary wheel controller and a secondary information display near the instrument cluster for the driver, as well as app integration. Aha by Harman, which streams audio channels, Facebook and Twitter feeds location–based services, is the first available app. In the future, a new application platform demonstrated at CES — similar to Ford’s SYNC AppLink — will allow more developers to create apps specifically for the Mazda Connect system.
Mercedes–Benz previewed three new functions that will be added this Spring to its Digital DriveStyle app, which is available now for iPhones and will be available later this year for Android devices. Digital DriveStyle was designed by Mercedes–Benz Research and Development North America, works with the automaker’s optional Drive Kit Plus accessory installed in the vehicle, and brings a wide range of infotainment, telematics and navigation functions to vehicles. Currently those functions include access to Apple’s Siri personal assistant software, Facebook, Twitter, Glympse, Internet radio and AUPEO! Personal Radio app integration, navigation powered by Navigon, real–time traffic information, Google local search and Google Street View, and vehicle data (vehicle identification number, odometer and fuel level).
The upcoming functions, formed in conjunction with partners, are:
- Integration with the Pebble smartwatch from Pebble Technology, which lets the wrist–worn device receive information and notifications from the Mercedes–Benz vehicle, including alerts via car–to–X communications (such as warnings of accidents, broken down vehicles or severe weather ahead); vehicle information such as the address where the vehicle is parked, its current fuel level and remaining fuel range; and service information such as tire pressure and low coolant or oil level warnings. When there are no alerts, the vehicle’s current speed is displayed on the smartwatch and, while driving, watch buttons can be pressed to activate an iPhone’s Siri function, pause and resume media playback or confirm a selection, and display a car–to–X menu.
- Integration with the Nest Thermostat from Nest Labs (recently acquired by Google), which links the vehicle to the user’s home HVAC system. So, the vehicle can be used to adjust the home temperature from afar.
- Google+ support, which allows drivers to share updates to the social networking website, and to review Google+ streams both on the vehicle’s display screen and via texts–to–speech.
Also revealed was a concept navigation app that Mercedes–Benz developed for Google Glass, an experimental wearable computer that resembles eyeglasses, runs apps like a smartphone, and has a lens that is actually a display screen.
Google Glass users see information hovering in their field view and control the device with either voice commands or a touch sensor on the side of the frame. In the Mercedes–Benz’s concept, the user enters a destination in the app, which then guides him to where the vehicle is parked, with walking directions. Once he’s inside the vehicle, Google Glass transfers the destination information to the vehicle’s navigation system, which takes over the navigation session and works as usual. When the car is parked near the final destination, it sends the final destination address back to the Google Glass, which resumes guiding the user with walking directions.
Mercedes–Benz said its navigation app concept is a world’s first for Google Glass. However, the walking guidance it provides — known as last mile navigation — is not new. For example, BMW has offered such last mile navigation for a long time in its BMW Connected iPhone app.
A perhaps more exciting prototype shown was the Mercedes–Benz Concept S–Class Coupé. It demonstrated predictive technology, which learns over time about each driver’s schedule, tastes, moods and emotions, and then tailors the driving experience to these as they change along with outside variables such as the starting location, the weather, the day of the week and the time of day.
Based on all of the above, “the predictive system generates a set of options” aimed at significantly reducing “opportunities for distraction and frustration,” Mercedes–Benz explained. “The driver could choose to accept these proposals…and over time these proposals get better, more accurate, and more personalized.”
Moreover, using MoodGrid software from Gracenote — which is like the HABU Music app for Ford’s SYNC AppLink — the S–Class Coupé can compile a selection of music from about 18 million songs in the cloud to match the mood of the listener.
Toyota displayed a fuel cell powered concept car named the FCV and promised to launch a production model of it in 2015 in California. The automaker also said it is working with various California state authorities, the California Fuel Cell Partnership, and the University of California Irvine’s Advanced Power and Energy Program (APEP) to determine ideal locations for the installation of new public hydrogen fueling stations. Only 68 station sites would be necessary to serve 10,000 fuel cell vehicles in the San Francisco Bay Area, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties, Toyota said. Right now there are about 10 hydrogen fueling stations throughout the state, Toyota said.
