We promised you a final wrap-up today, bringing
together all the disparate CES announcements and addressing the most important
question of all: “What does it all mean?”. Apologies for the cliff-hanger, but
you’re going to have to wait until tomorrow for the answer. We’ve still got
more insights to share on some of the new technologies we’ve been testing and
many of the great discussions we’ve been having with industry leaders:
We tested out BMW’s new in-house Virtual
Personal Assistant (VPA), and found it to work surprisingly well. Unlike most
other VPAs, users can set their own wake-up name (ironically they could even
call it ‘Alexa’ if they wanted to). BMW plans to expand the functionality via
remote updates every 4 months, but in the meantime, we were shown a number of skills already
BMW has also natively integrated Alexa,
allowing users to wake it up using the “Hey Alexa” command. So far, BMW has drawn
clear and distinct lines between its own VPA’s vehicle-centric skills and the
more general Alexa skills. But you can imagine those lines blurring in the
future as both 3rd party VPAs and OEM-branded VPAs expand their
respective functionalities, leading to customers struggling to know which to
use and when.
Harman and various other companies are now
on a mission to develop an ‘aggregator’ layer that can cut across all VPAs and
provide a more singular experience, but implementing this effectively is far
from simple as it requires a huge mapping exercise of all skills supported by each
VPA, or alternatively (and improbably) collaboration between competing VPA
Key point: Infotainment
systems are already crippled by silos, with solutions like CarPlay and Android
Auto giving customers a more familiar app experience but making it harder for
car makers to offer a holistic and seamless UX. VPAs create a whole new set of
silos within infotainment systems, threatening to further confuse consumers if
not carefully implemented. BMW has so far done a good job with their
implementation, but keeping it simple will be harder.
Sticking with BMW, it’s been fascinating to
watch their transformation over the last 3-5 years from a car maker that prided
itself as being technology-centric (think iDrive), to one that is now trying to
hide its technology.
“We no longer want people to see technology
when they get into our cars” said one of their representatives, showing off
their ‘Shy Technology’ on the iNext concept vehicle. The experience allows
passengers to use any surface in the car to control vehicle commands, such as
starting or pausing music. Passengers can also view and control their favourite
content through a cleverly designed ‘book’ that interacts with a smart projector.
The whole objective is to eliminate buttons and displays from the interior,
leaving behind a more natural and clean interior.
Key point: Although still
very conceptual, it represents a mindset change that we feel could be the
beginning of a trend: to hide technology from consumers while still enabling
As with CES 2018, there was no shortage
this year of self-driving demos and autonomous pods. We even saw the first
concepts for off-road autonomy from Honda and Hyundai (including a very cool
walking car). But there was also a clear recognition this year that simpler
Level 2 applications still have an important role to play in helping drivers.
New ADAS use cases were showcased, including
Valeo’s ‘Disappearing trailer’ (to help with reversing a vehicle when towing a
trailer), as well as a new approach from Pioneer for hiding sensors into
headlamps (instead of front grills). Nvidia announced their Level 2+ automated
driving system, along with support from suppliers like Continental and ZF.
Key point: In an interview with the media, Bosch spoke
of the need to move cautiously towards full autonomy. This year’s CES was a
reflection of that cautiousness, with some OEMs and suppliers reinforcing the
need (and commercial opportunities) for interim levels of driver support on the
way to fully autonomous cars.
Join us again tomorrow for the final
(final!) instalment of our CES 2019 debriefs, when we’ll be looking at the
top-level conclusions from a busy week in Las Vegas. And remember to sign up for our complimentary CES First Take.
Thursday, January 10, 2019