Futuristic cars at CES 2012: Supremacy on wheels

Posted on 18 January 2012 by Tony Santos

The Consumer Electronics Show at Las Vegas this year (January 10-13) had over 3100 exhibitors and had record attendance of over 153,000 people. This annual show case event, for consumer electronics, has also become the launch place for car electronics in the last three years. The show regulars like Ford and GM were joined this year, for the first time, by Mercedes Benz. Other auto exhibitors included Audi, Honda, Hyundai and Kia, besides a whole slew of automobile component and sub-system suppliers.

The unmistakable message from this year’s show is that the electronics content of cars is set to explode and virtually everything that is available on a smartphone or tablet will also become accessible from the in-car electronics systems. The concept cars displayed at the CES 2012 illustrate this trend.

1. The Audi Urban Concept Car

Audi had shown this two seater car at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September 2011. The all electric car features 1+1 seating, with the passenger seat slightly behind the driver seat. The body is made of carbon fiber. The car is powered with two e-tron electric motors fed by a lithium ion battery pack. Range and other technical specifications were not disclosed.

At the CES 2012, the concept car was shown with a heads-up display unit that projects a 3D image on the windshield below the eye level of the driver. The display will show the usual car displays of speed, fuel gauge, engine speed and temperature. It will also display map information from the GPS unit, the music and radio settings, incoming caller ID from the smartphone dock, e-mail and SMS messages, and a host of other features.

A heads-up display was also shown by car infotainment maker Kenwood. Heads up display could become the standard in future cars, contributing to safer driving.

2. Ford’s ‘cloud connected’ car

Both at the keynote address by the Ford CEO, Alan Mulally and at the display of the Ford concept car Evos, the message was that Ford cars of the future would be continuously connected to the internet cloud and a complete range of functions now done at a desktop or laptop computer or through smart phones or tablet will be done by the in-car electronics system.

Ford envisions the car electronic system as a digital assistant to the driver performing functions like managing his schedule, planning his entertainment, keeping him informed , alerts about vehicle performance and even reminders about vehicle service, insurance renewal etc.

Any application that can run on a smartphone can be synchronized to run seamlessly on the in-car electronics system. In the future, Ford has suggested that the car electronics system may also be able to monitor the driver’s physical state based on blood pressure, heart rate and iris movement and provide driver assist functions. Also in the future is vehicle-to-vehicle communication capability, to make driver response less critical to accident avoidance.

3. Mercedes Benz ‘mbrace2’ 24X7 connected feature

Mercedes Benz announced its new ‘mbrace2’ feature where the car will be connected 24X7 to a Mercedes Benz online concierge service to provide an impressive list of support functions to the Mercedes user. Pushing an “i” button on the dash activates the service and the driver can use interactive voice messages to communicate.

In emergency situations like vehicle break-down or airbag deployment, the mbrace system would dial up the Mercedes support center as well as the nearest police and medical response teams. This feature is similar to GM’s OnStar system. The Mercedes support service will also search and communicate map, traffic and weather information on the vehicle display system and answer any specific queries such as the nearest gas station or restaurant. The mbrace system will also permit the driver to get concierge services like travel or entertainment ticket booking and restaurant reservations.

In addition to driver information, the mbrace system also communicates directly with the car sensors to alter ride parameters. For example, when the road surface is uneven, the vehicles shock absorbers and suspension springs are stiffened. When the map system detects slow traffic ahead of the vehicle, fuel supply to the engine is reduced to slow the vehicle.

An interesting new feature is that the driver’s smart phone can be recognized by the mbrace system to perform functions like key-less entry, remote engine start and locating a parked car. Mercedes predicts that the smart phone interface would grow to cover many more functions in the future.

4. The Tesla Model S Car

The Tesla Model S on display at the CES 2012 has replaced all dials and knobs found in a car with a 17 inch touch screen display, making the interior look like a giant smart phone. The Tesla all-electric car’s availability has been pushed back several times with the car now slated for production later in 2012. The frustration, with delays, is partially offset by the new features that Tesla has come up with. Not just the giant touchscreen infotainment module, but also the option of three separate battery packs to extend the range. The Tesla Model S will be launched with a 40 kWH battery pack to give a 160 mile drive range. The buyer has the option of fitting a 60 kWH battery to get a 230 mile range or an even larger 85 kWH battery for a 300 mile range. The car prices are upwards of $53,000 putting the Tesla in the luxury car bracket and the features and finish of the car certainly live up to that tag.

In addition to these major concept cars, several smaller applications of electronics also attracted attention. For example, Kia showed a car where the wing mirrors are replaced with cameras which project split screen images on the interior rear-view mirror. Parking assist cameras and alarms for car and occupant security have become commonplace and low cost.

In summary, the in-car electronics systems are set to transform the car as we have known it for the past 100 or so years. As with all new technology, the increased complexity has to be made simple enough for the average car user and also reliable and easy to maintain. It is also clear that future car technology advances will be seen as much at consumer electronics shows as at auto shows.

About the author:  Alia Haley is a blogger who is a tech freak.  She has a weak side for gadgets and cars. Recently she bought a brand new Hyundai EON for herself. Beside this she is busy in writing an article on jawbone up.

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