Nonetheless, the automaker noted, California has approved more than $200 million in funding to build about 20 new hydrogen fueling stations by 2014, 40 by 2016, and as many as 100 by 2024.
No details were offered regarding how many fuel cell powered cars Toyota is planning to sell in the U.S. beginning next year, nor even the name of the car and its specifications and performance data. “Specific sales volumes will be announced closer to launch. More information will be announced in the weeks and months ahead,” Toyota said.
But That Wasn’t All
Away from CES itself, at a press event two days before the trade show opened to all attendees, Hyundai unveiled its second–generation Blue Link telematics platform and related technologies — chief among them, a new smartphone app and a Google Glass app.
The new Blue Link is a cloud–connected platform that can work with a wider variety of interfaces and apps in different formats, including smartphones, tablets, smartwatches and Google Glass, said Hyundai’s Ratzlaff. And as a first step, he said, the automaker has developed the Genesis Intelligent Assistant app for iOS and Android devices.
Aside from control of Blue Link features and access to vehicle data, the app taps the device’s native calendar and weather apps and the wider Internet to act proactively and predictively. It can, for example:
- Automatically estimate an appropriate trip departure time and send a reminder notification, using a calendar entry, current location, and real–time traffic information.
- Send a notification to the user when the temperature outside the vehicle is above or below a preset level, offering to remote start the vehicle and heat it up or cool it down.
- Recommend a nearby gas station and forward the selected station to the vehicle’s navigation system as a destination.
Genesis Intelligent Assistant will be available in the Spring when the 2015 Genesis goes on sale.
All other Hyundai models will be updated with the new Blue Link over the course of the next three to four calendar years, Ratzlaff said.
Already released for the limited number of Google Glass test users (known as Google Glass Explorers), the Google Glass Blue Link app offers: remote vehicle start; remote door lock and unlock; a “find my car” feature that provides walking directions to the vehicle; and point of interest and gas station search functions that can forward results to the vehicle’s navigation system as destination entries.
Lamborghini was present at CES in a partner’s booth: Monster, which designed the audio system in the supercar maker’s forthcoming, $4.5 million Veneno Roadster. Only nine of the cars will be produced, and Monster had one of them displayed. But neither company released the audio system’s specifications. The vehicle was on display, but the audio system’s specifications were not supplied.
Volvo attended CES with Ericsson, the platform supplier behind the automaker’s next–generation, cloud–connected Sensus Connect infotainment and navigation package, which will be available starting next May in all new Volvo models.
This second–generation Sensus Connect arrives only one year after the first–generation iteration that Volvo and Ericsson debuted at the 2013 CES. Now, with cloud connectivity supplied by Ericsson’s Connected Vehicle Cloud, it offers seamless app updates and lifetime navigation map updates, as well as more apps.
In the entertainment category, apps offered at launch are Pandora, Rdio, Stitcher and TuneIn. In the navigation category, initial app choices include Yelp, Glympse, HERE (cloud–connected services), Wikipedia, Baidu (local search in China), and Park&Pay by Parkopedia (find and pay for parking spaces remotely).
The navigation system also has been updated with 3D graphics, and a built–in Wi–Fi hotspot offers 3G Internet connectivity for brought–in mobile devices, via a rooftop antenna.
A Sensus Connect smartphone app offers remote engine start and pre–heating and pre–cooling of the car’s cabin, among other features.
Impressive Growth, With More to Come
To be sure, the announcements listed above were only a tiny fraction of the automotive news generated at CES.
According to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), which owns and produces CES, automotive exhibits at the trade show this year covered more than 140,000 net square feet of exhibit space, 25 percent more than at the 2013 CES. There were more than 125 automotive tech companies exhibiting — out of a total of 3,200 exhibitors — including suppliers to automakers such as Bosch, Delphi and QNX, and aftermarket equipment vendors such as JVC Kenwood and Pioneer.
Through the end of this year, CEA industry forecasts predict, sales of factory–installed automotive technologies will increase by nearly 20 percent to $11 billion.
Next CES, the automotive news and numbers may be even greater.