Weekly Brief: Connected cars dominate mobile tech at CES 2017

Carmakers used the Consumer Electronics Show to highlight the impending era of personalised technology in automobiles. Andrew Tolve reports.

Hordes of tech enthusiasts descended on the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas for a peek at the coolest gadgets and gizmos that the future has to offer. Instead they found themselves at an international car show. Connected cars were everywhere on the exhibition floor, from autonomous vehicles to futuristic concepts and flashy in-car infotainment screens.

Even British supercar maker McLaren showcased its McLaren 675LT JVCKENWOOD Concept featuring a radical digital cabin created in a joint venture with JCV and Kenwood.Yet, the star of the show was Faraday Future’s long-awaited first production-ready vehicle, the FF 91. It sports a hybrid electric engine and has so many sensors, cameras and computer chips on-board, it makes a Tesla Model S feel old school. Facial recognition cameras act as the car’s keys. Sensors control the doors (no more handles) and HD cameras offer rear and side views (no more mirrors). The car can park itself, summon itself and navigate highway environments by itself. It’s set to hit the market in 2018.

Honda, Toyota, BMW and Volkswagen were among the carmakers to debut concept cars with various visions for the future of automobiles. One unifying theme was their shared focus on personalisation, harnessing software and sensors to custom tailor an automobile to its driver. Changing the colour and style of graphics on the dashboard is just the beginning with these cars.

The Toyota Concept-i, for instance, can offer up music based on the driver's mood. It can monitor eye movement to detect fatigue and strike up conversation to discourage it. It can take over the wheel entirely when called upon. All of this comes to life in an on-board personal assistant named Yui, who greeted every passer by at the show with a big "hello" emblazoned across her side panel.

Honda went for something similar with its NeuV concept, only the artificial intelligence bot riding shotgun is named Hana. Her data analysis algorithms continuously gather information on your preferences, from shops and restaurants to time and type of travel. She makes recommendations based upon this data (for instance, directions to your favourite espresso shop if she detects that your eyelids are drooping). She can also whisk herself off to find other riders when you're parked at home or work.

Ford turned heads when it announced that it, too, was integrating a personal assistant into its cars starting next year. Amazon Alexa is her name, the same Alexa that enables Amazon's smart home device the echo a myriad of other devices in the internet of things. Alexa will become part of Ford's Sync 3 AppLink and will enable users to listen to audiobooks inside the vehicle, search and transfer local destinations to navigation, request news, play music and add items to Amazon shopping lists — all by voice commands.

Renault-Nissan followed suit, announcing in partnership with Microsoft that it will be the first car company to put Microsoft's Connected Vehicle Platform to work in its cars, starting in 2017. That means Renault-Nissan vehicles will soon start offering Microsoft staples like Office, Skype and yes, personal assistant Cortana. The Microsoft platform will also collect data on drivers and use it to offer tailored services.

NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang gave CES 2017's opening keynote, where he announced that his company would have a Level 4 driverless vehicle on the road in partnership with Audi by 2020. Audi will provide the car, NVIDIA the artificial intelligence. He also announced a partnership with auto supplier Bosch that focuses on boosting artificial intelligence in cars, so they can learn their driver's habits and preferences and better cater to them or keep them safe.

Google unveiled a standalone Android based in-vehicle infotainment system. The system is born of a partnership with Panasonic and Qualcomm and represents a step up for automakers from Android Auto, which simply mirrors a smartphone display screen. Automakers can fully customise the Android 7.0 user interface across their line-ups, allowing them to optimise their system engineering investments and future proof their cockpits (the system can be easily updated as each new generation of Android is released).

The UK’s Oxbotica released Dub4, new localisation software for autonomous vehicles. This is a big deal because, in place of expensive lasers, Dub4 uses a single stereo camera mounted to a car to provide precise positioning and orientation. The software can therefore, help, to drive down the cost of autonomous tech. It can also navigate in highly unstructured environments without any reliance on GPS or expensive laser-based techniques.

Finally, so much digital tech designed for cars raised the obvious question of how the heck carmakers are going to protect it from the threat of hackers. Enter Argus Cyber Security and its new Connectivity Protection suite, which helps detect and prevent advanced cyber-attacks from penetrating and compromising vehicular infotainment and telematics units. In particular, the suite guards against code execution vulnerabilities. Qualcomm is a partner in the solution.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU-Automotive analysis with information from industry sources.

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