Top Takeaways From CES 2022 – Automotive Innovations
by Ken Dulaney
At CES 2022, a large number of venue and attendance changes were in place. The Las Vegas Convention Center West Hall has opened adding a huge volume of floor space to the Center. Below the new West Hall is a short three-station boring company tunnel traversing a short distance from the West Hall to the main show floor area. I took a ride through the tunnel which operates using Tesla motor vehicles and human drivers for now. While rather unexciting, once self-driving cars are deployed it might be seen as a transportation improvement, even more so once Las Vegas deploys it further throughout the City.
Attendance was another issue. When I attended CES in January 2020, estimates were that about 1,700,000 toured the show. This year, estimates put attendance at 40,000. From my standpoint, there was a benefit because I got more attention from the floor vendors and healthcare issues were less of a concern. Vendors were sparse in the main hall where the big TV vendors showed the latest technology. Samsung, however, was full in their booth – but Sony and LG were pretty much vacant. The Venetian Eureka part with startup vendors was as active as ever and the upper floor was reasonably well populated. So was the North Hall. The new West Hall displayed automotive technologies and while there were many vendors missing, it turned out to be in the most instructional areas for trends in that market.
While there were many exciting innovations on display, I wanted to focus on what was learned at the automotive venue. Automotive innovations can be categorized into three segments: 1) autonomous driving technologies, 2) automotive safety innovations, and 3) entertainment and media innovations. These three move at a different pace from each other, influenced by the difficulty in achieving their goals.
The vendors I interviewed indicated that we were at an industry aggregate level 2.5 in autonomous driving, moving toward level 3 over the next few years. I asked the question, “When will I be able to fall asleep in the back of my car and be assured that I can get to my destination without incident?”. Some vendors said 10 years, and some said more. But the consensus was that it was a much more difficult problem to solve than had been expected a few years ago (but hopefully simpler than nuclear fusion!). The problem remains handling the boundary conditions. Some vendors said that we will need standards for cars to talk to each other to achieve further breakthroughs. There were industrial solutions for trucking that would achieve self-driving much more quickly because their routes were more limited, and in some cases, equipped with augmented technology that ensured a safe route. There were agricultural machines from John Deere that were also achieving self-driving in their obviously controlled environment of the farm.
Safety improvements were much more near term. Buyers can expect that accident-avoidance technology will make a huge difference in accident rates and likely in insurance premiums. One of the key technologies shown was LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). If you have ever seen a rotating drum atop a car, it is likely a LIDAR device. Today, most cars are equipped with radar, mostly because of its cost advantages. But a new LIDAR is just being introduced that is actively scanned. Picture what looks like three camera lenses pointing out from the front of your car. A laser is shown out the lens and optically guided back and forth across its field of view, in other words, actively scanned. This approach not only eliminates the rotating disk, which is slow, but improves accuracy far beyond radar. Several vendors said this approach would appear in some high-end luxury models by next year. LIDAR, along with software improvements across the safety application spectrum, should greatly improve automotive safety.
Lastly, entertainment is generally following the path of the smartphone. Android Auto and Apple Carplay are expected to continue to improve with more users depending on the technology. Hands free technologies, better displays, and other niceties to improve the driving experience will be a key decision parameter when selecting a car.
While the mechanics of the automobile, other than the switch to battery powered cars, will likely see few improvements, the electronic component of automobiles will increase dramatically (and thus continued chip shortages). Car buyers may want to think more about leasing so that car turnover is more rapid (e.g., every 3 years). Some buyers will see buying safety improvements as an insurance policy to make sure that they are not sued after an accident.