This year’s CES didn’t disappoint and continues to be greatest mobility show on Earth, showing the latest and the greatest that is and will happen in this space. This article collects what were, in my view, the main automotive trends seen at the show, as well as the top five technology innovations.
Electric Vehicles rule. Even if the show didn’t present any major breakthroughs in this area, the truth is that BEVs have been center stage. OEMs presented several new models and suppliers have shown new technologies that aim at improving overall EV performance. The focus here lies still on technologies that keep improving overall EV efficiency. like improved HVAC, audio systems with lower energy consumption, heated seatbelts or even shifting body shape systems with the purpose of improving aerodynamics. Even many of the major news on infotainment have BEVs as a focal point. Also, several companies have presented fully electric vehicles of several kinds, like tractors, construction equipment, boats, aircrafts and others. Curiously, on the opposite end, there wasn’t much about hydrogen.
Infotainment into the next gear. Not a new trend – in fact a continuation of what we’ve seen in the last three years. OEMs, suppliers and tech companies keep showing new technologies in this area. The motivation is about improving BEV driving experience. As some companies have presented new gaming solutions aimed at making charging times go by faster, others have shown new smart cockpit concepts that aim not only to be able to exchange more information between car and occupants, but also to be able to anticipate occupants’ needs through the use of sensors and cameras. Despite the concerns it may generate in some from a perspective of privacy, the ability of collecting more data from occupants could allow the vehicle to anticipate their needs in a much better way. As some of these systems are even able to, for instance, capture driver heart beat and emotions, smart cockpit goes now into the area of health tech, which is a totally new departure for vehicles.
Despite that, screens keep growing – more precisely now going from pillar to pillar – and are now curved. This means it will take a while until we see vehicle HMIs reducing their dependence on screens.
Tech vendors also brought new solutions related to OTA, where they believe infotainment will be one of the main software monetization areas for OEMs, thanks to OTA. Customization and map technology also have seen some interesting announcements, showing the major importance they’ll have for the future of the automotive industry.
Software-defined Vehicle into the next chapter. Some exhibitors were already alluding to the next level in SDV. More have presented centralized vehicle architectures supported by HPCs (high performance computers). However, the novelty lies in the development of HPCs that can encompass more than one of the main four areas in the vehicle architecture. Moreover, a greater integration with the cloud is also displayed (even if the details were somewhat vague), heading towards the creation of a truly cloud-native vehicle architecture.
Autonomy evolves, but not level 4. More OEMs have revealed their intention to deploy L3 systems into production in the near future and suppliers have also shown new technologies that aim at making ADAS and L3 systems more effective and less costly. However, the show was lacklustre in what comes to L4. Some announcements have been made, but no major breakthroughs have been announced. Even the bullish statements on advanced automation we became used to see at CES are now gone.
Sustainability goes strong, but with a lot of greenwashing. Many companies present at this show have dedicated a strong focus to sustainability. However, most of it consisted of greenwashing, showing technologies that, despite positive, have a limited overall impact, and announcements of distant sustainability targets. Despite the ‘windowdressing’, there have been some great sustainability-driven technologies presented at the show.
Supply chain disruption and ethics was there too. CES couldn’t be impervious to what’s been going on with automotive supply chains. As such, a number of auto suppliers and tech companies have presented solutions that promise greater supply chain traceability. This is aiming not just to reduce supply chain instability but also at improving ethical and sustainable sourcing. Some of these solutions even went into circularity, by allowing automakers to better track vehicles and parts, thinking end-of-life parts recovery.
Smart mobility on the downside. The number of news related to land mobility models has definitely been scarce. After the demise of several OEMs in mobility initiatives, adding to the major obstacles found by a number of important pure players like Uber, it appears the area of mobility is now approaching a point of reset.
Five Main Automotive Innovations at CES
CES has been, as always, a privileged stage for companies to present their latest innovations. Lots of them were groundbreaking, others were a bit of ‘deja vu’. However, these are, in my view, the leading automotive innovations at CES:
ZF’s Heat Belt. BEVs are the future but driving range is still a major concern – Winter takes a major toll on EV driving range for different reasons, including the usage of HVAC. ZF cleverly made use of an element that lies very close to the occupants body and use it from a completely different purpose. By installing heating elements on seatbelts, ZF claims it can improve EV driving range up to 15% by reducing the energy drain of conventional HVAC systems. And 15% is quite a lot for such apparently small system.
Kyocera LaserLight. Kyocera has launched the world’s first full laser and infrared headlights. Besides the usual benefits in terms of night visibility and its compactness, these headlights include infrared cameras that can be used by ADAS or AV systems, as well as night vision systems. This innovation can contribute to make ADAS systems cheaper and more compact. Besides the IR sensors can be places in an area of the vehicle that doesn’t hinder its aesthetics.
Magna Morphing Surfaces. High-speed driving is also one of the major killers of EV driving range, so the solution is to improve aerodynamics. That’s the reason why Magna has presented a supposedly production-ready solution that actually can temporarily change vehicle body shape with the purpose of improving aerodynamics but without visibly impacting aesthetics. Magna claims the solution can improve aerodynamics by up to 10% and, consequently, extend EV driving range by 5%.
HERE Technologies’ UniMap. After becoming one of the world’s major map providers, HERE realized the map-making business is also transforming, so decided to take a major step forward in terms of innovation. Instead of looking at map data collection, UniMap is a platform developed to be versatile by allowing easy collection and consolidation of several different sources of map data. Hence, it not only automates a big part of the process for map creation but it also consolidates several different map types (like 2D, 3D, HD and others) under one single platform. This is something that obviously presents several benefits to automakers by enabling frequent map data update and also prompt access to up-to-date maps of different types for diverse purposes like navigation or ADAS.
Goodyear’s sustainable tires. As I mentioned earlier, there has been enough greenwashing at CES for a whole year (or even longer), but a few innovations really delivered on the promise of sustainability. Goodyear, for instance, has developed a tire that is made of 90% sustainable materials. We have already seen before similar statements from tire makers who use the most diverse types of sustainable materials in their tires but these constitute such a small percentage of the tires overall mass or volume that, in the end, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Goodyear’s 90% claim is a whole new level, not just for the very high percentage but also because Goodyear claims they want to put this tire for sales already this year. It’s not every day we see a truly impactful sustainability innovation in the automotive sector, so I will sure be looking forward to see these tires on the market – hopefully still this year.
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