When we think of the CES tech conference, we tend to concern ourselves with the fun new gadgets that are on display. Back in 2016 CES was all about virtual reality and other wearable technologies. This year featured more of the same, but there was also a different look to the conference. This time, the future of cars was on display as numerous companies showcased advances in AI in an attempt to move us ever closer to the driverless revolution.
We had already seen some fascinating advances in the vehicle adaptation of “smart” technologies well before CES 2017. Tesla has already equipped some of its vehicles with a so-called autopilot feature that can perform some activities (such as lane changes and parking) on its own. The system meant to be upgraded to a more sophisticated level in the future to enable Tesla vehicles to be fully autonomous in the near future.
On a less publicized scale, we’ve also seen automotive smart systems impact commercial vehicles as well, just in a way that has little to do with automating the driving process. Telogis explains that these systems are meant to improve fleet productivity by outfitting vehicles with tracking technology that can allow for more efficient routing, immediate repair notifications, and even the careful consideration of driver performance. It may not be as exciting as an autonomous driving feature but it’s a good indicator of how smart technologies have been slowly but steadily creeping into both domestic and commercial vehicles for a few years now.
But at CES 2017, a lot of the unveilings were about the more tangible benefits of AI in vehicles. With Tesla, we’re being told that the tech is ready when we are. With systems like those described by Telogis, the impact is real, but not necessarily visible to those not involved with specific industries. At CES 2017, we largely saw autonomous features that are being put into place in everyday vehicles that are meant to simplify our daily commutes and make them safer.
The simpler ideas put forward had to do with replicating smart home voice control systems in vehicles. We learned that Ford has partnered with Amazon to put Alexa into its vehicles. This will enable drivers to do everything from play music or audiobooks to close their garage doors merely by asking Alexa to do it for them. It may seem like a gimmick at first, but it’s making a lot of activities truly hands-free, which should only make drivers safer. Similar moves were made with other virtual assistants as well, such as Google Home and Cortana partnering with Hyundai and BMW, respectively.
We also started to see some companies that haven’t been as publicly involved with self-driving pursuits imitating the Tesla Autopilot feature in exciting ways. An outline of the “future of cars” revealed several futuristic concepts that seem a little more viable than our standard concept car reveals. Examples included a Chrysler minivan with semi-autonomous features and Toyota’s Concept-i, which operates fully autonomously but retains features like a steering wheel and gas and brake pedals in order to make drivers feel in control.
Ultimately, there weren’t many actual technological innovations on the automobile front that we saw at CES 2017. Too many tech companies have been working on these things for too long for any of the reveals to come as major surprises. But what made the conference exciting was that what we did see felt like genuine progress. The implementation of virtual assistants in cars is something that doesn’t need to wait on regulation or fine-tuning, and the adoption of autopilot-like features by companies like Toyota and Chrysler makes it seem as though the self-driving revolution may be upon us sooner than we thought.
This was a guest post by Alan Jordan