CES 2014: Ford, Audi and NHTSA

CES 2014: Ford, Audi and NHTSA

The story of consumer electronics and connected car convergence continued to unfold on day one of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas as Ford discussed assisting the elderly, mobile health and autonomous driving, Audi highlighted five megatrends shaping the connected car today and the outgoing administrator of the NHTSA called the CES the United States’ fourth major auto show.


The day opened with Gary Strumolo, manager, vehicle design and infotronics, R&A at Ford Motor Company, debunking the idea that senior citizens were not interested in technology. “Seniors are interested in technology provided it is easily accessible and gives them the information they want,” he said.

Driver assistance systems, such as ultrasonic back-up sensors, can, for example, help the elderly to continue driving much longer, he said. Likewise, modern cars can help diabetes-afflicted drivers with monitoring of glucose levels – some 26 million Americans suffer from diabetes – or do things like track outside conditions for those suffering from allergies or asthma.

On the subject of autonomous driving, Strumolo said “all automakers look at it as the logical end point of the technologies they have been putting into cars for years.” These technologies include adaptive cruise control and automatic parallel parking.

But a number of challenges are still in the way of fully autonomous driving, he said. One is that drivers might be too distracted to take control of their autonomous vehicles when needed. Another is establishing liability for a potential accident involving an autonomous car. “Who is responsible? The driver? The OEM?” Strumolo asked.

Still, he saw the era of autonomous driving approaching, albeit in small increments. Already, people routinely let go of the gas pedal after engaging cruise control. And, according to Strumolo, they will soon be able to let go of the steering wheel as well – provided all they want is to stay in their lane. Also, major advances in the area of active safety will be made in the next five years, he predicted. 


At a press conference that followed, Audi highlighted the many ways it was advancing connected car technologies, and it did so against the backdrop of five automotive megatrends shaping the modern car today. According to Audi, the five megatrends are lighting, connectivity, infotainment, human-machine interface (HMI) design and driver assistance/piloted driving. (Piloted driving is Audi’s term for vehicles that require little to no attention from the driver when driving.)

In lighting, Audi touted the world’s first laser headlights, which are three times as bright as current LED headlights and whose beam can light objects half a kilometer away. The headlights are currently being put through their paces on Audi’s R18 e-tron quattro race car.

In connectivity, Audi is the first carmaker to fully integrate 4G LTE into the vehicle, said Ricky Hudi, head of development – electrics/electronics at Audi AG. And it promises many new exciting applications. “Full integration of LTE technology from Qualcomm will enable us to expand our Audi Connect range in a fantastic way in the next few years – music services in the Cloud, fast online updates, high-speed video conferencing, car-to-X services and much more,” he said.

According to Hudi, one of the new car-to-X services is a traffic light information service, which connects to local systems controlling traffic lights and advises drivers how fast to go for the next light to be green. According to Hudi, the service is technically ready and, if obeyed, can save reduce emissions by up to 15%.

In infotainment, Audi is taking a modular approach to both in-vehicle infotainment and the back end supporting it. The approach makes it possible to replace outdated parts for new ones as needed, whether these are video graphics processors, wireless technologies or voice controls. A second generation of the modular infotainment platform, which Audi calls MIB, will go into production later this year and will be available in the new Audi TT.

In HMI, Audi presented a brand-new, all-digital instrument cluster. The cluster runs on a super-crisp, high-definition, 12.3-inch (1,440 x 540 pixels) display and can present information in a number of different modes. For example, in navigation mode, the entire screen becomes a navigation map flanked by a couple of small dials showing RPMs and speed.

Also in HMI, Audi showcased another innovation representing the merging of consumer electronics and the connected car: an automotive-grade tablet it calls “Smart Display.” The tablet features a full-HD, 10.2-inch touch screen, connects to the vehicle via Wi-Fi and gives passengers the ability to control the vehicle’s entertainment systems, to browse the web at LTE speeds and to assist the driver with navigation. The display is crash-resistant, can cope with temperatures between +80 and -40 degrees Celsius and will be ready for production in the next year or two.

In driver assistance systems and piloted driving, Audi spent the last year refining what it calls the central driver assistance control unit for piloted driving – the hardware platform making piloted driving possible. A year ago, it filled an entire luggage compartment of a large sedan. This year, it is the size of a regular iPad. “We see this clearly moving from a science project into the realm of customer readiness,” said Scott Keogh, president of Audi of America.

According to Keogh, connectivity has become a major selling point for Audi in recent years. Today, Audi Connect is the second biggest purchase reason for why someone drives an Audi in the United States, he said. (Driving and performance is still number one.) And the vast majority of new Audis come with the system.

In model years 2014, nearly 80% of Audis sold in the United States had Audi Connect. On the driver technology side, the take rates are equally impressive. While things like adaptive cruise, side assist and lane assist were available only on about 10% of our Audis sold a couple of years, today 74% of them have this technology, Keogh said.

(According to Ulrich Hackenberg, board member for technical development at Audi AG, some 90% of all innovation in automotive engineering is today related to electronics and electrics.)


Finally, the CES marked one of the last public appearances of David L. Strickland as the fourteenth administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Strickland is stepping down in a couple of weeks.

Calling the CES “the fourth major auto show in America,” Strickland said he was happy to see the automotive industry was overcoming insularity and forming strategic partnerships with many related industries. He encouraged industry players to continue talking and to expand the conversation to new areas such as vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity and car safety.

“The hope of reducing traffic fatalities to 10,000 people, 5,000 people is all based on this technological hope,” he said. “But we won’t attain it if we don’t address privacy and data and all of those components which people hold dear,” he said. Put another way, the goals will only be achieved if “consumers trust the work of the regulators or the work of the industry,” he said.

Jan Stojaspal is the executive editor of Telematics Update.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Telematics for Fleet Management Europe 2014 on March 12-13 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Content and Apps for Automotive Europe 2014 on April 8-9 in Munich, Germany, Telematics Detroit 2014 on June 4-5 in Novi, Michigan, and V2X and Auto Safety USA 2014 on July 8-9 in Novi, Michigan.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: Telematics Connectivity Strategies Report 2013The Automotive HMI Report 2013Insurance Telematics Report 2013 and Fleet & Asset Management Report 2012.

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